What Factors Can Contribute to Substance Abuse

What Factors Can Contribute to Substance Abuse

Substance abuse impacts millions of people around the world, yet there is no clear cause. Addictions form because of a variety of factors, each of which can contribute to the development of substance abuse disorders. By exploring the factors that contribute to this epidemic, it may be easier to seek help or find the best means of treatment for recovery.

Mental Health

Comorbidity is the term given for patients who struggle with both mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders. Unfortunately, this is far more common than individuals may expect. The complications of comorbidity are extensive and can make recovery more challenging.

There is no way to prove whether mental health disorders cause addiction, or whether some individuals are simply more prone to the development of both. Without question, however, the two regularly appear together.

In some cases, individuals struggling with mental health issues aren’t able to get the help and treatment they need. They may not receive medication, therapy or even a diagnosis for things like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression. In these cases, individuals can feel lost and frustrated, and they may be more prone to trying or abusing certain substances. As a result, addictions develop in higher numbers than for the general population.

Environmental Factors

Some of the most relevant contributing factors to substance abuse addiction involve the society and environment of origin, as well as where they currently reside. For example, those without proper role models, those who were exposed to addictive substances at a young age or those with limited access to education, support and health care are more likely to develop substance abuse problems in the future.

It is well documented that individuals who try drugs or alcohol at a young age are more likely to develop an addiction. This is, in part, because the brain has not yet fully developed. Using addictive substances when the brain hasn’t yet completely developed means an increase in the development of a dependency.

It is also true that having role models who abstain from excessive alcohol consumption or drug use can go a long way in preventing the same for young people. Children and teens naturally want to copy their immediate elders and those they respect in the community. If substance abuse is rampant among one generation, it is likely that the pattern will be repeated for the next.

Finally, it is vital to remember the importance of adequate health care, education and addiction awareness in communities. Environments where the consequences of addiction are not well publicized in schools, community health centers and doctors offices are environments where addictions are more likely to thrive. Without access to these resources, it can also be more challenging to seek help for substance abuse disorders, mental health or addictions.

Genetic Factors

Substantial research and evidence points to a genetic element in the development of addiction. It is certainly true that addiction can appear to run in families, manifesting itself in one generation after the next. However, in the past this was widely attributed to the environmental and social factors highlighted above.

Today, however, the genetic component is largely considered to be a contributing factor toward the development of addictions and substance abuse disorders. It is believed that certain individuals, by genetic predisposition, are more likely to experience euphoria with drug use. This may mean that they associate pleasurable feelings with the substance sooner, leading to repeat usage.

It is also likely that certain individuals have a hereditary trait that causes the brain, and the entire nervous system, to develop a chemical dependence sooner. This can help explain why when two people try a drug like heroin, only one might become addicted instantly while the other can abstain for months or years without feeling the need to experiment with drug use again.


Trauma is often an overlooked contributing factor to the development of an addiction. Individuals who have experienced trauma in their lives are significantly more likely to turn to addictive substances, and therefore are more likely to struggle with addiction.

It is important to define what trauma can be. Trauma can include things like sexual abuse, witnessing a violent crime, experiencing domestic abuse, being neglected in childhood or being a part of a natural disaster. However, trauma is not exclusively limited to these instances. People can and have experienced trauma in a number of different ways.

Trauma, particularly untreated trauma, can cause physical and mental stress. It can lead to feelings of despair as well as hopelessness. Unfortunately, those who experience trauma are more likely to turn to the temporary relief of mind-altering substances, which only worsens negative feelings and can’t offer any true respite.


This is a more controversial factor, but it should still be addressed. Certain people may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors. These people may, for a myriad of reasons, also be more likely to try drugs or drinking excessively.

Of course, substances with addictive properties lead to addiction. When individuals repeatedly try, use or abuse these substances, it may only be a matter of time before an addiction forms. For instance, a person who aims to experiment with drugs may try a dozen different varieties over a year. Trying 12 different types of drugs will, statistically, be more likely to cause an addiction than a person who is risk-averse and tries one or perhaps no drugs in their lifetime.

Additionally, a risk-taking personality can certainly be combined with any of the factors already discussed above. A person who is prone to risky behavior and also deals with either a history of trauma, a genetic predisposition to addiction, environmental and societal factors or mental health concerns will only be that much more likely to develop an addiction.

There are many different factors that can lead to substance abuse. However, there is only one route for recovery. Sobriety requires professional assistance, medical supervision and a range of treatment methods designed to help aid in recovery and prevent relapse.