What Are the Underlying Causes of Addiction?

Drug addiction, while compulsive in nature and chronic for many, is an extremely complex issue. There’s often no easy answer to the question of why one person becomes an addict while another is not impacted in that way. There’s also no easy solution if you become one of the almost 21 million Americans who have at least one addiction, according to the addiction center online. 


For family members of those afflicted by drug or alcohol addiction, the question often lingers about what caused the addiction in the first place. Today we are taking a closer look at some of the key factors that may place one person at higher risk for addiction than others. 

What is Addiction? 

Let’s start by looking at what addiction really is, because it may appear different depending upon the person, their lifestyle, and their overall personality. 


The American Psychiatric Association describes substance use disorder (SUD) as a complex condition in which there is uncontrolled use of a substance despite harmful consequences. People with SUD have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s) such as alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drugs, to the point where the person’s ability to function in day to day life becomes impaired.

What Are the Root Causes of Addiction? 

Not everyone who ever uses drugs or alcohol becomes addicted. There are several contributing factors that can contribute to this unhealthy dependence. Environmental, genetic, and biological factors can play a role in why one person may be more likely to struggle with addiction than another. 


Addiction is such a complicated disorder that even the experts are constantly examining the root causes. They do agree that there are a few factors that can contribute more than others. These include: 


Trauma, such as as a terrible car accident, the death of a loved one, a difficult breakup, military combat, sexual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse, or some type of abuse or neglect occurring during childhood can highly contribute to addiction throughout life. The traumatic event can cause a domino effect of changes to the brain. One of these changes can include addiction. 

Mental Health Issues

Diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health disorders such as: anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can lead to addiction issues. 


These co-occurring disorders can lead some people to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol in order to stop (or suppress) the negative thoughts or emotions that come with them. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) reports that there is a “definite connection between mental illness and the use of addiction substances”. 


While everything can not be “blamed” on genetics, a person who has a family history of drug or alcohol abuse can make someone more likely to use drugs or alcohol. Often this is because drugs and/or alcohol has become normalized to them. These negative coping mechanisms can then be learned in an environmental way. 

Sexual & Gender Issues 

In addition to the other factors listed above, sexual and gender issues may also contribute to drug or alcohol addiction. According to the Addiction Recovery Center of Maryland, “Sexual issues and gender issues often underlie addiction issues.”


Our American and global societies have never dealt with sexual issues or gender issues well and therefore individuals who often are confused about the sexual identification, gender identification or have a history of sexual trauma often suffer from addiction.

If you suspect that your friend or family member may have an addiction, reach out to the helpline at the Addiction Center to find rehabilitation options.