Addiction – The Power of Prediction and Prevention


It’s finally July and Grand Rapids has blossomed into the bright, bustling community I love. Families are spending evenings on the porch… watching kids draw with chalk… grilling all manner of meats and veg. These days, it can be easy to slip into a habit of mid-week drinking, what with holidays and get-togethers and a general need for “something refreshing” (it was 92 degrees the last time I stepped outside).


They didn’t drink like everyone else…

A friend of mine has told me stories about “those certain friends” her kids hung out with in college. As they reached adulthood, it was easy to spot the ones “who didn’t drink like everyone else.” There was an urgency with those certain friends. A complete disregard. An ornery twinkle in their eye, both dangerous and intoxicating (excuse the pun). They stood out… they kept drinking when everyone else just wanted to go to bed. It was almost desperate… They pushed it. Consistently.


Those Certain Friends…

According to addiction disease progression, there’s a lot at play here. Our physical bodies can work against us to foster a growing substance use disorder (SUD). Those certain friends may not experience hangovers. Their tolerance may be naturally higher than others. And they are energized by their substance, not bogged down.


This early in the game, it’s difficult to tease out the consequences. “Euphoric recall” kicks in (one remembers telling a killer joke, for example, not shattering a crystal wine glass). Physical dependence and withdrawal necessitate regular and habitual use (waking at night, “hair of the dog,” etc.).


Can We Predict the Onset of a SUD?


So, is it really possible to “predict” the onset of an SUD? It is, actually. Well… sort of. It’s not an exact science (it has more to do with common sense). In my work, I see a pattern of history, environment and mental health:


Self-concept, including level of confidence, self-efficacy, decision making skills, and self-talk. Are there life circumstances or health issues impacting my self-concept? How am I dealing with this?


Genetics. Up to half of an individual’s risk of developing a SUD may be due to a genetic predisposition. For more info from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), click:


Education or prior exposure. We can’t know what we haven’t been taught, after all. How did my parents and peers model substance use? What language did they use (if any) to describe it? What are my learned behaviors? (And how were they reinforced over time?)


Environmental factors, including those at the family, community, and societal level.


The Power of Prevention

According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), symptoms that signal a SUD surface 2 to 4 years before the disorder grabs hold. Early interventions (“coordinated, specialized efforts”) improve an individual’s chance of beating the disease before it becomes unmanageable. In fact, cost-benefit ratios for early participation range from 1:2 to 1:10. This means a $1 investment in treatment now yields $2-10 savings in healthcare, legal, and occupational costs later.


There are four components to addressing a SUD at its source: promotion, prevention, treatment, and recovery.


Promotion. To create an environment supportive of sobriety. At this stage, the individual learns tools to combat abusive or unhealthy behaviors.


Prevention. Ideally, this would occur before the onset of a SUD. Efforts reduce the risk of the disease developing further.


Treatment. Offered to folks who meet criteria for a SUD diagnosis.


Recovery. Services that support sustained sobriety from a substance.


Changing behaviors…


Those certain friends probably would have benefited from early intervention. Because once we begin to contemplate a problem exists, we can work towards change.


Change comes in several shapes and sizes, and may include adjusting one’s environment (workplace, living environment, peer group) or assessing knee-jerk responses to certain stimuli (how do I tend to cope?). Folks may also choose to analyze the root cause of their substance use. Often, my clients identify the need to “fill a void.” A void that existed before being introduced to substances. What was your upbringing like? Are there messages or behaviors you tend to reenact? Depth psychology isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth being open to. Especially for folks with a trauma history.


Any way you shake it, I’m just glad you’re taking a closer look at your behavior. If you’ve noticed your substance use “isn’t like everyone else,” it may be time to try something new. Sanford House offers residential and nonresidential treatment programs depending on your needs and schedule. Reach out today for more information…


Kimmel, MSAT, LPC

Author Jess Kimmel has always had a passion for art and when she discovered art therapy it just made sense. Jess is an Art Therapist who serves as Clinical Manager, Sanford House at Cherry Street for Women. Jess has a B.S in Psychology and an M.S. in Art Therapy. Art therapy allows her creativity to shine through her work and she thrives on seeing the confidence grow in the individuals she works with at Sanford Behavioral Health. Jess is from Hartland, Michigan and currently lives in Grand Rapids.