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Why Do People Start Abusing Drugs and Alcohol?

In This Article

There is no one reason why a person initiates drug or alcohol abuse, and it’s quite often challenging to identify when this decision occurs. In determining which factors have contributed to abuse, however, we are offered insight into the source of the problem as well as implications for treatment

Family conflict, including substance use, neglect, general dysfunction, etc. can have a profound effect on a person’s well-being, and as a result, experimentation with drugs and alcohol.  For example, children who grow up in a household where psychoactive substances are used and deemed acceptable are more likely to engage in use as teens and young adults.

Peer Use and Pressure

Peer pressure can also play a role. When young people exposed to drugs and alcohol, experimentation can become appealing for several reasons. One, it may reduce social anxiety and make them feel more accepted. Two, the effects of the substance may feel pleasant and desirable, and fill a need for self-medication. Three, teens tend to be impulsive due to incomplete and ongoing brain development, leaving them more prone to rash decisions and unable to see beyond the present to the potentially adverse consequences.


Both of the preceding factors (family conflict and peer pressure) contribute to the overall environment in which future users are exposed.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, environmental factors have a direct effect on people and their susceptibility to drug and alcohol abuse.

In addition, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as socioeconomic status and overall life quality, can contribute to a person’s desire to use substances for self-medication. Neighborhoods and schools in which drugs are prevalent can also play integral roles.

In fact, the person’s environment is often the primary factor considered during admission to an addiction treatment program. Most individual treatment plans are designed around environmental issues as a main component and then customized to that person’s unique needs.


But in the battle of nature vs. nurture, we see that biology also contributes to a person’s propensity to use drugs or alcohol, although in some cases, that connection may appear nebulous.

For example, research has suggested that nearly two-thirds (60%) of a person’s predisposition to alcoholism is genetic. And yet a person with alcohol addiction doesn’t always pass that characteristic on to their children, and conversely, adults with alcoholism didn’t always grow up with alcoholic parents.

However, humans do tend to pass traits on from one generation to the next, and not all of them are positive. Here we come down to brain science – genetics may make someone more vulnerable for drug or alcohol use, but it is the substances themselves that cause both temporary and permanent alterations to the brain.

Moreover, experimentation begins with a choice likely predicated on the environment and/or genetics, but a person’s continual use and dependence are also propelled by the addictive qualities of the substance.

Adult Circumstances

Occasionally, substance use can be a product of circumstances later in life. For example, someone who has previously not shown evidence of a genetic inclination to alcohol abuse may turn to it as a result of mental illness, health issues, financial instability, divorce, work drama, etc.

These persons may be in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond, looking for an instant escape from the pain and stress associated with such problems.

And while these people may erroneously believe that substances are providing relaxation and a shield from life’s adversities, disguising problems through the use drugs and alcohol only serves to make matters worse.

Moreover, developing a substance dependency that stems from the desire to improve one’s life will ultimately make that life even more difficult to deal with.

Mental Disorders

Mental illness is composed of pre-existing and comorbid conditions that frequently occur in association with substance abuse. Nearly every mental health problem can be linked to substance abuse, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and many more.

Furthermore, this use contributed to more mental health issues, emotional instability, and the ability to regulate one’s behaviors.

Pain and Discomfort

Finally, some people with little or no history of addiction become dependent on prescription drugs such as opioids and benzodiazepines (benzos).

Opioids are high-addictive painkillers that over time, can lead to tolerance and increased doses and frequency of use. These medications have also been blamed for the rising numbers of heroin addicts and overdoses, usually because those who are later denied their medication often turn to illicit opioids such as heroin or fentanyl.

Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety drugs that are also indicated for insomnia or sleep disturbances. Both opioids and benzos are central nervous system depressants, as is alcohol, and combined use of these three substances is both common and dangerous.

Get Help Today

If you or someone you love is abusing substances, please seek treatment as soon as possible. There are many resources available to help you or your loved one.

Please call us today at 877-497-6180 for a free consultation.

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