My Not So Secret Diary

Risk Factors of Addiction

Risk Factors at the beach in Cornwall writing for my sobriety and mental health blog My Not So Secret Diary by Claire Hatwell
I find the thought of addiction fascinating, and by that I don’t mean the addiction itself, because we all know, that is no fun at all, but rather the reason behind why some of us get addicted. I know the easy answer would be to say because we drink or use a substance too much, but that isn’t always the case. For a lot of us it is far more complicated than having a few drinks too many.

Some suggest that the predisposition to an addiction is innate, maybe inherited genetically, as there often does seem to be a link in families. Others seem to think it is more learned than that, perhaps as a coping strategy for the things that life throws our way. Then there is the school of thought that suggests it is an illness that addicts have no control over, and are helpless to overcome. I don’t think it is as simple as one of these though, I think it’s more a combination and that although some people may be more at risk, it really is down to life experiences and how we cope with them that determines how we behave and how we recover.

There are a lot of factors that contribute to addiction, in fact so many that it is almost impossible to predict whether someone will develop and suffer from an addiction or not.

The most suggested factors influencing alcohol addiction are:
  • Family history of addiction.
  • Seeing excessive use as you’re growing up.
  • Drinking as a youngster.
  • Excessive drinking as you get older.
  • Peer pressure from friends, partners and those close to you.
  • A high stress career, with a need to find a release.
  • Frequent use of alcohol over a long period of time.
  • Personal mental health difficulties, with anxiety and depression being common causes.
  • Past traumas.

It’s worth being aware of these factors, as they might influence behaviour and alcohol use, but they are by no means definitive. You’ll generally see the factors grouped into internal and external factors, the first including genetics, mental health conditions, personality traits and the history each person has with drinking. The external factors are more down to family and environment, religion and social expectations as well as age, education and job status. I don’t always agree with the last few there, as if we take them into account, it means I’m not as at risk as some people. I have always had a job and a degree and yet as we know, I also had a severe drinking problem. It just proves, well I think it does, that there isn’t one single factor or reason that determines whether someone might develop a drinking problem, and just because someone is well-educated doesn’t mean they are immune.

Of course, if someone is to grow up in a family or environment where heavy drinking is frequent, then it will influence the individual, as it becomes normal or expected. That’s one of the reasons why I struggle with many alcohol based adverts, because they normalise drinking in a way that cigarette adverts once normalised smoking. I don’t feel there is any need to make it more normal. Those who want to drink are I am sure quite able to choose to drink without the reassurance and encouragement from an advert illustrating a life enhanced by alcohol.

There seems to be an increasing rise in recent years of women developing problems with alcohol. It seems that in our busy lives, combining many things like families, homes and jobs, more and more of us are looking for that way to relax in the evening, with many of us reaching for a bottle to do it.

Coming from someone who has recovered from an alcohol dependency, I’d like to say that sometimes you don’t see an addiction coming until it’s too late, and then it’s easy to deny it. Even to yourself. It’s easy to look on paper and think you are safe, and while risk factors are interesting, in truth I feel anyone can be at risk. What’s important to remember is that although alcohol or any other addictive substance can provide a relief, there are so many other things out there that can also provide a relief, and many of them are far better for you than an addictive substance.

Much love,
Claire x


Sunday Afternoon Thinking

Sunday Afternoon Thinking me in a tree. Photo taken by Katie Hatwell. My Not So Secret Diary Blog, by Claire Hatwell
I don’t think anyone can understand someone with an addiction unless they’ve been there. It doesn’t matter how kind their intentions or how helpful and supportive they want to be, unless they’ve experienced the feeling you get when you need something to that extent, then I’m not sure how they can be expected to understand.

I found it very difficult to voice my feelings about my relationship with alcohol both before I gave up drinking and also after. It was hard, because I didn’t really know how I felt and how I was going to deal with things. That is something I’m still working on to some extent even now. It’s hard when you’re doing that to listen to other opinions trying to persuade you or encourage you, especially when they haven’t experienced the same things that you have. It’s harder still to have well meaning voices tell you that you are okay, that it isn’t much of a problem, or that you just need to cut down a bit. It’s lovely, but in all honesty, no one else knows how much you drink unless you tell them, and if you’re anything like I was, you may well hide it from even the people you live with. Of course this means most people think you’re okay, because how can they possibly know the truth when you’re so good at covering your tracks? I know I became a wine ninja at home, choosing the moments when my husband had left the room to run to the kitchen to top up my glass and be back before (I hoped) he knew I had left. It meant I could have a couple of extras on the nights when I was pretending I wasn’t. Hiding the recycling was a common thing for me too.

No one else sees it unless you let them, so how can they understand?

I lost touch with some people over the course of my drinking ‘career’. Those closest to me now know that I wasn’t myself then, and those that mean the most are still here. The problem is that some don’t understand, I don’t think they even try. Maybe they think they are better than me? They didn’t ask if I was okay, and had no idea of what was going on for me at the time. How was I supposed to ask for help from them when I was breaking down inside? Arguments that should have been overcome were left to stew and I couldn’t deal with things like that when I was trying to put myself back together. Over time I tried to make amends, but for some it is never enough. For a long time I felt angry about that. I felt like I was wrong because it was ‘my fault’, but I wasn’t well, and to be honest, losing touch with judgemental people who have no understanding of me isn’t such a great loss. They say blood is stronger than water, but I can’t say I always agree. I’m only going to go so far, and if that isn’t good enough, maybe they aren’t good enough for me? It’s taken me a long time to begin to let the hurt go, but gradually I am.

I know I’ve said before about posts online that are meant to be funny, but they really do nothing to help us, instead reinforcing the fact that we are different. Some justify it by saying that we should scroll on by, but why should we? Every one is so keen to make their point but do they really listen to how some things affect others? There are so many of us out there, maybe we should be wondering why others need to prove that they only drink to relax or have fun, maybe they are in a situation similar to the one I was in and just aren’t ready to admit it to themselves yet? It’s just a thought. I know a lot of people are fine with the amount they drink, but I know a lot of others are so sensitive about it, that their need to justify it makes me wonder sometimes.

I’ve found, or at least am finding my place now. I am so lucky to have a wonderful family. My husband and my kids know that I lose the plot sometimes, and rather than judge me, they support me. I have my sober tribe online, that I can chat with when I need to and that includes all the wonderful people who follow and read this blog. It means so much to have your support and to be able to talk to those of you who message me too. Thank you for being here on this journey with me.

Much love,
Claire x