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Article Summary

Why Do People Abuse Drugs?

Drug abuse comes in a variety of forms and can happen as a result of many different reasons. Although every case of addiction might be different and its intensity tends to vary from one substance to the next, there are many answers to the "why do people abuse drugs?" question. Read on to find out more:

Understanding Drug Abuse And Addiction

Essentially, drug abuse refers to the chronic use of intoxicating substances even when such use is causing problems in your life and health. Addiction, on the other hand, is a chronic and relapsing condition of the brain characterized by compulsive substance seeking and abuse in spite of the harmful consequences these actions cause.

Today, drug abuse and addiction are considered to be serious conditions of the brain because intoxicating substances eventually change the brain - including its structure as well as how it works. Some of these changes in the brain are long lasting and might lead to harmful behaviors typically seen in people who regularly abuse drugs.

On the other hand, addiction is similar to many other health conditions - such as asthma and heart disease. This is because these types of conditions tend to disrupt the normal and healthy functioning of all affected organs, lead to serious and often harmful consequences, and can be prevented and treated. If left untreated, however, drug abuse and addiction may last a lifetime.

Causes Of Drug Abuse And Addiction

But why do people abuse drugs? Generally speaking, most people start taking drugs and other intoxicating substances for various reasons. These include but are not limited to:

a) Curiosity

Some people start taking drugs out of curiosity and just because they see other people doing it. In particular, teens are vulnerable due to the strong influence that comes with peer pressure at this age. In fact, research shows that adolescents are more likely to engage in daring and risky behaviors - more so than adults - to express their independence from social and parental rules and to impress their friends.

b) To Do Better

On the other hand, some individuals feel incredible pressure to chemically improve or enhance their athletic or cognitive performance. This might lead them to experiment with drugs and eventually find that they are abusing substances such as androgenic/anabolic steroids and prescription stimulants.

c) To Feel Better

Others, particularly those who suffer from depression, stress related disorders, and social anxiety might start using drugs to lessen the feelings of unhappiness and distress caused by these conditions. In fact, research shows that stress is one of the major causes of using drugs, continuing to abuse substances, and relapsing.

d) To Feel Good

Most of the drugs that people abuse tend to produce feelings of happiness and pleasure. However, the initial euphoric sensation will also be followed by a myriad of effects - although these effects will differ from one drug to another.

For instance, if you abuse stimulants like cocaine, the initial high might be followed by intense feelings of increased energy, self-confidence, and power. Conversely, the euphoria created by an opiate like heroin will be followed by feelings of satisfaction and relaxation.

That said, drug abuse is different from other medical conditions in the sense that it cannot be transmitted through the air. Rather, a variety of components will band together to cause addiction - with every element playing an important role in creating a drug abuse problem. Some of the factors that might contribute to your drug abuse, therefore, include:

1. Genetics

Initially many people believed that drug addiction was linked to a general lack of self-control or willpower. Therefore, most of the people who are addicted tend to make conscious choices to get involved in destructive behavior.

However, experts have now come to understand that this is not necessarily true and some types of drug abuse and addiction are deeply rooted in the genes of the people who compulsively use intoxicating and mind altering substances.

For instance, the APA (American Psychological Association) reports that close to half of your tendency towards drug abuse and addiction might be blamed on a variety of genetic factors.

However, the exact way genes play a role in leading to a drug abuse problem is complex. Additionally, genes tend to play out differently in every individual. Still, researchers are now linking genes to:

  • A faster reaction to mind altering substances, especially in cases where the same drugs may cause slower reactions in other people
  • An addictive personality, which is characterized by faster leaps to different repetitive behaviors like continued drug abuse
  • The decreased ability to feel any negative response to intoxicating substances
  • The increased euphoria that comes as a result of using drugs

If any of the genetic factors listed above apply to you, it is highl likely that you might find drugs more attractive than others would. These factors might also mean that you will have a harder time trying to overcome your addiction.

In case you have these issues, then your basic biology may be the reason behind your drug abuse. Although genes might not cause you to start experimenting with drugs and intoxicating substances, when you start dabbling in them, your use might spin out of control quickly as a result of any of the genetic factors we've just listed.

Other factors that have a role to play in how genes affect your culpability to drug abuse include your stage of development as well as any other medical conditions you might have.

In particular, individuals with mental disorders and teens are at greater risk of abusing drugs and becoming addicted to them in comparison to members of the general public due to these factors.

2. Environment

The environment in which you grow up could also influence your drug abuse and addiction. According to a recent study recorded in the Archives of General Psychiatry shows how environment affects substance abuse.

In the study, researchers reviewed alcohol and drug use in genetic twins raised in totally different environments. The twins who grew up in a home disrupted by mental illness and divorce as well as those who grew up in an environment where alcohol and drugs were at play tended to be more likely to start abusing intoxicating substances in their later years.

To this end, you can be sure that living in environments like this might cause such intense depression and stress that the only viable solution that seems logical to you would be drug abuse.

In the same way, when you are raised in such an environment, you might think that drug abuse is normal. Therefore, as you grow and see your parents abusing intoxicating and mind altering substances, you may also learn how to abuse the same when you reach a certain age.

Additionally, being brought up in a home with rampant drug use might contribute to your later addiction. For instance, you may see your neighbors buying and using these substances on the street. Alternatively, you might walk by drug paraphernalia like vials and needles. On the other hand, you might see other pieces of evidence of drug use in your neighborhood - such as dealers approaching you or making calls at night.

All these conditions will normalize drug abuse in your mind's eye and you might feel as though using is harmless and usual. Similarly, if you live in such a crime-laden neighborhood, you might be stressed from a young age, which could cause you to turn to drugs to sooth your worries and fears.

Overall, the influence of the environment at home - particularly in your childhood - is an important factor in determining your risk of drug abuse. Older family members such as parents who abuse drugs and alcohol or who engage in any criminal behavior - including but not limited to manufacturing, selling, distributing, and buying drugs - may increase your potential to develop a drug problem later on.

In the same way, the school you attend and the peers you interact with might have a direct bearing on whether or not you will abuse drugs. This is because acquaintances and friends to have a strong influence, especially during your teens.

Therefore, if you hang out with peers who use drugs, you might be swayed even if your risk factors are low or virtually non-existent. Other factors that might increase your risk of drug abuse and addiction include poor social skills and academic failure.

3. Trauma

In other instances, you might start abusing drugs as a result of trauma. The world is not always safe and you may be exposed to sources of trauma, including but not limited to:

  • Accidents
  • Natural disasters
  • Neglect
  • Physical altercations
  • Sexual abuse
  • Terrorism
  • Verbal abuse

Each and every one of these events may leave a mark on your mind. Over time, if you are exposed to these traumatic events, you might feel the temptation to deal your distress by turning to addictive substances.

Today, research shows clear links between childhood trauma and the increased risk of abusing drugs as an adult. According to NCTSN (the National Child Traumatic Stress Network) one in every four children in the US experiences at least one such event before they reach the age of 16.

To ensure that trauma does not cause you to turn to drug abuse and addiction, you should go for therapy. Proper professional therapy can help you process all these events and get over them so that you will not be tempted to start abusing intoxicating and mind-altering substances later on in your life.

4. Mental Illness

Drug abuse and mental illness have such strong interactions that they are often treated together as co-occurring conditions. According to NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), more than 50% of all drug users also deal with mental health issues.

For some of these individuals, drug abuse might start while they are trying to deal with the pain and distress that their mental health problem causes. For others, however, drug abuse and addiction might trigger certain chain reactions that could lead to mental illness.

However, you might also be genetically inclined to both mental illness and addiction - although experts are cautioning that more studies need to be done before any definitive conclusion can be made.

Whatever the case, you can be sure that there are direct interactions between mental illness and drug abuse. After the connection is forged, you will need to undergo intensive addiction treatment, rehabilitation, and therapy to ensure that you break it.

5. Peer Influence/Pressure

Most teenagers only use drugs and other intoxicating substances just because their friends are doing it. By abusing drugs, they get the opportunity to fit in with certain friends and continue blending into a larger crowd.

Drug abuse also gives adolescents something to do especially during the summer when the days seem long and tiresome - after they are tired out from working, and spending time on video games, computers, and television.

However, peer influence leading to drug abuse is not restricted to teens. Research now shows that adults are also influenced by others to start using addictive and intoxicating substances.

Spouses and partners, for instance, might provide each other with the spur to use drugs. In this case, when one spouse uses substances, the other one might join in if only to see what the allure is about.

Spouses that were once sober might additionally start using in a bit to make peace. Instead of constantly fighting about the drug abuse, they might decide that it is easier and simpler to just join in.

Although this might initially look like a harmonious resolution, it can create a fertile ground for addiction to blossom and end up affecting everyone in the family and others who are involved, such as children.

6. Personality

At times, the way you think and react in given situations might increase your risk of developing a drug abuse problem. For instance, if you are naturally impulsive and you tend to act on stimuli without thinking all through your options, then it is likely that you will not be able to make any decision based on current benefits versus future consequences. In this case, your impulsivity might lead you to start experimenting with drugs without thinking clearly about the implications of doing so.

On the other hand, if you are more cautious, it is highly unlikely that you will dare to experiment especially if you are well informed about the various negative effects of abusing drugs and other intoxicating substances.

A recent study published in the Health Psychology journal also found links between drug abuse and such personality factors as having a difficult temperament and poor self-control.

If you have these conditions, you may have a hard time connecting with others and making friends. As such, you might start thinking of drugs as the ideal solution you need to soothe away your pain. Eventually, however, such experimentation could cause a drug abuse and addiction problem.

7. Legality

In answering the "why do people abuse drugs?" question, it is important to realize that some drugs are legal. Alcohol and nicotine - in particular - are regulated loosely. This is despite the fact that close to 88000 people lose their lives to alcohol-related causes on an annual basis - making this alcohol abuse and alcoholism the 3rd leading (preventable) cause of death among Americans.

In most cases, you might start abusing these legal drugs for a variety of reasons, such as to self-medicate for stress, trauma, depression, anxiety, or even fear.

8. Recreation

Some people get into drug abuse recreationally just because they want to feel good especially if they are in a low mood. If this applies to you, it is highly likely that you might start abusing alcohol and drugs because of the desire to feel better from anxiety and stress.

However, you may also turn to drug abuse to enhance your fun any time you go out over the weekend. Eventually, you will discover that the good feelings will give way to severe addiction that could be difficult to treat, get rid of, and recover from.

Today, most of the people who develop tolerance, dependence, and addiction to recreational drugs like heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and speed start taking the drugs as an experiment. This mostly happens in the teens and during early adulthood.

At this experimental phase, you might not think of the possibility that you will eventually become addicted. In many instances, in fact, recreational use might not automatically lead to drug addiction.

That said, you may start experimenting with mind altering and intoxicating drugs for a variety of reasons. For starters, you might want to interact better and fit in with others. Secondly, you may have an intense desire to improve your athletic or sport performance or enhance your energy. In the same way, you might experiment to deal with bouts of depression and intense feelings of social or any other type of anxiety.

Although some people experiment a couple of times before deciding to never use again, others become addicted - particularly to recreational drugs - almost immediately. If this happens to you, the best solution is to seek treatment before the problem starts getting out of control or affecting other areas of your life in negative ways.

In most cases, you will find that most recreational drugs contain addictive substances. As such, it might be difficult for you to determine how much it would take for you to form an addiction because everyone reacts differently to intoxicating and mind altering substances.

Although your peer might be able to abuse certain drugs on a daily basis and still maintain their control over the frequency and amount of use, you may find that taking the same drug once will cause you to develop continuous and intense cravings for it.

In the same way, you might become addicted to how you feel when you take certain recreational drugs. For instance, if you are looking to stay awake longer working or reading into the dead of night, you may start using narcotics that will make it possible for you to function with very little to no sleep.

Although you might initially like the fact that the drug empowers you to achieve more with the few waking hours you have, this addiction to narcotics might eventually become so problematic that the only solution open to you would be intense inpatient or residential rehabilitation for drug abuse and addiction.

9. Prescription

Just because your doctor gave you a prescription does not mean that you can abuse the drugs you get. Today, opiate based prescriptions are among the most addictive of all substances and might eventually form a gateway to further drug abuse involving other substances like heroin. In fact, opiated based substances are so addictive and dangerous that close to 30% of all admissions to emergency rooms are as a result of abusing prescription medications.

Although prescription drug abuse tends to be more common among adults than teens, recent years have seen a sharp spike in the number of adolescents who abuse these drugs.

This is because some teens have direct access to amphetamines, barbiturates, narcotics, and other prescription medications in schools and on the street. Most of these medications are also sold by people with valid and legal prescriptions.

Other teenagers might gain access to the drugs simply by going through the drawers and medicine cabinets in their homes and those of their friends and neighbors. In fact, underage children can now readily access prescription medications simply because they are so widely available and many adults tend to use them.

Today, physicians are increasingly prescribing anti-anxiety pills, sleep aids, mood enhancers, antidepressants, and painkillers - drugs that can all ease physical and mental discomfort in a matter of minutes. As such, it is not surprising that so many people - both adults and teens - abuse these drugs.

That said, abusing prescription drugs is just as problematic and harmful as abusing drugs recreationally. However, some people assume that taking prescription medications on a continuous basis does not come with any harm - unlike using street drugs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In most cases, you will find that both prescription and recreational drugs contain the same addictive chemicals. These chemicals are also dangerous and the risk of overdose for prescriptions is just as high as that for recreational drugs.

It is for this express reason that most doctors will provide you with strict guidelines on how you should use your medicine when they prescribe it. However, since your doctor won't be able to monitor your activities when you leave their office, they have no direct control over your decision to follow their instructions and the directions that the pharmacist prints on your prescription bottle.

Today, prescription drug abuse and addiction is so serious that some patients manipulate doctors or visit different doctors so that they can get access to higher doses of certain drugs just to feed their dependence and tolerance.

10. Fitting In

This is one of the main reasons why teens and young adults get involved with drug abuse. In most cases, you might start using intoxicating and mind altering substances simply because of your desire to fit in.

This is a form of rebellion typical and common among young adults and teenagers. In many cases, the people involved might not fully understand the seriousness, dangers, and harmful consequences attached to continued drug abuse and the development of addiction. As such, they might not think that experimenting with their peers is harmful because their desire to fit in supersedes any dangers these substances pose.

11. Depression

Many people who struggle with depressive conditions never get the right diagnosis and treatment for their problems. As a direct result, they might get involved with drug abuse while trying to self-medicate.

In most cases, the substances they use to deal with the symptoms of depression include cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol - as well as many other mind-altering and intoxicating drugs.

12. Availability

Alcohol, nicotine, and prescription drugs are relatively easy to acquire in comparison to other intoxicating substances. This is because they are almost always readily available to many people.

Running to the shop for packets of cigarettes and bottles of alcohol, bumming a cigarette from a friend, or even attending a party with an open bar can all cause you to develop a drug abuse problem. In the same way, if you raid a medicine cabinet for prescription medications, you might find that you eventually develop an addiction that consumes your entire life.

13. Gateway

In most cases, drugs like marijuana, prescription medications, and alcohol might act as a direct gateway to other substances - particularly those that come with more intense, powerful, and mind-altering effects.

At the moment, the opioid epidemic has been forcing many people to start turning drugs that are found on the street, such as heroin and methamphetamine. This is especially because doctors are increasingly becoming vigilant about providing refills for certain prescriptions and those who get denied prescription drugs are compelled to buy substitute drugs on the street.

When this happens, the initial drug you used to abuse will be taken as a gateway substance. This is because lack of it might force you to start looking for another similar drug to feel similar effects and deal with any withdrawal symptoms that may arise as a result of suddenly stopping your abuse of the initial drug.

14. Experimentation

Most mind altering drugs like alcohol and cocaine promise to heighten your experience - an experience that you might think is worth exploring. However, the moment you get into drug abuse involving these substances, you might find that they are so addictive that you will eventually develop a pattern of tolerance, dependence, and addiction. This is particularly so for all drugs, including but not limited to meth, ecstasy, and heroin.

15. Self-Medication

Today, self-medication is among the top reasons behind drug abuse. Trauma, loneliness, severe depression, undiagnosed mental illnesses, recurring pain, anxiety, and stress all have a role to play in this.

When you experience the adverse effects of all these situations and conditions, you might decide to start using drugs to deal and cope with them. Eventually, however, you might get addicted to the drugs.


As you can see, there are many reasons why people get into drug abuse and addiction. However, just because you have factors that might contribute to your drug use, tolerance, dependence, and addiction does not necessarily mean that you are forever doomed to a world of addiction.

Most of the people who experience these same factors make conscious decisions and choices to never use drugs or sink into the abyss of addiction. Others dabble once or a couple of times before quitting once they realize that drug abuse and addiction comes with many negative effects and consequences.

However, if any of the above factors affect you and you decide to start experimenting, your initial use might spin right out of control faster than you anticipated. Eventually, you will find that drug abuse and addiction have taken over so much of your life that they are virtually indistinguishable from who you are as a person.

Whether you are at this stage or you are nearing it, you can be sure that drug abuse is treatable. There are many solutions open to you - including inpatient/residential and outpatient detoxification, rehabilitation, and treatment. The earlier you seek help, the easier it will be for you to overcome your addiction.

Overall, understanding the answers to the "why do people abuse drugs?" question is the best starting point to knowing whether the time has come for you to seek help - that is if you are affected directly. However, you can also use this information to help a loved one who you suspect might be inclined to drug abuse or who may already have started using intoxicating and mind-altering substances.

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