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What Causes Substance Use Disorder?

What causes substance use disorder? It seems like everybody has a different answer when you talk to the experts. The truth is that there’s rarely one reason a person becomes addicted to a substance. There are factors like age, background, and trauma in the past that may predispose some people to substance use. However, there’s no one thing that scientists can point to that will predict who becomes addicted to substances.

Understanding Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder (SUD) happens when someone has a bad relationship with drugs and alcohol yet can’t seem to get out of it. They typically continue using that substance even when it has caused adverse results in their life.  It's not just one thing that causes it, but a mix of genes, how you grow up, and what's happening in your head. Some people are more likely to get addicted because it runs in their family.

Things like stress, trauma, or hanging out with friends who use drugs can also make SUD more likely. Sometimes, people start using drugs or drinking early, especially if they see it happening around them. Mental health issues, or feeling sad or anxious, can also lead someone to use drugs to feel better. No matter what causes a person to initially use alcohol or other substances, when you use drugs or alcohol, they mess with the brain, making you want the substance more and more.

Genetic Factors Related to Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder (SUD) can run in families because of genetics. If your parents or close relatives have issues with alcohol or drug abuse, you might be more likely to have substance use issues, too.

Some research has shown that genes can affect how your brain responds to drugs or alcohol, making you more likely to enjoy them or become addicted. Concurrently, there is evidence that your genes can be altered due to things like your environment or if you use substances yourself. Traits like being impulsive or seeking excitement can also make someone more likely to develop a substance use disorder.

It's essential to get help if you or someone you know is struggling with SUD. Therapy, medicine, and having supportive friends and family can make a big difference. Understanding that addiction is not just about making bad choices but also about how your brain works is critical to finding ways to overcome it.

Environmental Backgrounds Related to Substance Use Disorder

Many things can relate to our backgrounds and the environment we come from that can relate to substance use disorder later down the road. Deciphering these issues can help people when they get sober point to the factors that led them to first misuse substances.

Childhood Trauma and Dysfunctional Families

People who experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse during childhood are at higher risk of developing SUD, according to research from NIH. Trauma can lead to coping mechanisms involving substance use as a way to self-medicate symptoms of PTSD or escape painful memories.

Growing up in a home where people misuse alcohol or drugs or where family members have SUD increases the likelihood of developing similar problems. Family dysfunction, lack of parental supervision, and poor communication can also contribute to SUD risk, according to research published in Social Work Public Health.

Adolescents and young adults are more susceptible to peer pressure and, if left to their own devices, often experiment with drugs at younger ages. Spending time with peers who engage in substance use can normalize these behaviors and increase the likelihood of experimentation and subsequent addiction.

Easier access to drugs or alcohol, whether through social networks, a job (such as in hospitals), or environmental factors like neighborhood crime, increases the likelihood of substance experimentation and addiction.

Stressful Live Events and Discrimination

Significant life stressors such as divorce, grief, financial issues, or job loss can trigger substance use as a way to cope with overwhelming emotions. Some older people with substance use disorder turn to substances as a way to cope with the loss of a spouse.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community may face unique stressors related to discrimination, stigma, and rejection, which can cause higher rates of substance use as a coping mechanism. This population may also encounter barriers to accessing affirming healthcare services, including addiction treatment.

Gender Differences with SUD

Gender differences can influence susceptibility to SUD. Men have higher rates of substance use and addiction compared to women. However, women may be more vulnerable to certain substances and can develop addiction more rapidly. Gender-specific factors such as societal expectations, trauma, and hormonal influences can contribute to these differences.

These factors interact with each other and with genetic predispositions to shape a person's risk of developing SUD. Effective prevention and treatment strategies should address these environmental factors alongside a person's needs and circumstances.

How is Substance Use Disorder Treated?

Treating substance use disorder (SUD) involves different methods to help people overcome their addiction. First, some might need to go through detoxification, which is a safe way to manage the uncomfortable symptoms when they stop using drugs or alcohol. Different types of therapy can help people change how they think and act about using substances. Most people will find talking with a therapist or joining support groups to share experiences with others who understand what they're going through makes a world of difference.

Most people who have gone through detox can benefit from staying at a treatment center for a while where they can get support all day long. After treatment, it's essential to have plans for ongoing support and ways to avoid returning to old habits. By combining different approaches and focusing on what each person needs, there's a better chance of beating substance use disorder and living a healthier life.

Throughout the journey, certain medicines can also help. They can reduce cravings, help with withdrawal symptoms, or make it harder for drugs to affect the body. These medicines are often used with counseling and support to give the best chance of success.

Getting Help at Present Moments Recovery


As a treatment center guiding individuals through recovery, we’re here for you with the expertise necessary to help you change your life and begin a drug-free journey. While abstaining from your substance of choice is an essential first step, it's just the beginning.

Lasting change requires a comprehensive approach that involves identifying and addressing underlying issues. At Present Moments Recovery, we recognize the significance of processing past events, as they can profoundly contribute to your journey toward a rewarding life in recovery. We’ll help you find new responses to life's stressors, help you heal old wounds, and begin a new chapter. We want you to start a new, fulfilling journey that is substance-free.

Get in touch to learn how we can help you or your loved one.



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