Before addiction science became as advanced as it is today, many people assumed that addiction was fueled by a personality disorder rather than neurochemical activity in the brain. People struggling with addiction were regarded as the result of their continued poor choices, rather than the brain developing a reliance on a substance because of the chemicals released in their brain and the permanent changes this can cause to their overall brain function.
The reward center of the brain is at the center of addiction, as it heavily dictates a person’s behavior in order to satisfy what’s needed for a dopamine release. Yet, this is only one of the causes and functions of addiction in the body. There are other factors that can lead an individual to addiction, or even multiple, including both behavioral and chemical.
To understand how multiple addictions occur, it’s important to look at factors that can affect one’s susceptibility.
- Genetics: Researchers have been working on isolating the “addiction genes” for various substance use disorders. For example, alcohol, opioid, and amphetamine addiction are commonly associated with genetic markers for OPRM1. There are more in-depth components that affect these genetic traits that are closely studied, and it’s been determined that 40%-60% of addiction vulnerability is determined by genetics.
- Mental Illness: Many people turn to substances of pleasure-seeking behaviors to cope with various symptoms of untreated mental illness such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and many more. It’s been found that about 40% of people dealing with addiction have a co-occurring mental disorder.
- Early exposure: Individuals who grow up around substance use or addictive risk-seeking behaviors tend to be more at risk of following suit and mirroring those actions, whether it be family or friends who are the influencers.
New addictions can occur even when someone is already battling another. For example, when someone misuses substances to cope with an underlying issue, the band-aid approach only seems to work for so long. The temporary relief they feel from the effects of one drug will soon become the new normal feeling of their day-to-day. As they maintain their dependency on one substance enough to not feel withdrawal symptoms, they may begin to experiment with another substance that will introduce a different kind of feeling to take them out of their “new normal” routine.
Sometimes people will seek out substances that “counteract” the effects of the other. For instance, someone who is addicted to “uppers” or stimulants like cocaine or amphetamines, may look to “take the edge off” by taking a “downers” or depressants like opiates, benzodiazepines and even alcohol. Thus begins the cycle of addiction with two substances that are being used to counteract or balance each other, all the while, the person who is misusing them is likely dealing with the core root issues that lead to substance use disorders.
Treating multiple addictions may seem like an enormous undertaking considering different substances require specific types of treatment. However, finding a facility that focuses on comprehensive care can make a world of difference. Patients are able to treat each addiction as part of a whole, looking at the big picture of recovery as the ultimate goal.
Working with expert medical providers to treat the chemical side of substance use disorder will make it easier for patients to work with counselors and therapists to understand the underlying issues or trauma that may have driven them to their addiction. By combining these approaches, patients are able to learn coping methods to help them deal with the challenges they will face later in life while in recovery without turning to harmful substances that could lead to relapse. There is hope for people who are battling more than one addiction, and professional, evidence-based treatment facilities have the tools to help put them on the road to healing recovery.