Demystifying Addiction: How to Mitigate Common Risk Factors

Addiction is so common in our society that most people have battled it themselves, or have someone close to them who has struggled with it. While addictions to drugs—both prescription and illicit—and alcohol are most commonly talked about, addiction can stretch to anything, including food, exercise, sex, sugar and even technology. Many different things can lead to addictive tendencies that usually appear benign; however, over time, they begin negatively impacting the lives of many around that person.

Here are some common denominators that require attention and evaluation if we want to address recovery, or if we think we might be susceptible to addiction and want to help guard against it.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Our bodies know when something is missing; they tell us in ways that are both subtle and not. We just have to be better about listening. For instance, when blood sugar drops, we may find ourselves craving something sweet. Vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies mean our bodies are no longer in a state of balance; we begin to experience cravings. The nutrients we may be lacking—from vitamins A to zinc, fatty acids, protein and more—are necessary for the production of important hormones, neurotransmitter functioning and, ultimately, feeling and living well.

Addiction leads us into a vicious cycle where it may have initially resulted from nutrient deficiencies, but then our ability is hindered to nourish the body in the way that it needs in order to exit the cycle. It is important to complete lab work that tests for nutritional deficiencies and work with a healthcare provider to develop a health plan to get back into balance.

Past Traumas

At some point in our lives, a curious friend or a skilled massage therapist probably asked us where we might hold tension in our bodies. Another good question to ask is where we feel we are storing our past traumas.

The reality is that our experiences and emotions are key factors when it comes to our tendencies, mindsets and behaviors. Unacknowledged and untreated trauma plays a huge role in addiction. The “self-medicating” term is used for those who deal with difficult emotions or states of being by drinking heavily, overeating, or engaging in patterns of risky behavior to numb pain or fill a void. In the absence of healthy coping mechanisms and trauma processing, many people fall prey to addiction. It’s important to not only recognize the traumas, but to work through them so that they don’t sneakily control us.

Head Injuries

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) sufferers are at a higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. These injuries can disrupt the way the brain normally processes information, weighs risk/benefit, manages inhibitions and makes decisions.

If a head injury occurs, get checked out immediately, and follow up with a healthcare provider for further tests and monitoring. Past head traumas can leave residual impacts, so it is crucial to keep up with regular checkups. It is also important to let the healthcare provider know of any changes in behaviors, cravings, tendencies and mental processes. And if a head injury is part of the landscape of the addiction, then it must be taken into account as part of the roadmap for recovery.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is another circumstance that can lead to addiction, especially if opioid painkillers have been prescribed or alcohol is being used to make the pain more bearable. Being in a constant state of pain or discomfort can take a toll on a person. And many of the drugs in question are themselves highly addictive. It can be easy to seek relief in substances or even behaviors that take the pain away in the moment, but then harm us more in the long term.

For those that suffer from chronic pain, it will be useful to work with a healthcare provider to develop strategies and find non-drug therapies and practices to help best manage it. This might include physical therapy, acupuncture, craniosacral and bodywork therapies, meditation, and other alternatives. There is no reason why we can’t use these therapies in the beginning under the guidance of a healthcare provider while simultaneously digging deeper into the root cause of discomfort.

Family History

Addiction, like other illnesses, can have a strong genetic component. While there’s nothing we can do about our genetic makeup, we can certainly be aware of risk factors and work to mitigate them. It may mean avoiding the substance or behavior we worry could trigger an addiction. Maybe it’s opening up to those close to us and ensuring they know which warning signs to watch for, and how to respond if they see them.

When it comes to recovery, it’s important to be aware of not just the genetic, but the social aspects of family history. Were there unhealthy messages we grew up with around drugs, alcohol, food or other things that can be abused and lead to addiction? Do we know our triggers and where they originate? These can be tough, painful questions, but ultimately being aware of where we are and where we’ve been can help us better plan a path forward.

Dr. Nadia Noori, ND, is a Westport-based naturopathic doctor with a general family practice. She also specializes in optimizing brain health with a focus on neurodegenerative and neuropsychological conditions. Connect at 203-916-4600 and ShalvaClinic.org.