Causes Of Addiction

Causes Of Addiction

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Addiction is a chronic mental health condition marked by the physical and psychological dependence on certain substances or the compulsion to engage in certain unhealthy behaviors—despite adverse consequences. However, unlike other mental illnesses, there are no specific causes of addiction.

Complex and multi-faceted “addictive conditions” progress and develop over time, most often due to several genetic and psychosocial factors. However, for most addicts, it starts out as an experimentation out of peer pressure or curiosity, while for others, it can be a coping mechanism to deal with stress and mental distress.

What Are The Causes Of Addiction?

Research 1 attributes the causes of addiction to substances or non-substances to a combination of biological, environmental, and spiritual factors. The main causes of addiction include:

I. Biological causes of addiction

Genetics is regarded as a major influencing factor in addiction. Addiction can run in the family, as a person with a parent, sibling, or first-degree relative who is a substance or behavioral addict is at a greater risk of developing a similar addiction. Twin studies 2 particularly reveal that often both twins tend to be addicted due to similar or identical genetics.

This is because substance addiction and misuse of certain non-substances create functional and structural changes in the brain, specifically brain areas that regulate mood, pleasure, and reward.

These changes modify behavior, mood and cognition, response to stress, reward-seeking behavior, and impulsivity. Such characteristics get transmitted, either through genetic heritability or through learned behavior due to psychosocial orientation.

In some cases, traumatic brain injury can create dysfunctional brain pathways and chemical imbalances 3 that cause addiction.

II. Psychological causes of addiction

People with a family history of mental health conditions 4 are more vulnerable to developing an addiction. Substance use disorder (SUD) or chronic dependence on non-substances can also be attributed to low self-esteem, poor psychological resilience, maladaptive coping strategies, and undiagnosed mental health conditions 5, such as:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Stress disorders
  • Untreated trauma
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Gambling disorder
  • Grief, etc.

III. Social causes of addiction

The social and environmental factors in addiction include a combination of several negative life experiences resulting from:

1. Parental neglect and abuse

People with experiences of parental abuse, neglect, and abandonment are prone to substance use. A lack of parental discipline, supervision, or control while growing up can also be a contributing factor.

Particularly children from families with an addicted or absent parent 6 tend to display behavioral and cognitive disturbances (like emotional dysfunction, violence, conflict, unhealthy attachment patterns, role reversal, trust issues, etc.) and they may resort to substance use as a maladaptive coping mechanism.

2. Childhood abuse

Children who grow up in a dysfunctional or toxic family environment are at a greater risk of addiction. This is because they are frequently exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) 7 linked to domestic violence, financial insecurity, damaged support systems, maltreatment, as well as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

They develop a shame for moral and interpersonal failure 8 and can take to substance use to cope with their unpleasant realities and family stress.

3. Peer pressure

Peer rejection, low self-worth, and social withdrawal can lead a person toward substance use. Inversely, peer use of substances and peer pressure can also be contributing factors to addiction.

Social demands 9 like the need to fit in and avoid unpopularity can make a person susceptible to the influence of friends, peers, and acquaintances, particularly in adolescence and early adulthood.

In the process, non-users can be persuaded to try out and experiment with substances and non-substances, sometimes against their better judgment. Studies 9, over the years, have affirmed that peer pressure encourages the use of addictive substances and harmful behavior in adolescents, making them vulnerable to health risks in adulthood.

4. The ready availability of substances

The easy availability of substances 10 in the community, neighborhood, home, or at school is a significant environmental factor that causes addiction. When an individual is repeatedly exposed to the use of intoxicating substances, alcohol, or tobacco, he/she feels encouraged to experiment with them, eventually becoming regular users.

Several studies 11 show that people with long-term chronic physical illnesses can also develop a disposition toward drug misuse.

Caregivers dealing with the physical and psychological burden of diseases and ready accessibility to medication are prone to addiction. Moreover, living in communities engrossed in poverty and/or criminality can also trigger addiction.

5. Detrimental life events

Negative life experiences involving displacement, invasion, war, and natural calamities can also be contributing factors in addiction development. Studies 12, for instance, show that refugees with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are prone to developing substance use disorder (SUD).

IV. Spiritual causes of addiction

Research 13 opines that a spiritual disconnection or emptiness and a lack of piety can also cause addiction. People experiencing such a void often resort to substance use as an attempt to gain a transcendental state (A mood/teparamental state which is beyond common, mundane/ordinary experiences).

They are prone to experimenting with such intoxicants till the misuse of the same is no longer recreational or medical, but rather a reliant substance of choice.

Certain world religions and cultural systems 14 also include the use of addictive substances in their social practices and religious rituals. Hinduism, for example, allows the ritualized use of cannabis 15 to facilitate concentration, relaxation, and social cohesion in the evening or on holidays.

While the occasional social use of drugs does not guarantee the development of addiction, it does open avenues for introduction to and experimentation with certain addictive substances.

Read More About Addiction Here

Risk Factors Of Addiction

The common 16 risk factors that cause addiction include:

  1. Early, often untimely use of addictive substances and non-substances
  2. A family history of addiction
  3. Child abuse and lack of family involvement during growing up
  4. Undiagnosed mental health disorder
  5. Peer rejection
  6. Peer use of substances and pressure to do the same
  7. Negative environmental factors like poverty, invasion, war, etc.

Outcomes And Interventions

The treatment of addiction typically involves a comprehensive, individualized approach that combines several medical, behavioral, and psychological interventions.

The most common intervention in addiction treatment comprises psychosocial interventions 17 that can be administered in a variety of treatment settings either as stand-alone treatments or in combination with pharmacotherapy.

The first step involves detoxification or the process of removing the substance from the body while managing withdrawal symptoms. This is followed up with behavioral therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that help the addicted modify their behavior and develop coping skills to prevent relapse.

In many cases, medication supplements therapies 18 to help manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with addiction.

The treatment of addiction is often a long-term process and has high scores of relapse 19. Because of this, the recovery process is made better and surer by availing support group interventions and holistic therapy approaches 20 (such as yoga, meditation, and acupuncture).

These equip individuals with addiction to manage stress well and improve their overall well-being. However, recovery from addiction is a lifelong process that requires ongoing commitment, support, and hard work.


Addiction is a debilitating condition but it can be treated effectively under the guidance of a medical professional. So if you or a loved one is suffering from this condition, make sure to consult a doctor and seek professional help immediately.

With therapy and medication, one can overcome the symptoms and live a healthier and more stable life. Understanding the causes can help the doctor or therapist devise a more accurate and customized treatment plan for better and faster recovery.

At A Glance

  1. There are multiple causes of addiction involving biological and psychosocial factors.
  2. The biological causes largely entail genetic heritability and physical and mental health conditions.
  3. The social causes of addiction include parental neglect, childhood abuse, peer pressure, the ready availability of addictive substances, etc.
  4. Addiction can also be caused by religious or spiritual practices.
  5. A timely and proper diagnosis of addiction can help manage its symptoms and curb its long-term negative consequences.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is the main predictor of addiction?

Starting the use of alcohol, nicotine or other substance use at an early age is the main predictor of addiction.

2. What are the risk factors for using drugs?

Poverty, experiences of parental and childhood abuse, undiagnosed mental health problems, ready drug availability, and peer rejection or heavy drug use are common risk factors for drug use.

3. Is age a risk factor for substance abuse?

Changing social and physical circumstances could increase vulnerability to substance abuse as we age.

4. What age group is most likely to become addicted?

Among all age groups, young adults aged 18 to 25 have the highest addiction rate. Many adults may not address their addiction until they reach their 30s or 40s.

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