5 Causes Of Drug Addiction/Substance Use Disorder

Drug addiction (also called substance use disorder) is a serious health condition that makes you feel unable to stop using drugs. It occurs when drug use changes your brain function and affects your judgment, decision-making, and ability to feel pleasure. 

Like many other health conditions, addiction can have various causes. Here are five of the most common

Mental Health

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 37.9% of people with drug addiction have a co-occurring mental health disorder such as depression, bipolar disorder, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

In many of these cases, the co-occurring mental illness appears first, and the person abuses drugs or alcohol to self-medicate the symptoms. 

While self-medication may temporarily make you feel better, it poses an extremely high risk of addiction. In addition, many addictive substances ultimately worsen mental illness symptoms. For example, alcohol can worsen depression, and cocaine can worsen schizophrenia.

People with co-occurring addictions and other mental health problems should seek help at dual diagnosis treatment facilities. These facilities offer substance abuse treatment alongside treatment for other mental health conditions. 

When you receive treatment for all of your mental health concerns at the same time, you’re much less likely to relapse (start using drugs again).

Emotional Stress

Emotional stressors can significantly increase your risk of drug abuse and addiction, regardless of your mental health. Some of the most common stressors that can lead to addiction include:

  • workplace stress
  • financial concerns and poverty
  • conflicts with family members or friends
  • loss of a loved one
  • childhood neglect or abuse
  • domestic violence

Many people use drugs to distract themselves from these issues. Like self-medication for mental illness, this type of drug use often leads to addiction. That’s why it’s important to learn healthy coping skills for stressful events. Depending on your needs, these skills may include:

  • journaling
  • deep breathing
  • meditation
  • yoga
  • exercise
  • arts and crafts
  • spending time with loved ones

You may also want to attend therapy, especially if you’re struggling with loss, trauma, or another significant stressor. Your therapist can help you process your emotions and develop more personalized coping skills. 

Prescription Drug Use

Some people assume that addiction only occurs if you use illegal drugs or misuse prescription drugs. However, even if you use a prescription drug exactly as prescribed, you may develop drug dependence, which means your body can’t function normally without the drug. 

If you stop using it, you may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms like anxiety or shaking. Drug dependence often leads to addiction. 

The most common prescription drugs that can cause dependence and addiction include:

  • opioid painkillers, such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and oxymorphone (Opana)
  • prescription stimulants, such as amphetamine (Adderall), methylphenidate (Ritalin), and lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)
  • benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and diazepam (Valium)

Most doctors only prescribe these drugs for short-term use. That’s because you’re more likely to become addicted to them if you use them for a long time. 

Peer Pressure

Many people start using drugs or alcohol due to peer pressure. People who are pressured to use drugs are more likely to develop addiction, especially if they’re children or teenagers. 

In general, the younger you are when you start using drugs, the higher your risk of addiction. That’s because early drug use can disrupt normal brain development. 

For example, most addictive substances flood your brain with dopamine, a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that makes you feel good. Regular substance abuse can prevent your brain from producing dopamine naturally. 

This effect can cause addiction in people of all ages. However, it’s more difficult to reverse if you’re young. 

While peer pressure is most likely to affect young people, it can also affect adults. That’s why you should avoid spending time with people who misuse drugs, no matter your age. 


As with many other health issues, you face a higher risk of addiction if you have a family history of the disease. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, your genes account for about 50% of your addiction risk. That’s why some people seem to develop an addiction after their first time using drugs, while others don’t. 

Genetics alone won’t cause drug addiction. Instead, a genetic predisposition for addiction can be triggered by environmental factors, such as trauma, peer pressure, or a lack of access to healthcare. 

If you or a loved one struggles with drug addiction, please reach out to Northeast Addictions Treatment Center. We offer outpatient behavioral therapy, support groups, and many other forms of personalized, evidence-based care. 


Harvard Health Publishing — Your genes and addiction

National Institute on Drug Abuse — Comorbidity: Substance Use and Other Mental Disorders

National Institute on Drug Abuse — Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts

United States National Library of Medicine — Drug Use and Addiction

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

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This page does not provide medical advice.