Dr. Cali Estes - The Addiction Coach ®

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How to Find Out if You’re Predisposed to Addiction.


How to Find Out if You’re Predisposed to Addiction

addictionFor centuries, people made the false assumption that addicts were simply immoral individuals who lacked self control.  Nowadays we know that addiction is a complicated disease of the brain influenced by genetic and environmental factors.

Just like no addiction is exactly the same, for example, overeating vs. being addicted to cigarettes, every reason behind addiction is also different. Research has shown that many individuals are genetically predisposed to certain addictions, and that cultural, socioeconomic, and environmental factors also play a role in addiction.

Genetic Predisposition to Addiction

Scientists have not been able to isolate the exact part of the brain that is responsible for determining an individual’s level of addiction. However, studies have shown a correlation between genetics and addiction, with family and twin studies supporting the conclusion that the proportion of risk for alcoholism explained by genes is between 40 and 60%

In other words, while we haven’t found an “addiction gene”, we do know that individuals who have an addiction are much likelier to have children who also suffer from addiction. Research has found that these children are more than twice as likely to develop an addiction.

While it may seem like a fatal flaw, addiction actually makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. When an animal eats food, it triggers feel good chemicals, causing the animal to seek out that food. The downside is that we have developed food and drugs that artificially inflate these feel good chemicals and that aren’t good for us.

If you have a family history of addiction, it’s important to recognize you are also likely to become addicted. For this reason, you should be wary of indulging in drugs and alcohol. If you think you have already developed an addiction, there are tools and resources that can help you quit before it becomes severe.

Mental Illness (Or Dual Diagnosis/Comorbidity)

The National Institute on Drug Abuse posits that people who are addicted to drugs are very often diagnosed with other mental disorders.  For example, people addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders compared with the general population.

There is no certainty that the occurrence of one necessitates the appearance of the other, but scientists generally attribute both playing a role in exacerbating the other. In other words, drug abuse can exacerbate and even induce symptoms such as anxiety, psychosis, and schizophrenia. On the other hand, mental disorders such as anxiety or depression definitely contribute to individuals choosing to consume alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs for relief.

If you suffer from a mental disorder, it’s important that you do not attempt to self-medicate outside prescribed medication from a licensed clinician.

Brain Chemistry

The reward/pleasure centers of the brain have everything to do with the development of addiction. If you have a naturally low level of dopamine, you may already be susceptible to addiction, because drugs and alcohol provide large surges of feel good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin. However, you should know that drugs and alcohol cause abnormal surges that the brain will find it difficult to recover from.

Dopamine is arguably the most potent of the brain’s feel good chemicals. Regulating dopamine’s effects throughout the brain are the receptors, of which there are five known main variants: D1-D5. Along with pleasure, these receptors work to keep the involvement of dopamine for a variety of tasks, from memory to motor control. Drugs, including amphetamines and cocaine, result in a sharp, temporary surge in dopamine within the brain.

Fear of Socializing

There’s a reason alcohol is called social lubricant. Since time immemorial, alcohol has been used to release tension and increase the likelihood of a good time. Drugs and alcohol can make it easier to talk with others, feel confident, speak up, and be less worried about rejection. For those with social anxiety, substances can become a go to, or necessity, when dealing with social situations.

Especially in college, when many adults first experience drugs and alcohol, there is an immense pressure to socialize, fit in, and make as many friends as possible. Research from the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality reveals that More than one-third of full-time college students aged 18 to 22 engaged in binge drinking in the past month, and about 1 in 5 used an illicit drug in the past month. For all students, drinking was the most commonly used substance.

For many, it’s ok to enjoy a few drinks occasionally  to loosen tension in social circles, but if you grow to have a reliance on drugs or alcohol in order to be social, this is a huge red flag that you may be self-medicating to treat anxiety.


It is generally accepted that poverty and addiction exist in tandem. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed a positive relationship between poverty and substance abuse even without the influence of genetic factors. Much like comorbidity, it’s difficult to delineate whether one is the primary responsible factor for the other. The reality is that drug and alcohol abuse can easily lead to lapse in responsibility and falling into poverty. Similarly, growing up in poverty can involve exposure to stressful and ongoing negative experiences, which could contribute to indulging in drugs and alcohol to escape from reality.

Addiction and poverty are conjoined problems. CEO of the national drug testing company, USA Mobile Drug Testing, explains “While the abuse of drugs has increased in recent years, it has increased at a horrific rate in certain areas. Unfortunately, the adverse effects of this go far beyond just the addict. Drug abuse negatively impacts families, employers, and the local community as a whole. In fact, it costs the nation a staggering $740 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity, and health care.”

Furthermore, According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately one out of every six (48 million) Americans is living in poverty. 3.7 million of those are in need of treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, but less than a quarter will get the treatment they need. Both addiction and poverty feed off each other and their effects strengthen their respective feedback loops. Poverty leads to mental states which can lead to drug abuse, being the first precursor to addiction, which could result in crime, jail, or deeper poverty. The question then becomes, how do we address poverty or substance abuse if we’re not fully addressing both problems.

These factors are some of the most common contributors to developing an addiction. While their presence may increase the likelihood of having an addiction, they do not necessitate the existence of one. If you’re concerned that you may be predisposed to addiction, have a conversation, have a conversation with friends and family or a licensed clinician to see if others share the same opinion. If you want to curb your addiction, consider checking into an alcohol and drug rehab center.



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