Substance Abuse: Why We Are All At Risk

identifying risk for substance abuse

Several theoretical viewpoints have been researched in an effort to uncover the predictability of substance abuse; as yet, no one theory has been proven completely accurate. There are more variables which contribute to substance abuse than clinicians are aware; therefore, a combination of treatment modalities may be necessary for helping an addict through recovery.

The psychodynamic theory suggests that an underlying disturbance is responsible for becoming addicted. Psychoanalysts attempt to unearth problematic childhood problems or the presence of emotional voids stemming from early life, believing an inner, unresolved conflict to be the root cause of addiction to harmful drugs. While this may well be the case for some individuals, not all can cases can be resolved using the psychodynamic theory and treatment.

Unlike psychoanalysis, the sociocultural theory is rooted in the present. Practitioners of this theory believe that social status, unemployment, poverty and a host of life stresses can account for an individual's dependence on drugs. Theorists argue that poor living conditions and life quality are predictors of dependent personalities who ultimately become drug addicts. Unfortunately for the sufferer, this theory leaves many other questions unanswered; why do some of the world's most wealthy individuals also develop drug dependency?

Support groups and public programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous are beneficial to the recovery of some abusers, although others require more intense programs. Sometimes these are necessary to cater to those who have problems with cultural barriers, and for those who require more gender-specific attention. Sexual abuse often accompanies drug use, and "thus many women with such disorders feel more comfortable seeking help at gender-sensitive clinics" (Comer, 2005, p.310).

The behavioral and cognitive views of other theorists hold that conditioning is largely to blame for addiction. It is thought that associations, whether positive or negative, help to develop habits which are hard to break. To alleviate these problems, therapists often use aversion therapy or behavioral self-control training (BSCT) (Comer, 2005.p. 306). Aversion therapy involves introducing an element of disgust at the time when the person takes a drink; this negative association has been successful in reducing the intake of alcohol in particular. Behavioral self-control therapy requires that the patient record their actions over a course of time, allowing them to identify trouble areas when they are most likely to indulge in drug or alcohol abuse.

From a physical perspective, the biological theory makes perfect sense. Those who suffer from substance addiction may have a genetic predisposition. Biological theorists tell us that certain chemical reactions in the brain can make some people more prone to becoming drug dependant than others. Studies have also shown that adopted children can grow to become abusers like their biological parents were, despite being raised by drug free parents. Therapies from the biological perspective include taking other drugs to help wean a person from the drug of dependence. Another therapy simply known as detoxification is complete and sudden withdrawal, under medical and psychological supervision; "antianxiety drugs are sometimes used to reduce severe alcohol withdrawal reactions"(Comer, 2005, p.307).

In all instances, many variables are playing a role in the onset of dependant personality behaviors; therefore, a cocktail of different therapies may be tested over time, or combined to obtain the most comfortable and effective long-term solution to recovery. Over time, the behavioral-cognitive approach may well be the most effective remedy for drug abuse. Helping an individual alter their perceptions and feelings of self-worth, along with modifying behaviors so that less intense reactions are experienced during withdrawal, one could surely expect to see positive results. In many ways, the experience of therapy itself can provide an element of gratification in the absence of the more harmful alternative, and hopefully it will also provide the life-changing jolt needed to overcome potentially deadly and debilitating habits.


Comer, R. J. (2005). Fundamentals of abnormal psychology (4th ed.). New York: Worth.


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