The struggle to overcome an addiction is difficult and today’s busy, always connected lifestyle adds innumerable stressors that can aggravate usage and trigger relapses. If you are looking to begin your recovery journey, it is helpful to understand how your day-to-day environment can impact your addiction. Our physical and cultural environments, as well as the relationships we develop and cultivate, impact our reactions to drugs and alcohol. Below are five environmental factors that impact drug and alcohol use and addiction.
Our families have a massive amount of influence on our development and the behaviors we deem acceptable. Children are particularly susceptible. Studies have found that children raised in homes where domestic violence, physical and/or sexual abuse, criminal behavior, mental illness, neglect, divorced, or substance abuse are presented are more likely to develop addictions at some point in their lives. These instances of trauma have an impact on the creation of neural networks in the brain, which in turn make children more susceptible to addictive behaviors. Home environments where drug and alcohol use is treated as normal behavior or as an acceptable coping mechanism for life’s problems cultivate these behaviors in children, and lead them to continue these behaviors throughout their lives.
Parental behavior is closely linked to children’s development of addictive behaviors. Parents who are overly authoritative or those who show little affection, but make high demands on their children can push their children to seek an escape from their expectations through drugs and alcohol. Similarly, parents who provide little structure or discipline leave their children vulnerable to peer pressure to partake in drugs and alcohol at a young age.
Tied closely to our familial environments are our social circles. These circles include our friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc. For younger children and teenagers, friends can have a large influence on drug and alcohol use. Peer pressure and the desire to “be cool” and “fit in” can lead young people to experiment with drugs and alcohol, and continue to use to keep their friends. For many people, young and old, trying to maintain friendships with people who rely on drugs and alcohol for a good time can make it difficult to start a recovery program. They often find themselves mocked and ridiculed for not wanting to partake in drug and alcohol use, and worry about losing friends if they try to get help for their addictions.
If you find yourself in this situation, it might be best to cut yourself off from these circles of friends as you begin your recovery journey.
The neighborhoods we live in can have a dramatic impact on how we view drug and alcohol use. In neighborhoods where drugs are being bought and sold, it is easy to become desensitized to the risks associated with them. This can lead people, especially young children, to view drugs as an acceptable part of everyday life. Additionally, the presence of drugs in an area can create stressful living situations. Some people will turn to drugs to help cope with these stressors, creating a cycle of use that is hard to break.
Our culture and religion can also greatly impact our willingness to use drugs and alcohol. For many, college provides the perfect opportunity to experiment with different kinds of drugs, as well as partake in risky drinking behaviors like binge drinking. Similar to social circles, many people try drugs and alcohol to “fit in” with new circles of friends, and partake in risky behaviors because “everyone else is doing it.” Bars and restaurants around colleges often offer drink specials, drinking games, and celebrations to students to encourage them to spend more money on alcohol, and can add to the social pressure students feel to partake in risky behaviors that can lead to addiction.
The culture of social drinking often continues after college. Many people are encouraged to join friends and coworkers for afterwork drinks. While the occasional drink is unlikely to facilitate an addiction, habitual afterwork drinking increases the likelihood of developing an addiction. The fear of missing out and losing networking opportunities can make people reluctant to turn down these social drinking occasions. These learned environments can be difficult to break out of as you are beginning your journey to recovery.
Similarly, where we live and the religions prevalent in the area also play a factor in the development of drug and alcohol addictions. In many religions, shame is strongly attached to drug and alcohol use. For some, the need to rebel against these teachings leads them to overindulge and develop addictions. In areas where drinking and alcohol abuse is widely accepted as a social norm, many people do not see their addiction as problematic and are unwilling to seek help.
Media has a huge impact on how we view drugs and alcohol. Many movies, music videos, and TV shows glamorize the use of drugs and alcohol. These images have a great impact on how people, especially young people, view drugs and alcohol. They often create unrealistic expectations and glorify drug and alcohol use as a way to achieve one’s goals and wishes. Media portrayals of violence, sex, relationships, etc. can lead young viewers to develop unhealthy worldviews that can lead them to drugs and alcohol as a form of escapism.
Social media also can have a negative impact on drug and alcohol use. Similar to traditional forms of media, posts on Instagram and Tik Tok glamorize drugs and alcohol as part of the “jet-set” lifestyle of the rich and famous. The desire to partake in the challenges and trends on these sites can lead people to engage in risky behaviors. Similarly, it can seem like “everyone is doing it,” which can lead many to use drugs and alcohol without being aware of the risks involved.
While it may seem impossible to separate yourself from these environments, it is possible. One of the first steps on your recovery journey is to recognize the influence family, friends, and wider social circles have on you and your use of drugs and alcohol. By acknowledging the impact these environments have on your behaviors, you can begin to find new ways to interact with them while staying on track with your recovery.
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