Jul 4, 2024

What Causes Addiction – Understanding Root Factors

Addiction is one of the most misunderstood diseases. Individuals who are struggling with addiction, along with the people around them, might see addiction as a weakness or a character flaw. However, this isn’t the case. The causes of addiction are complex and are often a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. 

Let’s take a closer look at the underlying causes of addiction and how they influence behavior. 

What Causes Addiction: The Basics 

The first thing we need to understand about addiction when exploring the causes is that it’s a disease. Like any other chronic disease, there are multiple causative factors at play. 

Addiction isn’t caused by weakness in character or by being “morally compromised”. Addiction is a disease that can affect anyone of any age, gender, occupation, or socio-economic status. 

At the very root, addiction is connected to the brain and its natural reward system. As humans, we enjoy pleasure, euphoria, and the feeling of being rewarded. Addictive substances, including alcohol and many types of drugs, cause the brain to release neurotransmitters that appeal to the brain’s craving for reward. 

Additionally, there is a range of psychological, environmental, and biological factors that also contribute to a tendency toward addiction. 

Common Addiction Risk Factors 

Here, we’re going to take a closer look at the psychological, environmental, and biological risk factors of addiction. However, keep in mind that a person doesn’t need to check off any of these boxes to be diagnosed with an addiction. 

Addiction is a disease that affects each person differently. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, we encourage you to reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). They offer a comprehensive online resource for those suffering from or affected by substance abuse. 

Psychological Causes of Addiction

Many individuals who struggle with addiction also have a co-occurring mental health disorder or are dealing with the psychological effects of trauma or abuse. 

These types of psychological factors can leave a person with feelings of anxiety, depression, low self-confidence or sense of self-worth, and feelings of inadequacy that can leave them predisposed to substance use. 

Individuals who are living with a mental health issue are at a greater risk of developing a substance use disorder compared to those with no known mental health condition. Examples of mental health issues that can lead to substance use and addiction include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD 
  • OCD
  • Panic Disorder 
  • Bi-Polar Disorder 
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder 

Many people are living with undiagnosed mental health disorders. Choosing an addiction recovery program that offers dual diagnosis treatment provides the opportunity to treat both the addiction and co-occurring mental health issues simultaneously. Dual diagnosis treatment can greatly improve treatment outcomes. 

Additionally, a person may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with traumatic events, including both trauma from the past and present. This behavior is considered a maladaptive coping mechanism that can also be addressed with evidence-based addiction treatment. 

Environmental Causes of Addiction

The debate between nurture vs nature in addiction is an ongoing one. What we are learning is that environmental factors can influence addictive behaviors as significantly as psychological and biological causes. 

Our surroundings, both as children and adults, can shape our behaviors. For instance, if you grow up in a place where drug and alcohol use is seen as normal, it can influence how you view the risks and benefits of these activities. 

Individuals who are economically disadvantaged or live in disadvantaged neighborhoods may have a greater tendency toward substance use due to having less access to support systems, resources, and opportunities that could offer protection against drug use. 

Those who have come from a background of trauma or abuse, whether it was witnessed or inflicted on them, are also at a higher risk of developing an addiction at some point in their life. 

Biological Factors in Addiction

Many of the underlying causes of substance abuse are biological factors that one never has control over. Genetics has been shown to have a significant influence on addiction. The risk is much greater if a person has an immediate relative (parent or sibling) with the disease. 

Gender may also play a role, with men being more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol across all age groups. Studies have also shown that ethnicity may be a factor, but have yet to conclude if this is due to genetic factors, the influence of the environment, or a combination of both. 

Understanding the Underlying Causes of Addiction Can Help You Overcome It 

Uncovering the root cause of addiction is always a complex process. Entering addiction treatment and working with a qualified therapist can help you better understand the factors leading to addiction and how to overcome them. 
When you’re ready to begin the road to addiction recovery, the Massachusetts Center for Addiction offers a comprehensive, evidence-based approach. Contact us today at 844-486-0671.

MCA Staff
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