The experience of addiction or substance use is different for each individual, and often there is a combination of biological, psychological and social factors that can contribute to why a person may be struggling with an addiction or substance use. For example, some of the risk factors for addiction include: a person’s genes, the way a person’s brain functions, previous experiences of trauma, cultural influences, or social issues such as poverty and other barriers to accessing the social determinants of health. The social determinants of health are the social and economic conditions in a person’s life that can play a significant role on a person’s overall wellness and can impact addiction and substance use related issues. Some of the social determinants of health that are particularly significant:
- Freedom from discrimination and violence
- Social inclusion
- Access to economic resources
While the social determinants of health may contribute to addiction/substance use, there is no single set of factors that represents the complex causes of addiction.i Click here for more information about the Social Determinants of Health.
An important factor to consider is how mental health and addictions are linked and impact one another. A mental health issue, in conjunction with addiction or substance use is known as a concurrent disorder. While it is difficult to obtain an accurate statistic of people living with concurrent disorders, research shows that more than 50% of those who are seeking help for an addiction also have a mental illness.ii Many people who experience addiction or substance use issues also experience stigma and discrimination. Stigma can be defined as a negative stereotype, and discrimination is the behaviour that results from this. There are numerous ways that stigma and discrimination can impact a person, such as a loss of self-esteem, a fear of seeking treatment, or feelings of isolation. Often people with concurrent disorders may experience multiple, intersecting layers of discrimination as they are living with both addiction and mental health issues. iii There is still much to learn about the complexities of substance use and addiction, however, research has indicated that nobody chooses to become addicted, and that it is not due to a moral failing or weakness with an individual.
Researchers have found that there are some aspects of a person’s life that can contribute to individual becoming less likely to have substance use or addiction related issues. These are called protective factors and can include: having a childhood with a positive adult role model, being motivated and having personal goals, involvement in meaningful activities, and being connected to a positive and reliable community of support. As one addiction researcher states “The opposite of addiction is connection.”iv
i Centre for Addictions and Mental Health. (2012). Why do people develop addictions? Retrieved from: http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/health_information/Pages/default.aspx
ii Centre for Addictions and Mental Health. (2012). Mental Illness and Addictions: Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from: http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/about_camh/newsroom/for_reporters/Pages/addictionmentalhealthstatistics.aspx
iii Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario. (2016). Stigma and Discrimination. Retrieve from: http://ontario.cmha.ca/mental-health/mental-health-conditions/stigma-and-discrimination/
iv Hari, Johann. (2015). Chasing the Scream. The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. New York: Bloomsbury.