Many people use drugs and alcohol at some point in their lifetime. Some people even use drugs and alcohol recreationally without developing an addiction. The causes of substance abuse can be a complex mixture of biological and environmental factors.

People with a substance abuse problem may:

  • Have experienced trauma in their lifetime
  • Have a parent that is an addict/alcoholic
  • Have succumbed to peer pressure
  • Have mental health disorders

Addiction is a disease that has many underlying issues driving it. If you’re reading this, perhaps you or someone you know has a problem with abusing substances. To learn more about the common causes of substance abuse, keep reading.

At ASIC Recovery, our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is dedicated to helping individuals develop healthier habits and build a life in long term recovery.

Click to learn more.


There’s a powerful link between substance abuse and trauma. Trauma can have such a negative impact on a person that it affects their daily life. They may find it difficult to be around people in social settings.

Going to the supermarket may seem like an overwhelming task. They may have awful nightmares where they relive their trauma, making it hard to get a good night’s rest.

If you’ve experienced trauma, drugs and alcohol can seem like an effective way to cope with life. Drugs and alcohol are good at numbing emotional pain. However, at some point, addiction may completely ruin your life.

Common types of trauma that may contribute to a person abusing substances are:

  • Rape
  • Assault
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Witnessing traumatic events
  • Military combat
  • Natural disasters

Many people with substance abuse issues may have experienced neglect and abuse during their childhood as well.

Parents That Abuse Substances

If either one of your parents or both of your parents struggle with addiction to substances, the likelihood of you struggling with the same thing increases. If parents have a permissive attitude toward drugs and alcohol, their children may not see them as a potential danger.

Some parents will even drink or use drugs with their children. Using drugs and alcohol before you’re an adult can have a negative impact on how your brain develops.

Developing an addiction at a young age can make getting sober later in life harder than if you didn’t start abusing substances until you were an adult.

Peer Pressure

While on the topic of using during childhood, it’s important to note that peer pressure is a common cause of substance abuse. “Fitting in” is very important to many kids, especially teenagers. “Not being cool” can make going to school dreadful.

In order to be accepted, children will often succumb to peer pressure. They may see the more popular students engaging in things such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and using drugs. Therefore, when they are offered drugs or alcohol, they find it hard to say no.

However, peer pressure doesn’t just take place when you are in high school. It can happen later in life as well.

Here’s a scenario:

Maybe you’ve changed industries and had to move to a new city to start a new job. You already have social anxiety, but you don’t want to be lonely.

Your coworkers may go out for drinks after work and even occasionally do cocaine. Before you know it, you could have a full-blown addiction.

Mental Health Disorders

One of the most common causes of substance abuse is having a mental health disorder. They often go hand and hand, and on average, more than half of people that have a mental health disorder will struggle with substance abuse at some point in their lifetime.

If a person has a mental health disorder such as an anxiety disorder, getting through the day may be excruciating. Drugs such as alcohol and heroin can take away anxiety very quickly, so it’s easy to see why someone with an anxiety disorder may start using them.

This is called self-medicating. Often a person may not even realize they have a mental health disorder and that they are “self-medicating.”

Substance abuse can also cause the symptoms associated with many mental health disorders. Substance abuse can predate a mental health disorder or vice-versa.

For instance, if you smoke crystal meth for a long time, you may start having hallucinations on a regular basis. You may think people are following you and become excessively paranoid. Even though you may quit smoking crystal meth, these symptoms may remain.

Mixing a downer such as heroin with an upper such as cocaine may cause you to have symptoms of bipolar disorder. Once you stop taking these drugs, you may actually have bipolar disorder as a result of the drug use.

It Can Happen to Anyone

Although it’s very common that there are a complex mixture of factors that contribute to a person developing addiction, it is by no means the rule.

A person can have a perfectly healthy upbringing, great relationships with their parents and their family, and no mental health disorders. Then one day, they try a hit of crack or take a Xanax, and the next thing you know, they have an urge to keep using that is out of control.

These people may spend years trying to figure out what happened in their past that must have contributed to their addiction.

It may be the case that they won’t be able to find anything. It’s also possible that such a person may have a genetic predisposition that makes them prone to addiction.

Also, not everyone that experiences trauma or parental abuse becomes addicted to alcohol and/or narcotics.

Anyone can develop a substance abuse issue, and while knowing some of its causes can be very helpful, what you can do about your problem going forward is a more pressing matter.

Recovery methods such as 12-step programs and SMART recovery provide practical programs that a person can follow to achieve and maintain healthy sobriety. In fact, these methods involve looking at the underlying issues that addiction has sprung up.

For instance, the 12 steps address a person’s resentments that can date all the way back to childhood, citing resentments as one of the number one contributors to relapse in recovery.

If you or someone you know is dealing with a substance abuse disorder, the first step is asking for help.

IOP at ASIC Recovery

Looking for substance abuse treatment in Texas? At ASIC Recovery, our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is dedicated to helping individuals develop healthier coping skills and build a supportive recovery network. Click to learn more.