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Why Do People Get Addicted to Drugs? The Causes of Drug Addiction

drug addiction causes

Drug addiction is a very misunderstood disease. Oftentimes, we do not understand how or why other people get addicted to drugs. Many of us mistakenly think that “drug addicts” lack good morals, and choose to continue using drugs despite the negative consequences. Some believe that drugs are easy to quit, and that people who are addicted simply lack the willpower or motivation to stop. These views could not be farther from the truth, and are exactly what contribute to the stigma of substance abuse.

In reality, drug addiction is a very complex disease. And typically, it takes more than strong will or good intentions to stop. Many, if not most, addicted individuals want to stop using. However, the neurological changes that drugs induce in their brains make it very hard to quit. Drugs change the brain so that users physically feel as though they need drugs to function normally. They prioritize drug use above all else, as drugs are the only way they feel they can make it through the day, without the pain of withdrawal.

You may be here now, wondering, “Why do people get addicted to drugs?” or more significantly, “Why did this happen to my loved one?” Maybe you are wondering what causes drug addiction at all. You are not alone. Many family members – particularly parents – will have these questions top of mind, questioning whether they themselves are to blame for their loved one’s choices to use.

It is true that, initially, a person makes the choice to use drugs. However, after some time, that use can transition from voluntary to compulsive. Compulsive drug use is a defining sign of drug addiction, and means that the drugs have compromised a user’s natural ability to exhibit self- and impulse-control.

There is not a single cause of drug addiction, or a single reason why people get addicted to drugs. Rather, the likelihood that a person will get addicted to drugs depends on a combination of social, environmental, developmental, genetic, and psychological factors (called “risk factors”). The more risk factors a person has, reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the greater their vulnerability will be to drug addiction.

Drug Addiction Risk Factors

  • Genetics – According to the NIDA, genetics (the genes a person is born with) account for approximately half, or 50 percent, of a person’s risk for developing an addiction. Gender and ethnicity may also influence a person’s risk for drug abuse and addiction.
  • Environment – Like with many other disorders, drug addiction is also largely environmental. A person’s surroundings – including family, friends, home and neighborhood – can all influence their chances of drug addiction in some way. One example of an environmental risk factor is living in a low-income neighborhood where there is more access to drugs and alcohol, even at an early age. Other environmental factors include peer pressure, stress, physical and sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, and lack of parental guidance or education about drugs.
  • Development – Both genetic and environmental factors correlate with a person’s critical developmental stages. For example, when a teen uses drugs in adolescence (when the brain is still maturing), the risk for disrupting brain development is high. Research shows that almost 70 percent of adolescents who try an illicit drug before age 13 develop a clinical addiction within the next seven years. Teens who use drugs before age 18, and even before age 25, are also far more likely to get addicted to drugs down the road. While people can get addicted to drugs at any age, children, adolescents, and young adults are at greatest risk due to their stage of brain development.
  • Mental health disorders – When an individual is struggling with a mental health issue – such as anxiety disorder, depression, ADHD, or schizophrenia – he or she is more likely to get addicted to drugs. Oftentimes, a person experiencing mental or emotional distress will self-medicate with drugs, in efforts to escape the pain or experience temporary relief. Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are other risk factors for drug addiction.

Why Do Only Some People Get Addicted to Drugs, and Not Others?

This is an age-old question that many people will ask, particularly when it is their loved ones suffering from an addictive disorder. Why is it that only some people will get addicted to drugs, while others can drink and use without ever having a problem?

Experts are always investigating this topic. What we know today is that some people are simply more vulnerable to addiction than others, based on the risk factors above. Stressful early life experiences – such as being abused, suffering from trauma, even prenatal exposure to alcohol or other drugs – can put a person at greater risk for addiction. Being around other peers who drink and use drugs, as well as lacking parental supervision at home, also plays a part in a person’s risk.

In the same breath, there are a wide range of genetic and environmental factors that promote a strong, psychosocial well-being and resilience to drug addiction, ultimately balancing or counteracting the risk factors listed above. With that said, it remains difficult to predict who will get addicted to drugs and who won’t, since these factors (whether positive or negative) are not always apparent.

Especially with teens and young adults, and those who were brought up in a safe, loving, supportive home, that “addiction won’t happen to me.” Unfortunately, addiction can happen to anyone, of any age, background, or upbringing. Anyone can try drugs, enjoy them, and continue using them as a result – spiraling into the addiction cycle. If you are a parent educating your young one at home, it’s important to reiterate this fact. Drug addiction does not make exceptions.

Why Do People Use Drugs to Begin With?

We’ve talked before about the top reasons teens will do drugs, but there are many other factors influencing a person’s likelihood to start. Some of those reasons include:

  • Experimentation – Particularly for young people, experimentation is a common reason for trying drugs for the first-time: to feel what it’s like to be high.
  • Peer Pressure – Other kids, at school or around town, may push a person to use drugs. Teens and young adults may feel pressured to drink and use drugs, so that they will fit in.
  • Mental Health Factors – Some people use drugs to “feel better,” to cope with uncomfortable feelings as a result of mental health issues: social anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, low self-esteem, attention deficit disorder, eating disorders, and more.
  • Prescriptions – In today’s opioid epidemic, many addictions start with prescription drugs like OxyContin. Many prescription drugs are highly addictive, as well as over-prescribed. Oftentimes, addiction will start in a teenager who was prescribed painkillers after getting his wisdom teeth removed. Benzodiazepines – which ironically can be prescribed as anti-anxiety medications – are also highly addictive drugs.
  • Desire for Success – The pressure to succeed is great among aspiring individuals, particularly college students who have great academic pressure or young adults who aspire above all else to have a successful social standing. In their strive for success, many will turn to drugs to enhance their performance – whether that be on the field or in their studies, using drugs like Adderall to stay awake and focused.

What to Do When a Person Becomes Addicted to Drugs

Despite all the possible causes of drug addiction, there is good news. More than ever, researchers understand how drugs affect the brain—and, as a result, have found treatments that can help people recover and lead productive lives. Drug addiction is treatable and can be successfully managed with the right help.

Studies support an integrated, multifaceted approach to addiction treatment, where behavioral therapies are combined with clinical treatments to help patients overcome this battle. Drug treatment should involve individual counseling, as well, to help uncover a person’s reasons for using drugs and overcome those triggers. This is key to achieving sobriety. Above all else, drug addiction treatment should always be tailored to an individual’s needs and drug use patterns – addressing any co-occurring disorders, or medical or social problems, that may be at play in the process.

If you suspect your loved one has a drug problem, do not blame yourself as the cause. Rather, take initiative to get your loved one the help that he or she needs. Addiction is a finnicky disease that disrupts how a person thinks and makes decisions – due to the influence of drugs, your loved one is not likely to seek out treatment on his or her own. Contact Turnbridge’s young adult drug treatment facility at 877-581-1793 for more information. We can discuss your loved one’s needs, the root of his or her drug use, and work on putting your loved one back on a healthy path.