Substance Abuse: Etiological Considerations


Over the course of the last few decades prevalence of substance abuse has increased on a global scale.  The lifetime prevalence of a substance use disorder in the general population is approximately 24%.  The lifetime prevalence of any mental disorder (excluding substance abuse/dependence) is approximately 22.5%.  (McDowell & Clodfelter Jr., 2001)  Despite the increase, no single etiological path has been identified as a precipitating cause.  “Many interrelated factors influence a person’s decision to use substances.  These include psychological (intrapersonal and interpersonal), biological, environmental, and cultural factors.”  (Netherton, Holmes, & Walker, 1999, p. 245)  This essay will attempt to address some of the more predominant etiologies as related to substance abuse, with the express understanding that no single explanation is solely plausible due to the interactional and interdependent natures of the etiologies themselves.

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Individualized personality traits have been inexorably linked to problem drug behavior.  The “addictive personality” has come to represent individuals whom demonstrate significant levels of neuroticism; disinhibitory tendencies; anti-sociality; novelty seeking; negative affect; low self-esteem; anxiety sensitivity; hopelessness; sensation seeking; and impulsivity.  All of these individualized variables and personality traits can be employed to predict both nature and course of substance use.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 271, p. 260)  “Drug abusers show deficits in impulsive choice and inhibition, although it is impossible to know whether difference in impulsivity caused or were caused by drug abuse.”  (Perry & Carroll, 2008, p. 19)  Reyno and associates (2006) found that anxiety sensitivity was strongly related to alcohol consumption in certain high risk situations.

Genetically speaking, “having a biological parent who was or is alcoholic increases one’s risk for alcoholism about 2.5 times, regardless of whether one was raised by that parent.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 261)  Drug availability, when coupled with permission parental attitudes (up to and including parental drug use), has been shown to facilitate adolescent initiation and use of substances.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 258)  Parental smoking has been shown to increase risk for substance use in adolescent offspring.  (Keyes, Legrand, Iacono, & McGue, 2008)  As severity of substance abuse in the family increases, the negative consequences on adolescent development increase and are manifested in physical symptoms and negative mood.  (Gance-Cleveland, Mays, & Steffen, 2008)  It has been suggested that removal of the child from the substance abusing household can result in significant gains in child cognitive functioning.  McNichol & Tash (2001) found that children placed in forster care presented with low to average cognitive skills, but that they made disproportionate and significant improvement during placement.  Furthermore, they found that children with prenatal exposure to drugs scored significantly lower at the beginning of the placement, but made significantly more progress than the other children during placement.  This research seems to suggest that prenatal exposure to drugs, while regrettable, is not a “life sentence” for children.

Since adolescents place great value on peer opinions and struggle to fit in, peers contribute to the onset of drug use first by providing access to the substance by contributing to developing attitudes regarding expectancy.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 258; Netherton et al., 1999, p. 247)  Early expectancies of personal response to drug use have been shown to predict later use.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 268)  Research suggests that doing things in order to be popular with others is strongly related to feeling pressured by others, and that peer pressure is a far stronger predictor of risk behaviors and potential psychosocial difficulties than popularity.  (Santor, Messervey, & Kusumakar, 2000)

There is considerable evidence that severe trauma (e.g., disaster, assault, combat) greatly increase the risk for drug use and abuse.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 260)  In an exemplary study, Brave Heart (2003) leveraged the Lacota population to demonstrate that historical trauma (HT) has substance abuse ramifications, deemed to be a historical trauma response (HTR).  HT represents the cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over the lifespan and across generations.  HTR manifests in traumatized populations as depression, self-destructive behavior, suicidal thoughts and gestures, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, difficulty recognizing and expressing emotions, and substance abuse.  (Brave Heart, 2003)  There is also evidence to the contrary, with research that suggests that among homeless men, trauma experiences are strong indicators of mental health problems, but are not indicators of either physical health or substance abuse problems.  (Kim, Ford, Howard, & Bradford, 2010)

The weight of cultural influences is colossal, as demonstrated by relative conformity of subcultures within a specific society, and by the wide comparative variability between and among cultures and subcultures.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 255)  For example, “the holocaust experienced by American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) peoples during the past five centuries includes ravaged communities, destroyed families, the brutal murder of hundreds of thousands of AI/AN people, organized attempts to erase rich cultures and beautiful languages, and trans-generational scars that affect AI/ANs to this day.”  The subsequent introduction of alcohol and other substances have resulted in high rates of sexual and physical trauma, high death rates from physical complications of substance abuse, suicide, homicide, depression, grief, poor school performance, and low employment rates.  (Gray & Nye, 2001)

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References

Blaney, P. H., & Millon, T. (2009). Oxford textbook of psychopathology (2nd ed.). New York, New York: Oxford University Press.

Brave Heart, M. Y. (2003, Jan-Mar). The historical trauma response among natives and its relationship with substance abuse: A Lakota illustration. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 35(1), 7-13. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=338232111&sid=18&Fmt=3&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Gance-Cleveland, B., Mays, M. Z., & Steffen, A. (2008, Jan). Association of adolescent physical and emotional health with perceived severity of parental substance abuse. Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing, 13(1), 15-25. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=1418986821&sid=20&Fmt=3&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Gray, N., & Nye, P. S. (2001). American indian and alaska native substance abuse: Co-morbidity and cultural issues. American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research (Online), 10(2), 67-84. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=1077011111&sid=19&Fmt=3&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Keyes, M., Legrand, L. N., Iacono, W. G., & McGue, M. (2008, Oct). Parental smoking and adolescent problem behavior: An adoption study of general and specific effects. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 165(10), 1338-1344. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=1567487491&sid=7&Fmt=4&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Kim, M. M., Ford, J. D., Howard, D. L., & Bradford, D. W. (2010, Feb). Assessing trauma, substance abuse, and mental health in a sample of homeless men. Health & Social Work, 35(1), 39-48. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=1969768361&sid=18&Fmt=3&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD

McDowell, D. M., & Clodfelter Jr., R. C. (2001, Apr). Depression and substance abuse: Considerations of etiology, comorbidity, evaluation, and treatment. Psychiatric Annals, 31(4), 244-251. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=71687723&sid=22&Fmt=4&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD

McNichol, T., & Tash, C. (2001, Mar/Apr). Parental substance abuse and the development of children in family foster care. Child Welfare, 80(2), 239-256. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=70552258&sid=20&Fmt=4&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Netherton, S. D., Holmes, D., & Walker, C. E. (1999). Child and adolescent psychological disorders: A comprehensive textbook. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.

Perry, J. L., & Carroll, M. E. (2008, Sep). The role of impulsive behavior in drug abuse. Psychopharmacology, 200(1), 1-26. doi: 10.1007/s00213-008-1173-0

Reyno, S. M., Stewart, S. H., Brown, C. G., Horvath, P., & Wiens, J. (2006, Aug). Anxiety sensitivity and situation-specific drinking in women with alcohol problems. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 6(3), 268-282. doi: 10.1093/brief-treatment/mhl007

Santor, D. A., Messervey, D., & Kusumakar, V. (2000, Apr). Measuring peer pressure, popularity, and conformity in adolescent boys and girls: Predicting school performance, sexual attitudes, and substance abuse. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 29(2), 163-182. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=53959633&sid=17&Fmt=4&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD

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