Why do some people get addicted and not others?


This is the question that I come back to a lot. While on the one hand, a lot of people seem to drink and even take drugs recreationally without it getting out of hand, others get seriously affected by it to the point where giving up is the only option. Lately, I have been very aware that not all of these people are really as free of a dependency as they would claim, but the fact remains that some people definitely do appear to get more hooked than others.

Perhaps it has been even more on my mind since I have tried to kick my sugar habit again this week, with dire psychological consequences. It leads me to believe some people do indeed have “addictive personalities.” It really seems impossible to indulge in moderation, and if I try this, within days I’m back to gorging obsessively on cakes and sweets until I feel sick.

I have researched this topic a bit but I expect I’ll always be looking for the answer. What came out of what I’ve read so far was the idea that there are indeed genetic propensities towards risk-taking behaviour and poor self-control, though these are not fate. The brains of people who are more sensation seeking do actually look different, according to one Cambridge scientist. However, other factors also need to be in place, such as a social environment in which the drug is prevalent (such as a workplace with a drinking culture, or – dare I say it – living in the UK).

Other factors which can activate these genes include childhood trauma, and other mental health problems, for which the person uses drugs/booze/whatever to self-medicate.

On the subject of youth, one US study found that 40% of people who drank before aged 14 went on to become alcoholics. That’s quite a staggering figure if it’s true. I do remember starting to drink at that age, as many in the UK do. There must be something in it – you are starting a habit when you’re still so young, that perhaps it fixes something in you forever if you’re not careful.

Sugar is the latest media demon, with a lot of the focus on how much “hidden” sugar gets into our food without us necessarily being aware. There is obviously also something about the substance itself which is addictive, but I wonder how many other people can eat it from time to time and not get fixated like I do.  A recovering alcoholic once told me: “What addicts have in common is they can’t tolerate the emptiness.” That emptiness exists for all of us, but for some reason, some try to fill it with everything they can while others can tolerate better the world as it is, sugar-free and sober.

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