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Addiction & Treatment
Research

Exploring the Causes of Addiction

Previously in this report, the causes for excessive use of drugs and/or alcohol were investigated thoroughly. All the currently popular alleged causes for excessive drug and/or alcohol use were rejected for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that the most popular causes for excessive drug and/or alcohol use was not unique to that population. The point to be made here is that if depression, for example, actually caused excessive drug and/or alcohol use, then statistically everyone would be excessively using drugs and/or alcohol. Why? Because everyone at one time or another experiences bouts of depression. But even when people experience depression, all of them do not excessively use drugs and/or alcohol. In fact, only a small percentage of those who experience bouts of depression end up also habituated to excessive alcohol and/or drug use. Moreover, there is no evidence that when individuals begin using drugs and/or alcohol, they are depressed. These same observations can be made with respect to claims that stress or anxiety cause excessive drug and/or alcohol use. The fact is that everybody experiences some stress in their lives and everybody experiences some anxiety in their lives, but everybody does not excessively use drugs and/or alcohol.
Why, then, do excessive users of drugs and/or alcohol readily accept the notion that their excessive drug and/or alcohol use is the result of stress or other negative life experiences? Most likely, when these individuals were going through adolescence they experimented with drugs and/or alcohol. Whether they liked it or not, was not as significant as the culturally expected effects: altered reality, giddiness, "devil-may-care attitude," calm, energy, false confidence, feeling of invincibility, shedding of responsibility, elimination of inhibitions, along with a myriad other expected affects. So when stress or any other negative condition entered their lives, in their adolescence, they had discovered a method for coping with such difficulties, i.e. using alcohol and/or other drugs. As stressfulness (negative conditions) continued, the use of drugs and/or alcohol also continued. Over time the effectiveness of the drugs and/or alcohol waned, so these users used more of their preferred drug and/or alcohol and used their preferred drug and/or alcohol more frequently. The use of drugs and/or alcohol became users’ "go to" response for seeking some relief from stress or other negative experiences. Such behavior has been well documented as "conditioned response."

Another conditioned response is created through learning. This is particularly obvious in the case of treating Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) with Ritalin (Methylphenidate Hcl) and other "behavior controlling" drugs. The practice of dispensing Ritalin to preadolescents is so common that a supply of the drug is in most school nurse’s offices to be dispensed to children to whom the drug was prescribed. Children being treated with "behavior controlling" drugs develop a conditioned response that connects the act of taking the drug to satisfying (pleasing) the adults in their lives. However, in the broader understanding, the child is conditioned to associate the act of using drugs with improved performance, improved social abilities and/or improved behavior.

Although this report refuses to enter the efficacy debate of forcing "behavior controlling" drugs on innocent children, it is appropriate to note that the efficacy research on the subject is ambiguous, at best. As an aside, parents, teachers and professionals claim "behavior controlling" drugs as miracle drugs for treating ADHD. However, children who have to take the drugs tell quite a different story. An overwhelming majority of adults who were treated with "behavior controlling" drugs in their childhood told Baldwin researchers that when they were taking the drug, they hated the feeling it gave them. They also complained bitterly about being labeled as different from "normal" children.

Although the previous conditioned responses can be characterized as negative, a conditioned response can emanate from highly positive effects. For example, preadolescents and adolescents (or people of any age) experimenting with drug and/or alcohol use may find the experience so exhilarating that they seek out opportunities to use again and again. The conditioned response is the expectation of feeling exhilaration as the result of using drugs and/or alcohol.

Consider that initially the use of drugs and/or alcohol began as experimentation, peer pressure, social acceptance, perceived culturally accepted effects, prescribed medication or pure enjoyment. There was no association between the use of drugs and/or alcohol and relief of stress and other negative life experiences because, initially, there were no experiences that connected the use of alcohol and/or drugs with stress relief. Eventually, through continued casual use, users that were experiencing stress (or other negative life conditions) noticed that while they were using drugs and/or alcohol they felt less stress, less fear, less depression or less of a myriad of other negative conditions. Although initially drug and/or alcohol use was an independent activity, as the thought of using drugs and/or alcohol reoccurred during times of experiencing stress, the result was a conditioned response. I feel stress; I can ease the stress by using drugs and/or alcohol.

It is important to understand what is happening here. Stress (or other negative life conditions) is not causing the user to use drugs and/or alcohol. There are numerous conditioned responses to stress and other negative life conditions, i.e. eating, running, physical exercise, counseling, massage therapy, meditation, group therapy, excessive work and so on. The point is that using drugs and/or alcohol or overeating or excessive physical exercise is not caused by stress; each is a chosen behavior selected by individuals as their personal chosen method to reduce their stress (or other negative life conditions). Most people, however, many of whom live in horrific stressful environments, simply accept stress and other negative life conditions as just part of life; they work through it and come out stronger for it on the other side. This, too, is a conditioned response to stress and other negative life conditions.

This discussion makes clear two important elements of excessive use of drugs and/or alcohol.
First, it convincingly demonstrates that excessive use of drugs and/or alcohol is not caused by stress, anxiety, depression or any other negative (or positive) condition. Baldwin researchers, after interviewing thousands of excessive drug and/or alcohol users, determined that users’ first encounters with drugs and/or alcohol had nothing whatever to do with negative life conditions. In fact, a significant number of drug and alcohol users interviewed, reported that they were very happy and most of them very successful, in spite of their self-proclaimed excessive drug and/or alcohol use. Why then, you may ask, did they decide to quit using? Quite simply, their drug and alcohol use began to interfere with other activities that became more important to them than continuing to use drugs and/or alcohol.
This fact leads to the discussion in Chapter 2 of the 13th Edition entitled Causes vs. Reasons. Consider the following:

The following concept is vital for you to understand if you wish to gain greater levels of satisfaction in your life. A cause is finite and completely predictable; it doesn’t require any reasoning. Again, it is crucial to understand this fact: a cause is finite and completely predictable; it doesn’t require any reasoning. For example, quietly walk up behind someone and clap your hands loudly behind their head. The person will blink involuntarily. This response is hard-wired in the nervous system from birth. The blink is a reflex caused by the loud noise. The person did not think, "I should blink now." The thinking part of the response is literally missing; the part called reasoning. Reasoning is thinking about your wants and/or needs and then deciding that blinking is an appropriate action to take in response to the clap. In this case reasoning does not take place in the process between the loud noise and the blink.

Most responses set up by fight or flight circumstances are reflexive actions. In other words, the blinking reaction is specifically caused by the loud noise - there was no thought involved. Should a mugger jump out unexpectedly and strike you in the face, no conscious (i.e. cognitive) process is going to occur between the strike and your hands involuntarily coming up to cover your face – it is automatic. Such responses have a direct causal relationship. They are caused by reflexive responses that are hard-wired in the brain.

The recovery society (including but not limited to treatment programs, 12-step programs and addiction counseling) would like you to believe that your behaviors (choices) with which they don’t agree and label as "addictive behaviors" are reflexive. That is, "addictive" behaviors are conducted with no thought (i.e. no choice or reasoning). Your "addiction" in this skewed view is literally caused by stress or trauma. Yet a cause for a behavior such as heavy substance use needs thought to occur because heavy substance use is not a simple involuntary reflex like blinking - it’s a complex behavior that takes several steps to complete. The recovery society would like you to believe that your habits are involuntary, out of your control, and "caused" by external factors - rather than reasoned out in an attempt to satisfy personal desires. When you compare and contrast the choice to go to a crack house against that of an automatic fear response such as those described above, the recovery society view can be seen for the absurdity that it is.

No one could really believe that going to the liquor store, buying booze, drinking all night, becoming intoxicated, and having a domestic disturbance with your spouse are on the same level as blinking from a loud noise. Yet that is exactly what the recovery society is asking you to believe. "You are powerless over heroin." This then expands to, "You cannot deal with stress well, so you need to develop a support system to help you resist bingeing when things get bad." In this fallacious logic, stress causes drinking, and support is needed to fight the causative power of stress.

This "underlying cause for addiction" theory leaves out three inherent human characteristics: free will, choice, and reasoning. It makes you an involuntary helpless victim of your surroundings and circumstances. In this view, stressful circumstances cause you to use, and supportive circumstances cause you to stop; all the while your personal enjoyment of substance use is ignored as a reason for use. This renders you a perpetual victim of circumstance. But ask yourself; are you truly an involuntary mess? Do you really believe there is no reasoning behind your choices to get drunk, high or any other behavior that you freely choose? And if you believe you are powerless, do you really want to hang onto the beliefs told to you by a "professional" who cannot possibly know what your thoughts and reasons are for your behaviors? Worse yet is that both professional counselors and lay counselors, even if they claim to understand your thoughts and reasoning, are trained to convince you that your thoughts and reasons are flawed. Think about it; are you willing to be led by someone whose training is based on controlling you through coercion, moralistic judgments, guilt tactics and fear-based advice?

By saying that stress, negative life circumstances, and other "underlying issues" don’t cause substance use, we don’t mean to suggest that outside factors have no bearing whatsoever on behavior; they certainly do. People consider plenty of outside factors when they choose their thoughts and behaviors, but these become reasons for their choices, not the causes of their choices. To restate this important fact: outside factors are reasons for, rather than causes of, your choices.

Now that you know that a cause for a reflexive action is an involuntary process, you can see that your choice to use substances, like any other choice in life, is NOT involuntary. As a matter of fact you now know that each and every choice you make is based on thought and reasoning. Thus, stress cannot cause drinking like a reflex; but life’s stress can certainly be a reason to drink, if that is the excuse or reason you choose to use. Consider the fact that people reason their way from stress to using.

Today’s society is impressed with the pharmacological power of drugs and alcohol. It’s common to believe that substances do everything from giving people courage, impairing motor skills, and increasing artistic ability, to causing violent behaviors, rape and infidelity. There are even hysterical primetime shows like the newest version of this narrative, "Drugs Made Me Do It" that continue to mislead the public with this erroneous belief. Substances supposedly do all of this damage as a function of their chemical action on the brain. But is this cultural faith in the chemical power of intoxicating substances undeserved? Perhaps, it is.

For a presentation of the entire 13th Edition text, please click here.

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