There are various theories of what causes addiction; some blame biological causes (primarily heredity), while others place more responsibility on the presence or absence of psychological or social factors (West, 2011). Few theorists would posit that either biological or psychological factors are entirely responsible for addictive behavior; rather, most researchers and counselors alike agree that a combination of these factors is necessary for addiction to become an issue in a client’s life (Griffiths, 2008).
Biological Theory of Addiction
The biological theory of addiction points to hereditary factors as the primary cause of addiction (Griffiths, 2008). Studies conducted have largely indicated that there is, indeed, a hereditary nature to the development of addictive behavior, although it is generally accepted by the scientific community that in addition to the presence of addiction in the immediate family, other factors play a role (Griffiths, 2008). If this were not the case, we could expect to see a 100% correlation between addicted parents and their children, which is not the case (Griffiths, 2008). However, in the most indicative of all studies–identical twin studies–a biological component of addiction seems clear (Griffiths, 2008).
Proponents of the biological theory of addiction rely mainly on study results to prove that this theory holds merit, and believe that the presumed fact that addiction is primarily inherited lessons the stigma of the disease, which could lead to more addicted persons seeking treatment (West, 2011). Detractors of the biological theory of addiction point out the inability of genetics alone to predict which offspring of addicted parents will adopt addictive behavior as evidence that this theory is faulty (West, 2011). Also, the fact that as of yet no specific gene or gene sequence has been identified that either predicts or causes addiction leads some theorists to discount or minimize the hereditary component of addiction (West, 2011). In sharp contrast to believing that the loss of stigma were addiction considered to be mainly hereditary would lead to an increase of treatment-seeking behavior in addicted persons, these theorists fear that proclaiming addiction to be primarily biological could lead affected persons to believe that controlling their addictive tendencies is beyond their control, which would lessen their seeking of and commitment to counseling (West, 2011).
Psychological Theory of Addiction
To some extent, most clinicians and theorists who subscribe to the psychological theory of addiction believe that addicted persons use drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate (Booth, 2002). They believe that drug abuse is primarily a method to dampen negative or painful feelings, which often originate in early childhood (Booth, 2002). Traumatic experiences and difficulty in the ability to effectively self-calm, as well as chronic self-esteem issues, are all believed by proponents of the psychological theory to be causative of addictive behavior (Hammersley, 2014). Troubled relationships are also believed to be a primary cause of inappropriate drug- and alcohol-related use, as is the tendency to look outside oneself for solutions to problems, rather than attempting to change one’s own negative or delusional thoughts and behaviors (Hammersley, 2014).
Detractors of the psychological theory of addiction point out that identical twins raised apart in very different environments have been shown to have similar levels of addictive behavior, whether or not their family situations were primarily positive or negative in nature (Piazza & Deroche-Gamonet, 2013). This, they claim, shows that environment alone is not causative of drug abuse; there must also be a biological factor involved (Piazza & Deroche-Gamonet, 2013).
What I Personally Believe About Addiction
I believe, as do most clinicians, that neither the biological nor the psychological theory of addiction totally explain the cause of or tendency towards the development of addictive behavior. That being the case, it would seem most helpful to clients with addiction issues to be treated with a combination of the two theories. Every client with addiction issues, whether or not he/she has a genetic history of drug or alcohol abuse, will benefit from learning more adaptive coping mechanisms than the abuse of drugs (Piazza & Deroche-Gamonet, 2013). That is what I hope to provide in my future counseling practice.