7 Root Causes of Addiction


7 Root Causes of Addiction

Here are 7 different causes of addiction & a little bit about each one

Traumatic Experiences

1 / 7  Root Causes of Addiction: Emotional difficulties from traumatic events, adverse childhood experiences, sexual abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, any childhood trauma or past trauma.

Any history of trauma puts a person at an increased risk of substance abuse issues.

If you grew up around alcohol abuse or any drug abuse you’ve likely had some “adverse” childhood experiences.

If someone’s entire childhood was exposed to drug dependence & withdrawal symptoms they’re probably going to have some emotional difficulties sooner and later in life.

Sometimes childhood trauma isn’t as obvious as growing up with alcohol addiction.

Maybe the traumatic experience was a one time thing & you try to stuff the feelings away and move on. 

Maybe as a child you witnessed a family member with a chronic disease or an anxiety disorder.

A lot of use have normalized the things we dealt with everyday.

A lot of family members try to downplay traumatic things that happen to kids that are actually a big deal. These often, shook kids think something must be wrong with them because the parents just brushed it off.

Now you have a person that doesn’t have a good relationship with their own intuition & a distorted understanding of their own emotional state.  

Or, If you grew up in an area with low economic status you might not have much stability to reference to. 

How do you know what a functional family looks like if you’ve never experienced it?

A lot of us walk around with the emotional pain for years before hitting a wall in life.

Many people from these environments were never taught how to process and cope with emotional difficulties.

Because of this, it is not uncommon that the cycle of substance abuse is inevitably repeated.

You don’t leave behind the emotional pain just because you moved away from the broken home. 

Wounds from abuse and neglect need to be treated just like any other wound. 




Genetic Predisposition

2 / 7  Root Causes of Addiction: Individuals share about 50% of their genes with first-degree relatives, like parents, siblings, and children.  Source

Be cautious if you have a family history (or current family members) with substance abuse issues or other mental health issues.

There is still a lot to learn about the root causes of addiction but scientific research is definitely supporting that genetic factors influence our risk of substance use disorder.

Our prefrontal cortex has a lot to do with our reward system, adaptability, and impulsivity. These brain functions are responsible for what many people call ‘addictive behaviors’.

Sure, we inherit traits from parents; but, our prefrontal cortex isn’t FULLY developed until we’re 25 years old.

Which makes it indisputable that our environment plays a role in it’s development too.

I’ve never struggled with alcohol use.

But, all four of my grandparents abused alcohol and both of my parents.

One of my parents died from it & the other is still an alcoholic. 

Addition is a complex disease and even though you might have inherited some risk factors, the good news is that doesn’t mean you’re bound to the same fate.




Environmental Factors

3 / 7  Root Causes of Addiction: Chronic high levels of stress, frequent peer pressure, family members with substance abuse problems, dysfunctional personal life.

Environmental factors play a huge part in substance abuse disorder. This is why it’s usually the FIRST step to recovery & often the key factor for sustaining long-term recovery.


“When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower”

Alexander Den Heijer


Peer pressure creates an increased risk for young people

  • 70% of teen smokers started smoking due to peer pressure
  • 55% of teenagers who tried drugs self-report doing so because of peer pressure





Addictive Substances Prescribed by a Health Care Provider

4 / 7  Root Causes of Addiction: Many prescriptions drugs prescribed for medical conditions such as chronic pain, attention deficit disorder and anxiety lead to physical addiction with regular use of drugs.

Here are just a few statistics about the harmful consequences when prescribing addictive substances

  • 16.3 million people misuse prescriptions in a year.
  • 22.6% of them or 3.7 million people misuse prescriptions for the first time in the development of their addiction
  • 2 million or 18.4% of Americans over the age of 12 have deliberately misused prescription drugs at least once in their lifetime. source

The truth is that prescribing addictive drugs can and often does lead to the development of an addiction.




Untreated Mental Health Disorders

5 / 7  Root Causes of Addiction: Mental illnesses like bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, mood disorders, anxiety disorders & other mental health problems are often underlying issues in substance abuse disorder.

I work as a mental health professional but I don’t think you need to be a master of the field to see how a mental illness can lead to substance abuse problems. 


When someone has substance abuse disorder and another mental illness in addition it’s called a co-occurring disorder.


Sometimes it seems like the symptoms of schizophrenia caused the person to turn to self medicating & other times it looks like the substances lead to the symptoms of schizophrenia. 

Regardless, scientific research proves that treatment plans caring for both substance use disorder and mental illness congruently have the best odds for treatment.




Genuine Low Self-Esteem

6 / 7  Root Causes of Addiction: Negative emotions/feelings towards our self can lead to the development of an addiction.

A lot of people interchange moments of self doubt with the term low self-esteem. It’s normal to have self-doubt.

Genuine low self-esteem is a character flaw that is NOT just moments of self-doubt

Someone with low self-esteem

  • Doesn’t feel worthy of being loved
  • Feels less important than everyone else
  • Believes they can’t achieve the things they want to accomplish
  • Don’t feel as if they belong, feel in the way, worthless, a burden, & a failure
  • They have chronic negative feelings

There are a lot of reasons why this leads leads to a substance abuse disorder

  • They’re much more prone to peer pressure
  • They are typically people pleasers that lack self-care
  • They’re unlikely to have any protective factors 
  • They don’t have real friendships because they don’t feel worthwhile of people’s time and have trust issues
  • They often tolerate being mistreated because of their lack of regard for themselves

Someone who doesn’t have fundamental trust in themselves has a flaw in the foundation of their character.

This foundation extends into how we perceive not only the outcome of ourselves but often times other people, other circumstances, places of work, job opportunities, colleges, other countries; the world.

Low self esteem is a cognitive distortion. It can and needs to be repaired.

Someone with low self-esteem was likely raised in an environment that lacked nurture.

If someone is using substances because of low self-esteem they not only need substance abuse treatment but also individual therapy, support groups and quality protective factors.




A Lack of Coping Skills

7 / 7  Root Causes of Addiction: Lacking the ability to cope with negative emotions is a risk factor and often the root cause of the addiction.

A lot of families and cultures avoid negative emotions or even emotions all-together. Sometimes there is a misconception that men are above emotions; stoic and unaffected. 

It is not uncommon to be raised/groomed to ignore negative feelings/emotions. 

Emotions aren’t addressed and processing them is a very foreign concept for a lot of people.  

Regardless of your culture or gender; negative emotions will come for you.

(I say that in the most menacing way possible).

Many try to stuff them away or think about something funny every time they’re on the verge of tears for the rest of their life.

It doesn’t work. Which is why so many people who lack coping skills turn to a mind altering substances.

This (often) compulsive drug use is a temporary relief that usually doesn’t help develop any skills to process the negative emotions.

It has simply stalled the impacts of negative emotions by altering brain perceptions.

It might be fair to call it a waste of time (at best).

I’m not knocking any and all drug use here. Only expressing that not having coping skills is certainly a risk factor for substance abuse disorder.

Because of this, many substance abuse treatment programs emphasize learning and utilizing healthy coping skills.

Addiction treatment programs usually have numerous support groups designated to developing coping skills.



Here are just a few quotes before you go.


“What is addiction, really? It is a sign, a signal, a symptom of distress. It is a language that tells us about a plight that must be understood.”

Alice Miller

Root Causes of Addiction

“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start,
anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”

Carl Bard

Root Causes of Addiction

“I understood myself only after I destroyed myself.

And only in the process of fixing myself, did I know who I really was.”




 Root Causes of Addiction


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