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What Non-Genetic Factors Put a Person at Risk for Addiction?

We know that the risk for addiction is high among those who are born genetically predisposed. But reward deficiencies in the brain can also be caused by non-genetic factors. Certain environmental factors can alter or disrupt the normal process of neurotransmission in the reward center of the brain and lead to a higher risk for addiction.

An individual exposed to long periods of stress are at risk of addictionPrenatal. Trauma that occurs while in the womb can damage the reward center and leave the brain chemistry altered after birth. This trauma could be caused by a mother’s substance abuse problems, malnutrition or a physical injury.

Malnutrition. Lack of food or the right types of food, low calorie dieting, or food sensitivities can cause the body to not get the nutrients it needs. This affects how the brain produces necessary chemicals or neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are created from amino acids, vitamins and minerals, most of which come from the food we eat. When this isn’t available, the reward system suffers.

Stress. This is especially true if the stress is severe or ongoing. The brain’s biochemical response to stress is normal and protective. But when the strss is severe or ongoing the brain’s chemicals are unable to return to normal. This can disrupt the neurotransmitter processes and create a reward deficiency. This problem is then further compounded by the face that drugs and alcohol are often used as a way to alleviate or avoid stress. An example of a severe stress situation would be living through a tornado or a bad car accident. An example of prolonged stress is the type of stress that can occur over a long period of time at a bad job.

Physical Trauma. This is especially true of a head injury. Physical trauma can lead to an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain and thus a reward deficiency. As a result,  the brain is susceptible to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to temporarily alleviate this imbalance.

Chronic Use of Drugs or Alcohol. Regardless of whether someone is genetically predisposed, if an individual continues to expose their brain to drugs or alcohol, a neurotransmitter imbalance can occur, creating a reward deficiency, and an individual becomes at risk for addiction.

For more information like this: a great resource is Staying Clean and Sober by Merlene Miller, M.A. & David Miller, Ph.D.

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