What are the Causes of Drug Addiction?

What are the Causes of Drug Addiction?

A substance abuse disorder is when you take too much of a drug or you take said drug in the wrong way. While these disorders can begin merely from experimenting with substances, new research is finding that there are other causes of drug addiction.

Drug dependency is a major issue and it’s not as simple as most people claim it to be. It isn’t just someone doing bad things and finding themselves unable to get themselves to stop – there are psychological, biological, social, and even spiritual triggers that can spark addiction.

Throughout this article, we’re going to highlight some of the causes of drug addiction in order to better understand this complex issue. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.

Biological Causes of Drug Addiction

Medical research within the last 50 to 60 years had made major strides discovering the answers to how biology causes drug addiction. Unfortunately, being how complex the brain is, there’s still a lot we don’t fully understand.

We do know that brain functioning and overall biological makeup plays a key role in substance abuse. With that said, not everyone who tries a substance is going to become addicted to it. It’s those with certain biological traits that are more at risk of substance abuse.

Drug Dependency and the Brain

When one uses and abuses substances that directly affect thought processes and behaviors, it has a direct impact on the brain. More serious substances – such as heroin, meth, cocaine, certain prescription medication – can not only impact the neurological functioning but also actively change said functioning.

Certain substances (like cocaine and methamphetamine) can cause an overload of dopamine – a hormone that activates the pleasure feeling centers in our brains. Over time, when one overindulges in these drugs, they can shift the natural balance of dopamine in the brain. In turn, this causes issues with a whole bunch of basic functions, such as: ¹

  • Attention
  • Learning
  • Memory retention
  • Mood control
  • Pain processing

Out of all these, pain processing is the most notable. When you use a drug to treat pain, it can permanently damage the pain centers in the brain. This will inevitably change the way you feel and handle pain without a substance. ²

Psychological Causes of Drug Addiction

Substances have always had a history of being utilized as a method of unauthorized self medication. Whether its the overindulgent imbibing of alcohol or trying to heal internal scars with the comfort of more serious substances, addiction and the need to find peace and solace against the rage of internal psychological pain has always had a unhealthy relationship with one another. In fact, drug use amongst those that have a diagnosed psychological condition is at an all time high. ³

Those that struggle with a mental health condition are more likely to experiment with drugs. One of their primary reasons is always to self-medicate. ⁴ And one of the more concerning portions of the population in which this trend is becoming more and more apparent are our youngest and most vulnerable age group: teenagers and young adults.

There are psychological reasons as to why teens are more apt to take, experiment, and – with enough time – abuse drugs. Most of these stem from trauma that happen early in their childhood developmental years. And while psychological pain can drive a teen to use substances, there are also societal and social reasons as to why they may be taking drugs, such as peer pressure.

Social Causes of Drug Addiction

When it comes to the causes of drug addiction, perhaps no other incitement is blamed more than social and financial reasons. People who struggle with poverty are much more likely to be substance abusers and, more often than not, they initially began using due to societal influences.

As to what these influences are will vary on who you’re talking to. Some will say the stress of labor within a capitalism market causes enough of a weight to need relief. Others will claim that the necessity to fit in at a young age causes people to give drugs a try. While the answers aren’t always clear, we do know society plays some kind of role in people wanting to take drugs.

Why Does Society Cause Substance Abuse?

Most of those that do use use because they are self-medicating are treating underlying complex biological, psychological, and emotional issues in the quickest and most effective way possible.

There are so many specific cases of these issues that’s impossible to pinpoint them all in a simple list. One person may have struggled through poverty throughout their childhood, resulting in displacement later in life. Another may have gone through an extremely emotional break-up and isn’t sure how to handle the situation. When it comes to addiction, there are so many stories to pick from, identifying them all in one article is almost impossible.

With that said, it’s also impossible to develop a “one-size-fits-all” motto for a treatment facility. When an individual begins the process of recovery, it’s vital medical professionals identify their specific situation.

Spiritual Causes of Drug Addiction

In times of strife and struggle, there are those that might find themselves on the outskirts of where they stand spiritually either due to stress, excommunication, or dissociation from one’s own spiritual belonging in the world.

To try and combat this situation, there are those that feel they need to turn to substances that might uplift the user, disconnect them from the mortal tangible world and allow them to feel connect to the universe or a deity in a way never felt or experienced while sober.

And although this escapism towards something divine and otherworldly might sound fun, exciting, peaceful or understandable, it’s a tricky trail to go down as it can spiral into a full blown addictive dependency when that euphoric experience wears off. The need to connect with one another or other things beyond us is an ancient desire. The practice goes back hundreds of thousands of years and in certain religious sects. In certain native tribes, imbibing in substances might be a way in which said rituals are done but they should done in an abundance of caution.

Alternative methods of trying to reach a particular spiritual connection that cannot be done in a conscious way when sober have come to light in regards to the fear that addiction could be drawn out by drug use. A couple of methods that have become popular over the years is mindful meditation and yoga. Both of which have been utilized by those trying to seek spiritual connections without the use of addictive substances. ⁵ ⁶

How To Find Treatment for Drug Addiction

When we discuss treatment options for those that find themselves addicted we must first ask this question: Is the person struggling with addiction ready and willing to change?

The problems that exists within those seeking to treat their substance abuse is the fact that more often than not, its going to be a long drawn out process that will be stopped and repeated again and again. Now that isn’t to say that’s impossible to be free form addiction -far from it. What it means though is that recovery often goes hand and hand with relapse.

Recovery & Relapse

Relapse is what it sounds like – repeating a lapse of judgement. While relapse may get your hopes down, it’s an essential part of recovery. When one falls back into patterns that they know they shouldn’t be actively participating in, they reestablish their understanding as to why they are in recovery in the first place.

While no one wants or expects relapse to occur, it will routinely happen. Relapse is so common in those that go through drug and alcohol addiction treatment that the rate has become to mirror other chronic illnesses in their pattern of cyclic symptoms. ⁷

Knowing that relapse is a common complication in the addict’s process to becoming clean and sober, there have been measures and strives taken to try and minimize the risk of relapse or reintroduction of past drug use and behaviors.

Treatment options like cognitive behavioral therapy and contingency management have shown to be promising in not only curbing relapse opportunities but also in helping ease withdrawal and reintroduction to daily life post-rehabilitation. ⁸

Final Word

Addiction is like any mental health illness in that it needs to be taken seriously and treated as an illness – not as an escalation of bad behavior and given proper treatment and observation over time. Of course, in order for us to achieve that as a reality, we first have to understand substance abuse at its core. To do that, we must first acquaint ourselves with the causes of drug addiction and how to prevent them.

While we can’t always prevent these causes, they may help us better understand why we’re struggling with drug addiction in the first place. And, with that understanding, we have a much better chance at recovering our brains, body, and spirit.

Your Questions

Still have questions concerning what the causes of drug addiction are?

We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge on the topic – whether personal or professional – we’d also like to hear from you.


¹ National Institute of Drug Abuse – Teen Center: “How Do Drugs Affect the Brain”

² Australian Ministry of Health -HealthDirect Journal: “Dopamine – What Is It?”

³ National Institute of Drug Abuse: “The Connection Between Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness”

⁴ Child Mind Institute: “Mental Health Disorders and Teen Substance Use”

⁵ Kripalu Foundation: “Break the Cycle: How Yoga and Meditation Can Help Heal Addiction”

⁶ RewireMe: “How Meditation Can Treat Addiction”

⁷ National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Drug Abuse Treatment – Understanding Relapse

⁸ National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Drug Abuse Treatment Information”

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