Substance abuse affects millions of people in the United States, and it’s only in recent years that scientists have provided solid answers about what causes drug abuse and addiction. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to reduce causation down to a single gene or environmental factor. Instead, an array of variables combines to create vulnerability in a single individual. These influence lifestyle and day-to-day choices, and addiction can occur.

Read on to find out more about drug addiction, what causes it and how to effectively treat this debilitating illness. 

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is a serious brain function disorder that’s characterized by continual drug use, despite harmful consequences, and an inability to stop using.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the DSM 5, there are 11 primary criteria for diagnosing addiction. If you display two or fewer, you have a mild substance use disorder, three to four signifies a moderate disorder and five or more indicates a severe SUD. Below are the criteria:

  • Taking more of a substance over time or continuing use for longer than prescribed
  • Intending to quit or cut down but not being able to
  • Spending a significant portion of time sourcing, using and recovering from substances
  • Feeling cravings for a substance that you can’t ignore
  • Poor performance at school, work or family as a result of using substances
  • Using despite interpersonal problems
  • Giving up hobbies, work or social commitments in favor of taking substances
  • Putting yourself in dangerous situations as a result of drugs or alcohol
  • Continuing with substance abuse even though you’re aware it’s causing physical and/or mental illness
  • Becoming tolerant to the substance, so it takes more to get the desired effects
  • Withdrawal symptoms that are only relieved by using your drug of choice  

Are Substance Abuse and Addiction the Same?

If you use drugs but none of the above criteria apply to you, you’re still abusing substances. Even if you don’t have a history of addiction in your family, a single traumatic event or environmental factor in your life could change and lead to significant disruption. The fun, occasional relationship you have with substances could quickly transform into addiction as the brain recognizes substance abuse as an effective coping mechanism.

Unfortunately, the mind isn’t able to differentiate between a healthy coping mechanism and an unhealthy one. It simply fires electrical signals to encourage you to self-soothe in a way that delivers results. 

Drugs and alcohol can be highly effective at relieving anxiety, depression and stress in the short term. As such, it’s up to you to implement healthy behaviors, surround yourself with good people and find ways to self-soothe that are effective and don’t lead to long-term health consequences. Substance abuse treatment is available to anyone, whether they have a mild, moderate or severe SUD.

What Causes Substance Use Disorders?

It’s important to understand that there’s no single cause or predictable mixture of risk factors that predetermines addiction. A variety of mental health issues, genes and environmental factors lead to an increased risk of addiction, and a lack of healthy coping mechanisms leads to compulsive substance abuse. 

It’s not the fault of the individual sufferer, and judgment and anger won’t help anyone. Addicted people require urgent health care to help them get back on track and live a life free from cravings. 

Let’s take a look at some of the main factors that influence a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction. 


Family and genetics account for around 50% of the causes of addiction, and it’s the single most reliable predictor of SUDs. That doesn’t mean everyone who has a history of substance abuse in the family will develop an addiction, or that everyone who’s addicted has genetic vulnerability (although most do). 

Variables affect more than 50 genes, and only a few of them need to be present for vulnerability to addiction to occur.  


Environmental causes include socioeconomic status, peer pressure, friendship groups, media and lack of parental supervision during childhood. Illicit drug use and alcohol abuse taking place in the home during early years normalizes the behavior to a young child and is one of the leading environmental factors. Another leading risk factor for addiction in later life is when young people abuse addictive substances such as nicotine, alcohol or illegal drugs before the brain has finished developing.


Trauma occurs when the brain is unable to process an experience because it’s outside of the realms of normalcy. While sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse and adverse childhood experiences lead to severe trauma, there are an array of events that might result in you experiencing trauma. 

what causes drug abuse and addiction - depression

Mental Health Disorders

Many of the people who attend a treatment center or seek help from their health care provider have an underlying mental health condition. It’s not clear scientifically whether health problems trigger SUDs or the other way round, but it’s likely a complex mixture of the two. Some of the mental health problems associated with addiction include:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality disorders

Lifestyle and Choices

No one should be blamed for falling victim to a substance use disorder, and it’s in no way a question of morality. When the genetic and environmental risk factors aren’t present, making healthy choices is infinitely easier with regard to drugs and alcohol. However, that’s not to say personal responsibility isn’t essential. 

To overcome addiction, you need to be aware of your triggers, know you’re at a higher risk and understand that being more careful and intentional than other people is crucial. While it’s not fair that factors outside your control put you at an increased risk of addiction, making constructive daily choices and living a relatively healthy lifestyle will help you avoid relapse.    

Drug addiction treatment teaches and guides you as you make the changes necessary for long-term sobriety.   

Get Help for Drug and Alcohol Abuse Today

If you or a loved one is suffering with alcohol or drug dependence, support and advice is available.

Whether it’s painkillers, amphetamines, inhalants, methamphetamine, opioids, prescription drugs, alcohol or any other addictive substance, a treatment plan at Calusa Recovery can help you learn about your triggers, develop healthy coping mechanisms and regain your freedom. Call us today at 844-254-9664 for more information.