Are we born addicts?
This is the age old question of addiction: What causes people to become addicts? Is it genetic or environmental? Nature or nurture? Are we born as addicts or does our environment cause us to become addicts?
In over a century of studying addiction, scientists have not been able to answer this question. Sure, there are risk factors for addiction – both genetic and environmental – which make it more likely that a person becomes an addict, but some people who have many risk factors never become addicted. Likewise, some addicts have no risk factors for addiction.
Most experts agree, however, that addiction is a chronic, progressive, and sometimes fatal disorder with both genetic and environmental roots. It is a compulsion that causes a person to continue to behave in a way that is harmful to self and loved ones, despite an intense desire to stop. Addiction is not confined to any economic, social, racial, religious, occupational, or age group.
I think maybe I was born an addict. I had symptoms of addiction before I ever picked up a drug or a drink. As a child I could never really connect with other people. I was selfish and self-seeking, and I would become obsessive easily. One of my first escapes was reading, because it took me out of myself and numbed me to what was going on around me. I began to read day and night, sometimes not sleeping or eating for days at a time.
I don’t know what would have happened if I was raised in an environment without access to drugs or alcohol. I would still have felt that emptiness; the “hole in my soul” that addicts often talk about. I would have still been uncomfortable in by own skin. I may have turned to addictive behaviors, like gambling, sex, or shopping, to relieve that feeling. Many addicts turn to these behaviors when they first get clean. Perhaps, without drugs and alcohol, I would have just become very depressed, maybe even suicidal.
I don’t know what would have happened if I never had access to drugs and alcohol, because that is not my story. In my story, I found a solution in drugs and alcohol. They gave me a kind of relief I had never felt before. They filled the hole inside me, and for a while, they were very, very effective.
Eventually, the drugs and alcohol stopped working. I was not getting the same feeling of relief from using drugs and drinking. This left me in a very dark place. I was desperate for something else. It was in this moment that I was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Working the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous was the solution in my case. The steps gave me the same level of relief that I had once found in drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t an instant relief, like I had found in drugs, but it was a lasting one. Science may never decide for sure if we are born addicts, but I believe I was.
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