Substance abuse is not just a matter of a lack of willpower.
There are in fact several reasons why someone begins to abuse drugs and alcohol. An examination of these reasons can go a long way towards explaining why some individuals are more likely to become addicted than others.
In addition, an understanding of the causes of substance abuse can help us understand that substance abuse to a condition that can impact anyone at any stage of life and that it is an illness that needs appropriate treatment.
Some people are more prone to substance abuse than others. These genetic factors include an increased or more powerful reaction (a bigger high) to drugs and alcohol, a need to take more drugs or alcohol to generate a response and a tendency towards repetitive behaviors.
These “addictive personalities” are often quicker to engage in substance abuse behaviors and have a harder time staying clean and sober for long periods of time.
Genes can explain how one person can experiment and occasionally use drugs, while another individual becomes addicted and unable to control their drug use.
Genetics traces of those prone to addiction can be found by examining family history and chemical responses.
Many individuals who heavily abuse drugs or alcohol may be self-medicating for mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. These individuals tend to feel better when they use drugs or alcohol.
They may have any number of these untreated conditions or illnesses that are reinforcing a tendency towards substance abuse. Often these individuals are aided by proper treatment of their underlying mental health issues and conditions.
Closely related to mental illness, is the idea of using drugs and alcohol to relieve stress.
Many people give the excuse of using drugs or drinking alcohol as a way to relieve daily stress and “blow off stream.” Substance abuse allows a temporary escape for all the stress and pressure that is associated with work, school, paying bills and taking care of a family.
Trauma can also be a big trigger for substance abuse. Memories of painful trauma in our lives can be drowned out and hidden with drugs and alcohol.
While under the influence of a substance, these individuals can push aside the thoughts of past trauma and avoid dealing with their hurt feelings.
Substance abuse is a form of escapism for all negative feelings. Proper psychological therapy and treatment can often help individuals with any psychological condition deal with their issues without substance abuse.
Young people often first begin to abuse drugs and alcohol when they are bored. They are seeking the thrill of engaging in something new and different.
Using drugs and alcohol can be seen as a way to bring excitement to life. The euphoria or “high” from substance abuse can be a thrill that they repeatedly try to recreate.
The young are more susceptible to this trigger, because they are often without the responsibilities of most adults.
Imitation and trying to be like everyone else is a big motivator for substance abuse. We all want to fit in and be liked by others. If those around you are using drugs and alcohol, you are more likely to also use.
Those who have family members, role models and idols who abuse drugs and alcohol are also more likely to abuse.
Modeling after others is common as we try to fit in with our peers and engage in the same behaviors to develop a sense of unity and likeness with others. The role of peer pressure is high at any age and also a way for users to justify their behaviors.
Pain pills are highly addictive. Those with prescription pain pills for conditions may easily turn into substance abusers, as they continue to use and need the pain pills long after their initial conditions have improved.
The fact that the drug was doctor prescribed gives it some legitimacy and a way to rationalize continued use. In addition, individuals often turn to other drugs to get the same feelings as the pain pills they were prescribed.
Environmental factors such as community and neighborhood, home life, family, peers, schools and workplaces can all influence or contribute to the development of substance abuse.
Children who witness substance abuse within their homes and communities are more likely to engage themselves. Those who have less active parental supervision and less structured activities are also more likely to try drugs and alcohol at an early age. Failures at school and at work, poor social skills, inability to cope with anger and aggressive impulses and easy access to drugs and alcohol can also be contributing factors.
Users who start early with substance abuse are more likely to develop addiction, because of the combination of the impacts to the developing brain of a young person. Poor environmental factors in the home, school and neighborhood all magnify the problems. The type of drug delivery used also is a factor with intravenous drugs and smoked drugs having an increased addictive factor than other types of methods.
While no one can predict with absolute certainty whether or not someone will end up engaging in substance abuse, the list above provides some likely reasons for such conditions.
Risk factors can be a key to understanding how to design and implement effective intervention programs.
Given the lasting impacts of prolonged substance abuse, such information is of benefit to parents, teachers, counselors and drug and alcohol abuse specialists.