“Born Addicts?” What Sober Addicts Say

“Born addicts” tell a highly consistent story: they used drugs as medicine from the very first time they were introduced to them. And despite often terrible repercussions — blackouts, arrests, waking up in strange places with suspect people — they only wanted more. Their obsessive use — their addiction — asserted itself immediately.

These were stories about growing up feeling fundamentally different than others, “uncomfortable in their skin.” They felt something missing, a hole in their souls, a love deficit, a bottomless belief that no one cared for them because they weren’t worthy of it. Introduced to booze or drugs, they found their antidote, the medicine to fill their psychic hole and feel normal for the first time. The effects were so positive they figured more must be better so they drank or drugged until they could barely function, often causing disastrous consequences. Their first-use stories were chronicles of personal degradation, shame and humiliation. And the fiercest of first hangovers.

Then came the line I heard so many times, almost verbatim, from so many sober addicts in so many different places, the precise opposite of normal drinkers’ reactions to their first hangovers (“I’ll never do that again.”). Instead, despite the severity of repercussions, every one of them said, “And I couldn’t wait to do it all over again.” They did, the very next chance they got, often the next day, with the same disastrous results. One speaker who told his variation on this theme said he concluded after several such episodes that he must have been born allergic to alcohol. “Every time I drank,” he said, “I broke out in handcuffs.”

“Born addict” stories are also consistent in another way: nearly all of them say their parents used alcohol and/or drugs addictively too. A surprising number said they had addicted grandparents as well. As a result, they came from badly dysfunctional families characterized by chaos, extreme unpredictability, secrets, shame, and often violence. Abuse and neglect were the rule, not the exception.

The stories I heard weren’t a scientific sampling. But every sober addicts knows people who tell this story. And not just one or two. Many of them.

The hallmark of addiction is that addicts use drugs as medicine, whereas “normies” use them for fun. Born addicts describe using drugs as medicine right from the beginning. Because most were second- or third-generation addicts, their histories led me to believe they’d inherited their addiction.

Neuroscientists agree that genetics can play a strong role in addiction. They also say that the chaotic environments described by born addicts can contribute to the risk of addiction. But neuroscientists are very cautious people, so they aren’t ready to agree that some people are so highly pre-disposed to addiction they’re born addicts (yet). But they come pretty close. For more on what they say, click on What Neuroscientists Say About Born Addicts.

For more on pre-disposition to addiction, click on Genetic and Environmental Components of Addiction.

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cover of A Whole Lot of Medicine

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