What Is the Root Cause of Addiction?

What Is the Root Cause of Addiction?

It’s a question that anyone struggling with substance abuse — and anyone who loves a person fighting addictive behaviors — has asked themselves: what is the root cause of addiction?

Scientific research has not identified a single cause, life event, or family history factor that will “always” lead to addiction. However, many people battling addiction share several risk factors in common, and understanding these risk factors can be helpful whether you’re seeking addiction treatment for yourself or want to help your friends or family members.

Several risk factors that may cause a person to abuse drugs or alcohol are listed below, although this list is far from exhaustive. The more risk factors a person displays, the more likely they are to be susceptible to substance abuse.

Biology & Genetic History

The Genetics of Addiction

Even if your entire family struggles with alcoholism, this does not guarantee that you will inevitably do the same. However, research does show that genetic history can increase the risk that someone will abuse substances. If someone in your immediate family has a substance use disorder (SUD), it’s important to be extra careful to avoid triggers that may lead down this dangerous path — or if you are a parent who has struggled with an SUD in the past, it may be worthwhile having a conversation with your children about potential genetic implications.

Mental Health & Wellness

If a person is struggling with a mental illness, especially something complicated to manage, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, research indicates that they may be more likely to abuse substances. Undiagnosed or untreated mental illness can cause a person to look for a source of relaxation, an escape from bad thoughts, or a rush of euphoric feelings — which, unfortunately, are often achieved through alcohol and drugs.
When a person is mentally ill and addicted to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, it can be much harder to quit abusing substances. Drug use can sometimes compound over time, which is even more dangerous. For instance, someone might be addicted to prescription painkillers to treat alcohol withdrawal headaches or other withdrawal symptoms. If this is the case for you or a loved one, or if you’ve found yourself white-knuckling your way through recovery, it is essential to seek out effective mental health services as well as addiction treatment. Simultaneously treating both conditions is sometimes called dual diagnosis treatment, and when utilized effectively, it can help you manage your mental health in a less harmful way.


A person’s economic, familial, and social environment can all contribute to future long-term problems with drugs or alcohol. Several environmental factors that have been connected to addiction include:
  • Direct or indirect physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Exposure to violence or other traumatic experiences
  • Chronic stress and anxiety
  • Economic instability, such as food and housing insecurity
  • Lack of access to adequate healthcare (often due to financial barriers, lack of health insurance, location, and other limiting factors)
  • Societal discrimination (including factors like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, economic discrimination, and more)

Early History of Substance Abuse

The final factor often said to “cause” substance abuse (to simplify a very complex topic) is an early history of substance abuse. Drug or alcohol abuse can begin at any age, but the younger someone is when they first start abusing drugs or alcohol, the more likely they are to develop a problem. This is often theorized to happen due to the sensitivity of the brain while it’s still developing, which is why so many programs focus on preventing youth drug abuse.

Get Help Today

At Silver Pines Treatment Center, we specialize in compassionate and comprehensive treatment for people struggling with substance abuse disorders and more. To get help for yourself or someone you love, contact us today using our quick online form or call 267.209.7313. We’re always here to provide the help that you need.


Related Resources

Overcome your addiction today with the help of one of the best addiction rehab centers in the U.S. We are in-network with most major insurance companies.

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