Addiction: Why Me? Why You? Why Not Them? – By Sally Stacey

A couple of years into recovery, I was on vacation back home on the small island where I grew up. I remember driving to my first AA meeting there, convinced that I would see half the friends I had known in my twenties…it would become a fun reunion of sorts. I envisioned me saying “Hey, fancy seeing you here!” whilst smiling sheepishly, coffee in hand. Not so 🙂 It was an enjoyable meeting for sure but I didn’t know anyone. Furthermore, I didn’t recognise a single person at any of the other five or so meetings I went to whilst there. What had happened to all my drinking buddies? We had all been as crazy as each other back in the day. Surely I couldn’t have been the only one to develop addiction issues. Why me? Why any of us? Why not them?

For years, researchers have been searching for the causes of addiction…if it could be determined what makes people susceptible to addiction, perhaps it would be possible to divert the development of it and better help those in recovery. Sounds good and currently there are a few determining factors or theories on the table.

The first one that springs to mind is the addictive personality, something I often hear mentioned in a meeting setting. It’s a controversial concept with there being an argument out there that such a thing doesn’t exist. However, in the corner that does believe in it’s existence, some common features of an addictive personality are…all or nothing thinking, doing things to extremes, impulsive behaviour and the desire for instant gratification. Tension and heightened feelings of stress or anxiety could be present. There’s also shyness or antisocial behaviour or a sense of social alienation, feeling apart from, different. The list goes on, there is no one clearly defined set of parameters.

True enough, whether it be classed as an addictive personality or not, many or all of the above traits (plus others no doubt) may lead to excessive use of drugs, alcohol or other substances and also behavioural issues relating to stuff such as eating, gambling, sex, shopping, exercise etc. At some point down the road, that invisible line can be crossed and an addiction occur. But not always. There are many people that display the above traits to one extent or another who don’t go on to develop an addiction. Why not?

And there are those that display few or none of the above personality traits and yet do go on to develop addiction issues. People who are perhaps unaware of the dangers of repetitive use or behaviour or think a related addiction can’t or won’t happen to them. They simply practice long and hard enough in an active addictive mode until the brain has no choice but to rewire itself and adapt to the behaviour. But, again, that’s not always the case. Some don’t go on to develop an addiction issue and either remain active in the behaviour unscathed or walk away from it at some point for a healthier life.

Then there’s the genetic component. Addiction can run rampant through families going back generations. The hereditary factory appears to increase the risk of addiction occurring, but again, not all end up disappearing down a rabbit hole of addiction.

And finally, the environment can play a huge role. Social and circumstantial characteristics of the family plays a huge role. Also, a person’s peer group, work or the community in which they live can play a part. Personal history can, whether it be trauma of some sort, physical or sexual abuse, parental upbringing, school experience, and so on. All these things can trigger addictive behaviour, but then again, not always.

Interesting to ponder. What were your contributing factors in developing an addiction or multiple addictions? Were you pre-wired with an addictive personality do you think? Was it behavioural by way of repetition? Genetic? Or was it environmental in some way, or due to personal history? Or a combination of factors? Why do some seem to escape the clutches of addiction do you think? In every scenario, there are those that don’t succumb to addiction. Why not?

There are no right or wrong answers here, just thoughts and experiences to be shared. Feel free to use the questions or some of them as a guideline, or not. Write as feels comfortable. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Sally S

About Sally S

Born in Yorkshire, raised on the little Island of Guernsey...I’ve always been a curious type of person. A bit of a nurturer...fascinated by people, cultures, nature and the world at large. My mother tells me my most frequently uttered word as a young child was “why?” and I was that kid on the beach that never lay on a towel catching rays but would spend my time turning over stones in rock pools to see what lived underneath. Having lived in a few countries and explored many more..I’m always humbled and perhaps oddly comforted by knowing that I’m just a tiny dot in a vast world of interconnected life. Forever evolving, forever changing. Addiction is a large part of my adult life..when active, it was a destructive force but the existential crisis it eventually led to is something I am now truly grateful for. I don’t know what lies around the corner but one thing I’m pretty sure of, life in recovery is for living
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  1. My view on the etiology of an individual’s addiction is naturally steered by addiction as it applies to me. I realize this perspective isn’t exactly favored by many in this industry (Yes ! Industry!) but here goes: If I was never prescribed Oxycontin for moderate back pain, I would not have suffered from addiction. I have yet to hear one story where someone is prescribed this drug over an extended time and does NOT develop addiction. Yes, the drugs created my addiction. Not a disease. This conclusion seems to be gaining momentum among addiction researches but within recovering addicts in 12-step programs this is blasphemy. Hence, to answer your query about the “who”, my answer would be related to the behavior of using/taking strong medication. Anyone.

  2. You bring up interesting questions here Sally and for years I wondered the same things. Ultimately I concluded I may never have the answers to my questions. For instance, I had a very religious upbringing. No one in my immediate family drank alcohol. Neither did my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents etc, as far as I knew. Maybe it was hereditary but there was no evidence to evaluate. I recall my first recovery experience and reading over a checklist of factors contributing to alcoholism. According to that list there was no way I should be an alcoholic which only added to my questions. I wanted to believe I was not but there is no escaping reality. Today I am comfortable knowing what I am and what I can do about it.

  3. Thank you for the great blog, Sally! I am not up on the latest science of addiction. I am, however, a little versed in experience. Mine and others. lol
    When I first began in the program, I didn’t want anyone there who knew me because I didn’t want them to know how sick I was. When I came in, that’s how it was.
    I was doomed to partying beginning at age 4. I had an older brother and we fed off each other in trying different substances. I felt way different, even in my legs when I drank and I loved it at a young age and decided I was going to drink much when old enough.
    I believe this was a combination of several different reasons as to why I became an alcoholic and drug user. I was molested for many years and it was a means to escape. It became a habit to do so eventually, on a daily basis at a young age.
    Thank you for the interesting information, Sally!

  4. Interesting topic

    With today’s powerful drugs, I believe everyone has the potential to become addicted. Why are some people able to use responsibly while others have lost control of using? I think the answer lies in the difference of threshold of addiction for each individual. This difference of threshold is determined (as you mentioned) by two factors: the genetic makeup and the environmental influences. When the collected contribution of these two factors reach the threshold, addiction results.

  5. Hello again! A great piece of writing, much to think on. My father was an alcoholic, so was his brother and my grandfather. Others too I believe. I guess you could say it is likely that I had a predisposition to alcoholism. I remember reading somewhere that you’re eight times more likely to develop an addiction if you’re a child of an addict, I don’t know how true that is. I felt different as I grew up but that was mainly because my family was so dysfunctional compared to my friends. I decided never to drink, never to be like my father but I became just like him after he had died. My wife was aware of my family background and managed to get me into treatment, I’ve been sober ever since. Without my wife, I don’t know where I’d be. Most likely still down that rabbit hole you mention.

    Why some people get addicted when others don’t is an interesting question. I think it’s a combination of things like those you mention rather than anything specific. Certain factors converging at the same time. With respect to my own experience, my sister didn’t become an alcoholic. She has always stuck to her guns and has never drank so has avoided any danger of becoming an alcoholic. She hasn’t been tempted from what she tells me having seen the damage it can do. Good for her!

  6. Wow, that is a lot of thinking. Good story, Sally. Firstly, some of the people you know could be in recovery and don’t talk about it at a reunion. I wouldn’t. Not something I’m particularly proud of as an accomplishment, but not something I’m ashamed of, either. Then there are people you don’t see there because they are in active addiction or dead. I’m 57 and am really surprised and saddened about all the known people who passed away in my high school graduating class. I knew a couple who died of suicide.

    I also wonder if there is specific genetic predisposition for addiction. I guess if it happens with mental illness, it can happen with addiction. I’ve always thought of it more as a environmental/cultural issue. And abusive families tend to produce abusive families.

    Then I look at addiction, itself. Is anyone forcing us to use in excess? If we are able to stop using, we should be able to control our use. In my case I simply didn’t want to. My addictions, I feel, were because I wanted to die and hurt myself as soon and as quickly as possible. That is why I started cigarettes. With cigarettes, and really all my addictions, I found the psychological addiction to be the toughest to deal with. That might support the “thinking disease” premise. And the DSM-V lists “alcoholism” as “alcohol use disorder.”

  7. Hi Sally,

    I remember feeling different when I was young, I didn’t seem to be able to connect well with others and was shy and awkward. I felt I thought differently, I didn’t fit it. Drugs and alcohol changed that, they helped me relax and be a part of the crowd. They helped with my low self esteem also. But as I began to use more and more, I stopped going out unless I had to. I’d be flooded with anger, sadness and fear and use more. A viscous circle that had me suicidal in the end. What had once been just a way to get through social situations became a living hell.

    Not only did I feel different but I lived in an area where it was easy to get drugs so environment played a part as well. I have often wondered why some people get addicted and others don’t. I like your comment about heart disease. My grandfather smoked until he was in his 80’s and never got a smoking related illness yet some die from second hand smoke. It’s a bit like playing Russian roulette in some ways.

    Thanks for another interesting topic 🙂

  8. Custom built problem for which only a Custom built solution works.
    My recovery may not work for another addict but I need the Experience/Strength/Hope of other recovering addicts to keep my recovery
    going.I certainly know the core issue is staring at my face & if I sweep
    it under the carpet my struggles never end.

  9. Nice article Sally! They say drinking alcohol is just one symptom of alcoholism. The longer I’m sober, the more how true I see that. IMHO, I think its something in the DNA that makes us addicts. That and some brain cells that are chemically just not right, or left over wiring from our Neanderthal ancestors.

  10. Nice piece! Thank you!

  11. Thank you, Sally!
    In my years in recovery I have heard and seen this debate never ending. There is an epidemic of black and white thinking out there, so I figure we probably won’t have a consensus anytime soon.

    Mine was a result of both nature and nurture. At first, I didn’t crave….it was just a way to not feel…. Then it became a habit…. It wasn’t until I worked on the causes that I found relief.

    Good questions!

  12. It’s interesting, at the time period I remember first drinking alcohol on a daily basis (at an unhealthy level) I was happy and content. True, I had been a painfully shy teenager but I’d grown out of it..and I’d also experienced trauma in my life but moved on. For many years, I enjoyed life…I worked, had a social life and I was comfortable in my own skin…but I drank every evening in excess. Come rain or shine, I drank. It flies in the face a little of The Rat Park Experiment and the conclusions drawn from the soldiers returning from the Vietnam war..which suggest that it’s not the substance that got a person hooked but the environment. For me, I think it was the substance, my environment was fine. I liked the taste and I liked how it made me feel. It was the icing on the cake to my days.

    Certainly, when my addiction progressed…I displayed some of the personality traits listed but not in a significant way before I was addicted I don’t think. Currently I feel that my addiction most likely occurred as a result of repetition, drinking excessively over many years. At exactly which point I crossed the line, I don’t know…but the rewiring occurred and I couldn’t control my drinking, until finally I threw in the towel. Now, I have picked up and continue to pick up recovery tools that help me live life on life’s terms on a daily basis without the need to resort to addictive behaviour…one day at a time. They evolve as I evolve, as my life unfolds.

    I don’t have any concrete ideas as to why some people develop addiction issues whilst others don’t. A combination of things plus a persons biological make up perhaps. But I do believe that significant changes occur in certain areas of the brain when true addiction has taken place. So maybe, with regard to the repetitive behaviour cause of addiction which I likely experienced, it’s similar to…say, heart disease. Not everyone goes on to develop heart disease who ticks off all the risk boxes…the same thing could be said regarding repetition and the associated brain changes that occur in addiction perhaps. It happens to some and not necessarily to others. Just my thoughts.

    Thanks for all the responses so far, awesome! As for the happens, it’s just great that we’re connecting 🙂

  13. I believe I was born with the the addiction predisposition. I was always the risk taker, thrill seeker, enevelope pusher, anything to make life a little more exciting! It was not just one thing, it was whatever I did I did it to the extreme. In the early years I actually took pride in my willingness to be bold and take risks, without getting hurt. And I didn’t think I was hurting anyone, until I started playing with substances in college. It was then I saw that I could get out of control and needed to back off, one thing after another. I didn’t think it was anything more than poor choices and wild behavior, But after i married and the “honeymoon” phase ended, the solution was not to work on marriage or myself but to escape into that wild fun world once again. I then knew the “substances” began to control me and I needed help. I got help and was fine for years quitting all substances until later in life when cancer struck and I became a patient of surgery after surgery. I won’t go into the patient story but my cancer was metastatic and I was prescribed treatments and medicines for 8 years. Medicines were part of my existence and nobody really expected any different with my prognosis. My pains were numbed. My addiction was certainly active but I was under a doctor’s care and I had justifiable pain so medication was not only accepted but kind of expected?. After 8 years, I was finally in what appeared to be total remission. Went back to work, and got married and pregnant. Life was great until it wasn’t great and I thought a little drink here and there woudn’t hurt, (I’d been doing that on and off for AA was not a part of my life). Wasn’t long before alcohol had control of me! Go figure; I had never really worked on the underlying problems. It didin’t take long before I surrendered completely, and only then found TRUE recovery! AA showed me how to live and handle life on life’s terms. For me I believe addicion was genetic, envirnmental and circumstantial. “Alcohol is but a symptom”. Thank God for the tools so that now when “circumstances” appear too difficult to handle, I. have tools as outlined in our 12 steps and leave the rest to God. And today I do my best to NOT be and envelope pusher, I am now proudly strive to be the rule follower! :). Thanks Sally for a great article. Be blessed!

    • Apologies for all the typos! That’s what happens when I try to edit and can’t see well enough on this devices to make complete corrections. Where it the next “edit” button when you need it???

  14. Thank you again Sally for a thought inspiring look into addiction’s possible causes. I find it most interesting that no solid medical/scientific causes have been determined as yet and ironically, it is the same story with recovery. While many theories abound about why living the 12 step way of life may prevent relapse and help to stay abstinent, there is no definitive evidence of why it works. Hence, I bow to the mystery. Would knowing really make a difference anyway? When at a very young age I discovered a seeming “cure” for anxiety, fear, depression, and loneliness in a drink of alcohol would knowing why have deterred me from seeking the relief it gave me again and again? I don’t believe so. Sometimes, for me, just accepting and being extremely thankful for those things that are beyond human knowledge is somehow very comforting.

  15. Wow – this is a great question for which I have no answer.

    My own story – no question that drinking was big in my family – but – this is family that I had been estranged from for my first 20 years of life.

    Friends at a meeting? I live in a great big city and yet I live in a small town. I found friends – surprised to find – at the very first meeting I attended. And I attended that meeting WITH a friend, who has been in and out of AA for many, many years.

    Quick aside – a neighbour – across and 1 door down – he stopped by in a very uncomfortable visit to tell us police would be at his house as his wife was leaving him and she found she needed accompaniment. As it happens, we also spoke about AA – he is a long time member. And beyond that – another member was introduced electronically who lived 4 doors down, to the right.

    So. There are people. Ha! 🙂

    Now – I don’t see that ANY of this has helped in any possible way. Sorry to disappoint.

    To me, there is no question that there is a genetic component. There is also an environmental component.

    The biggest thing, to me, is the genetic component. Perhaps a propensity to abuse because of issues that someone is dealing with and has yet to find a better way to deal with.

    This is not a cop out. There is also the question of habit – the “This is what I do when…” question. And THAT is something that these programs can help with.

    The root though – if that is not dealt with, it will manifest itself in the original addiction itself, or in others. The root needs to be dug up, and dealt with.

    I am not saying that you cannot live sober without it. What I am saying is that if you find it and deal with it? Everything else gets wayyyy easier.

  16. Excellent piece. I’m still trying to figure it all out. Over a few years of absence I can see patterns in me (pre-alcoholism), my family, others, people I’ve known in recovery, people I know who “ought” to be in recovery, etc., we have so many things in common. It’s amazing.

    Did you mention stubborn? that one I think is a key element in all of us recovering people, and the non-recovering-ought-to-be-recovering people.

    The important thing for me is, though, am I one of those, and if so what to do I to live with all those ailments I have; and once I’ve been in recovery how do I help others achieve a good life in spite of those traits.

    It’s an ongoing issue with me. Thanks again.

  17. Thank you Sally for another great article and topic.

    I saw this and the first things that came to mind were: nature versus nurture; addiction, disease , disorder or behavior; and another favorite ~ the Chimp Paradox.

    My personal belief is I have an Addictive personality. I know that I can obsess and over indulge on just about any substance or behavior. Its what I do!

    St Augustine said “Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.”

    Who knows why one person is able to have one drink, gamble a few dollars, eat one piece of chocolate, or have healthy sexual relationships. We each have to determine when our activities become “unhealthy” or unmanageable.

    Identifying the issue, admitting I have a problem, and be willing to take actions as needed is the key in my opinion.

    I am comfortable that I wont drink or use today. Urges are infrequent, and when they rear up as either a subtle tempting angel or rage as an overpowering demon, I have tools to deal them.

    I’m a big fan of looking at the root cause of urges. What triggered the urge ~ people, places, or things. I also look hard at what at how I am letting external factors effect my emotions.

    I value my emotional sobriety and find that I often get more upset with myself for letting things get to me.

    To me, serenity is keeping my calm in the midst of chaos.

    Regardless of whether my issues with alcohol stem from disease, disorder or my addictive personality, I will actively seek out any tools to help me overcome my daily efforts to maintaining my sobriety.

  18. Interesting! Very interesting! True! A lot of those factors may contribute to one’s illness! For me, it doesn’t really matter anymore! What matters is that I found the solution for it! I hope that everyone who suffers from it does as well!

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