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Pathways to Addiction

One thing to keep in mind is that there is no single pathway to addiction. Many things come together for an addiction to happen. The more we know about addictions, however, the more we can learn how to treat the disease. Because addiction is just that: a disease. It’s not something that anyone asks for.

Addiction is often a response to trauma, but there are other factors that come into play. Continue reading to learn more about the pathways to addiction and how we can treat those pathways.

The Human Genome

“Your genome is your all-encompassing genetic blueprint,” says Markham Heid for TIME. Much of your genetic sequences, about 99%, are the same as the person sitting next to you. That one percent of variation, however, determines what makes you, you. Some of these variations, researchers have found, have a rather large impact on how we may or may not fuel addiction.

Much of addiction research is focused on alcohol dependence because it is the most prevalent form of substance abuse, Danielle Dick tells Heid. Dick is an addiction researcher and professor in the departments of psychology and human and molecular genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University. Some of these unique genes affect enzymes, which help break down alcohol in our bodies.

Although most people’s bodies can break down the alcohol rather uneventfully, some people have gene variants that alter this process. Thus, these people feel rather poorly when they drink even a little bit of alcohol. A byproduct of this is that these people tend to not develop an alcohol abuse issue because they do not drink as much because they feel poorly quicker than others.

Because they don’t drink, they are at a lower risk of developing a problem with alcohol. She stresses, however, that no single gene can completely impact a person’s risk for addiction. There are other pathways as well.

Two Genetically Influenced Pathways

“The way a person’s body responds to a drug is really just a tiny part of the influence genes have on addiction,” says Dick, because no single gene plays a humongous role in a person’s risk of developing an addiction. Even stronger, though, that the previous variation is two genetically influenced pathways that impact how your brain may process risk, reward, and emotion.

The “externalizing” pathway is the first genetically influenced pathway. This pathway describes people who tend to engage in impulsive or risky behavior. “These are people who were born with brains wired for sensation-seeking and reward-seeking, and they don’t stop to think about their actions or the consequences of their actions as much as others,” Dick explains. Because of this, these people tend to find themselves in risky environments that may present an opportunity to try addictive substances and develop problems with them.

The “internalizing” pathway is the second genetically influenced pathway. This pathway describes people who tend to develop depression and anxiety more than the other group. “This one has to do with the way our brains are wired to cope with fear and negative emotions,” says Dick. These people, studies have found, are also at a greater risk for substance use disorders because they use substances to help them manage their strong emotions and cope with them.

Instead of someone falling on one pathway or another, these pathways are more likely a continuum. We all have these pathways within us, says Dick, but our DNA helps to determine where we fall on this continuum. Thus, helping to roughly determine if we are more or less at risk of developing an addiction than the average person.

Experience and Environment

Besides the externalizing and internalizing pathway, experience and environment also play a role in helping to determine whether or not we are at risk for developing an addiction. Just because you may fall on the higher side of both pathways, you may not develop an addiction if your experiences never present the “right” opportunities.

This is where trauma comes in as well. For those who have had traumatic experiences, they may be more likely to engage in substance use. Trauma is a huge component of not only addiction but other mental illnesses as well.


What makes the whole picture even more complicated is thinking about timing. This is why many youths engage in substance use: their brains are not fully matured, thus leaving them susceptible to substance abuse during these essential years. If presented with the same experience and environment later one, these now adults may not engage in the same behaviors as they once did at a different time in their life. As people mature, experience and environment play less of a role and genetics begin to take over.

The Guest House knows that all of these things combine to create the “perfect” storm. If these things come together at the “right” moment, you may find yourself in over your head. If you believe that you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder or process addiction, The Guest House is here to help. Call us today at (855) 372-1079. We can’t wait to speak with you and help get you started on the journey to recovery. We can help, but you have to take the first step. Call us now. You won’t be disappointed with what we have to offer.