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Addiction's Puzzle: The Perfect Storm

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Published: Friday, August 7, 2009

Addiction is a complex occurrence that generally takes place over a prolonged period of time. Despite the many scientific disciplines that have conducted research in an attempt to conclusively identify the causes of this disease, there remains a lack of consensus as to the fundamental elements of addiction.

Accounts repeatedly reveal that there are five common pieces to the puzzle of active addiction that serve as the basic foundation leading to seeming disempowerment and entrapment. These pieces come together to form a perfect storm, much like in the movie "The Perfect Storm", where many independent storms from different directions converge and become so powerful that the fishing boat cannot escape, only with addiction, the way out seems impossible as the addiction itself becomes the dominant driving power of each day.

In addiction, the five pieces of the puzzle are:

Genetic Predisposition:

This could be refered to as the genetic "roll of the dice", similar to the well-documented family predispositions to such diseases as cancer and diabetes.

Social Interactions:

This element speaks directly to the people that one spends the most time with as the examples, attitudes and influences of those one chooses to surround oneself with directly impact our perspectives and our decision-making.


The locations where one spends time fosters a sense of acceptable boundaries. If one frequents places where addictions can easily be encouraged or accomodated, addictions have the opportunity to strengthen and further develop.

Life Events:

These are those circumstances and experiences that both precede and result from addictive behaviors. The degree to which coping skills are developed determine to what extent addictions will serve as the primary coping mechanism to trauma, stress, disappointment and other negative occurences in life.

Emotional Disturbances:

Addiction is an emotion-driven mechanism to deal with life. There is little, if any, other mechanism readily identifiable to the addict as decisions are determined in much the same way as was the case of Pavlov's dog. Reaction to outside events is with little thought or logic but rather based upon familiar, impulsive reactions to any series of triggers with no consideration to the consequences.

Genetic predisposition is a much-discussed subject as to its importance in determining a wide-range of diseases and disorders. Much effort is being made to accurately identify the DNA structure and exact genetic make-up of any disease, including alcoholism or drug addiction. While it is not accurate that having a genetic predisposition guarantees addiction, it does reflect an above-average possibility within a family and should be taken seriously. It should also be noted that it is not unusual for addiction to skip a generation with the male side of the family more often exhibiting these behaviors than the female side.

This raises the question - can a person with the genetic predisposition to alcoholism drink like a "normal" person? It is a high risk to take, especially as it sets in place one major, unchangeable and fundamental piece of the five part puzzle that will most quickly lock on to any - or all - of the remaining four pieces to the condition known as addiction.

I know of one family whose mother and family were both alcoholics and passed as a direct result of the damage done from the years of drinking. The second and fourth child became addicts from a very young age and struggled through adulthood with all of the issues that this situation brings. The first child escaped any addictive tendencies but had a son who did struggle with addiction. The third and fifth child did not become addicts but seemed to always attract people who suffered from addiction themselves, thereby continuing the cycle in a less overt way.

From the neurobiological and biological view, it is most unlikely that a person would be able to sustain "normal" social drinking once any peripheral trigger is pulled. From that point on, the puzzle pieces quickly fall into place to paint the picture of addictive behavior.

The last inescapable consequence of addiction is the shared impact it has on both the addict and those that surround him/her, primarily the family. No matter which side of the equation, each person is consumed by feelings of loss, hopelessness and despair. Chaos is the prominent sensibility. Trust is battered, if not completely dissolved. Joy is but a faint memory, and fear is the driving emotion upon which each thought and decision is based.

The good news is that there is help to be found. It does require acknowledgement of the issue, a willingness to travel the road to self-discovery and a commitment to replacing old behaviors and habits through the development of new thinking and coping skills. At the end, a new foundation for living can be placed upon which a more peaceful, productive and satisfying life can be built.

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