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The Five Reasons Someone Becomes Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol

The Reasons Why Someone Becomes Addicted

For decades, researchers have tried to identify the primary reasons someone becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol. Despite varying theories that have evolved over the years, five primary factors contribute to someone becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. These factors include genetic components, environmental factors, chronic stress, trauma & adverse childhood experiences, and mental health.

Genetic Components

One of the main reasons someone becomes addicted is due to the role genetics play. Researchers have found that genetics are responsible for 40% to 60% of a person’s vulnerability to addiction.1 This vulnerability is determined through the analysis of gene variations inherited from a person’s parents. Research suggests that predisposition to substance dependency is influenced by heritability rates that vary between substances. For example, dependence or abuse of hallucinogens has the lowest heritability rate, while cocaine has the highest rate.2 Despite the research, genetic components are not absolute in determining if an individual will develop an addiction. A positive environment and healthy coping mechanisms can prevent and protect individuals from developing a substance addiction.

The Effect of Chronic Stress on Addiction

Chronic stress can best be defined as a form of stress that is continuous or prolonged over an extended amount of time. Examples include finances/poverty, dissatisfaction in the workplace, marital concerns, biological or mental health concerns, adverse environmental factors, loss of a loved one, etc. As chronic stressors tend to increase in intensity over time, managing the stress and anxiety accompanying the circumstances becomes difficult for many.

As a result, individuals who have not developed healthy coping mechanisms often turn to substance abuse in hopes of managing emotions and achieving homeostasis. Initially, drug use seemingly reduces the negative symptoms of stress. However, substance use makes stress worse by reducing one’s ability to cope with the stressors effectively. It is recommended that deep breathing, meditation, exercise, and other healthy coping mechanisms are more effective ways to reduce stress.

Trauma and ACEs

Early traumatic experiences are considered primary risk factors for substance use, as drugs are often seen as a common coping mechanism for psychologically traumatized individuals. Those who have experienced trauma often find it difficult to move past or process what has happened, leading to a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Research studies found that teens who experienced abuse were three times more likely to report past or current substance abuse than those without a history of trauma. Additionally, in a study examining teens receiving treatment for substance abuse, more than 70% of patients had a history of trauma.3

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that occur before a child reaches the age of 18. These events often include emotional or sexual abuse, domestic violence, a family member with mental illness, homelessness, incarceration, divorce, household disfunction, and neglect. Previously conducted studies show that ACEs often contributed to an earlier onset of substance use. Those who experience two or more traumas are four times more likely to have a drug or alcohol problem.3 People who reported five or more traumas are 7-10 times more likely to become addicted to illegal drugs and three times more likely to misuse prescription pain medication.4

Mental Health – Another Common Reason Someone Becomes Addicted to Drugs/Alcohol

Mental health continues to be one of the primary factors that contribute to substance abuse. Suppose an individual has both a substance abuse problem and a mental health issue (depression, bipolar, anxiety, etc.). Recovery professionals call this a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness research, one-third of those struggling with mental illness abuse or are addicted to drugs or alcohol5. Additionally, 37% of alcohol abusers and 53% of drug abusers also have at least one mental illness.5 Often, this is the consequence of someone with a mental illness trying to self-medicate or cope with their issue.

In all actuality, substance abuse often intensifies the symptoms of mental illness and may even generate new symptoms. The best treatment for a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis is through an integrated approach. In this approach, the program treats substance abuse and mental health disorder simultaneously.

Environmental Factors and Addiction

Environmental factors play a considerable role in the development of substance abuse issues. These factors include poverty, family dysfunction, community problems, trouble in school, or negative influences from society, friends, or coworkers.

In the home environment, having family members who misuse substances increases a child’s risk of future drug use. In adolescence, friends and peers have a strong influence on a person’s behavior, creating pressure to experiment with substances. Additionally, readily available access to substances in the home or community lowers the barrier to acquiring and using substances6.

Get Professional Help and Treatment for Addiction Issues

The causes behind the development of a drug or alcohol addiction are complex and multifaceted. There are many reasons someone becomes addicted to a substance. Fortunately, there are lots of resources to support individuals in their journey towards sobriety. At Springs Gardens Recovery, our highly trained staff strive to provide several unique addiction therapy options for patients. We design each therapy program to aid our guests in reaching their recovery goals.

To learn more about our addiction treatment programs, contact us today.


[1] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-misuse-addiction
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2715956/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051362/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2763992/
[5] https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs2014/NSDUH-DetTabs2014.pdf
[6] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-misuse-addiction

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