Even though every individual’s situation is different and unique, there are common factors that increase the risk of substance abuse. By recognizing the primary reasons that people abuse drugs, it is possible to recognize when you or a loved one may need to reach out for a little help and support.

Mental Health Disorders

Co-occurring disorders is a term that describes an individual who is abusing drugs and has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that 8.9 million Americans have a co-occurring disorder, but only 7.4 percent of those individuals seek help for both substance abuse and the condition that is contributing to their drug use.

Out of the 8.9 million Americans who are diagnosed with a mental health disorder and substance abuse, 2.8 million are estimated by the SAMHSA to have a serious condition. It is estimated that roughly 42.8 percent of individuals who are abusing drugs may also be diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

The disorders that may contribute to drug abuse include:

[list icon=”chevron-right”] [list_item]Anxiety[/list_item] [list_item]Depression[/list_item] [list_item]Bipolar disorder[/list_item] [list_item]Schizophrenia[/list_item] [list_item]Delirium[/list_item] [/list]
[list icon=”chevron-right”] [list_item]Mood disorders of any type[/list_item] [list_item]Dementia[/list_item] [list_item]Insomnia[/list_item] [list_item]Hyper-activity disorders[/list_item] [list_item]Obsessive-compulsive disorder[/list_item] [/list]


Although a condition can contribute to substance abuse, it is not always the sole reason that individuals are abusing drugs. In some cases, the drug is the trigger that causes a disorder to develop.

When the mental health disorder is present before the substance abuse begins, it may be a primary factor in the continued abuse of drugs. The reason is that the individual is self-medicating, which means he or she is abusing drugs to reduce the burden of the mental health disorder.
If the condition is contributing to substance abuse, then the best treatment solution is a dual-diagnosis treatment. That means both the mental health disorder and the substance abuse are addressed during treatment so that you or your loved one can recover from drug abuse.

Reducing Emotional Pain

Emotional pain may be difficult to handle, which can contribute to substance abuse. A variety of factors can cause emotional pain, such as abuse during childhood or the end of a relationship that lasted for several years. When the emotional pain becomes difficult to handle, some individuals may turn to drugs as a way to alleviate that anguish and discomfort.
The challenge associated with emotional pain or discomfort is identifying the underlying cause of the anguish. In some cases, it may be easy to identify the specific reason that you or your loved one is in pain. Other cases may stem from trauma during childhood, which an individual may not always remember or may not recognize as the underlying cause of the problem.

During treatment for substance abuse, professionals can help identify the cause of pain so that it is possible to move forward and address the reason for drug abuse.

Physical Pain

Drug abuse is not always related to mental health or emotional trauma. Physical dependence on a substance can develop on accident.

When you take a prescription pain reliever after an injury, surgery or due to chronic physical pain, you may accidentally begin abusing drugs over time. Many prescription medications are habit forming, particularly if they are designed to reduce physical pain. That means it is possible to become addicted to the drug on a physical level when you take them for an extended period of time.
Substance abuse does not always mean that an individual is taking illegal drugs. It may mean that you are taking a prescription medication in a higher dosage than your doctor recommends or that you are taking the medication in any way that deviates from the directions of your doctor. When the dosage of a medication no longer addresses physical pain, it may be necessary to talk to your doctor about the situation. Over time, your body may become accustomed to the prescription medication and you may develop a physical dependence on the drug.

When that happens, your doctor may decide to gradually reduce the dosage so that you can stop taking the medication without experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. Physical pain can contribute to substance abuse or the development of physical dependence on a particular medication.

Peer Pressure

Although it may sound cliché, peer pressure is still a key reason that the individual using drugs may initially try the substance. Peer pressure can take many different forms and it is not always related to direct pressure placed on the individual. In some cases, it may be related to the desire to fit in during a party or social event.

Indirect pressure, such as when several individuals are using drugs during a social event, may also make it harder to avoid the substance. The individual may rationalize that it is safe or it will just be one time, which weakens his or her resolve to avoid drug abuse.

Direct peer pressure may include:

[list icon=”chevron-right”]
[list_item]Being given the substance[/list_item]
[list_item]Being persuaded or talked into trying it just once[/list_item]
[list_item]Being told that it is cool or fun[/list_item]
[list_item]Being told that the substance is safe[/list_item]

Since peer pressure can take many different forms, the exact statements and methods that may be used to convince an individual to try a substance may vary.

Family Factors

Family may play a role directly and indirectly in the use of drugs. There are two primary situations that may occur: rebelling against certain rules or following the example of parents.
Rebelling occurs when teenagers or young adults are constantly told that they cannot use drugs without being told the reasons. For example, a parent may forbid substance abuse and punish a teenager for drinking alcohol or using a drug, but may not discuss the reasons behind their rules and actions. Teenagers may try a substance due to their lack of knowledge about the dangers and the desire to test the boundaries that parents set for them.

Parents can help reduce the risk of rebellion by openly discussing and explaining why they have set those rules. By explaining the health risks and the problems that occur after abusing drugs, teenagers may feel that it is not worth the risk just to break the rules.

Following the example of parents is another family factor that may contribute to drug abuse. When children see their parents abusing drugs for years, they may feel that it is safe or may rationalize the action, even when they are aware of the potential risks.

It is a learned behavior when teenagers or young adults use drugs after seeing their parents abuse the substance. They assume that it is appropriate to use drugs.

The Sensation

After trying a substance, the continued use and abuse may relate to the feelings or sensations that arise during substance abuse. Although every drug will have a different impact on the mind and body, some substances can cause feelings of euphoria, relaxation or general feel good sensations.

Although every substance is different, key feelings or sensations may arise after taking the drug. The sensations that individuals may feel include:

[list icon=”chevron-right”]
[list_item]Altered reality or surreal sensations[/list_item]
[list_item]Improved mood[/list_item]

That feel-good sensation or the feeling of being powerful can become a strong contributing factor to continued drug abuse. Since the sensation can drop off rapidly, some individuals may take the substance again within a short period of time to maintain the feel-good sensation.

Over time, it will take more of the substance to cause the same sensation or feeling as the first time the individual used drugs. Physical and emotional dependence may develop, which may make it harder to give up the substance and recover without professional help.


Emotional pain and trauma may be related in some situations, but trauma can go further than just pain. Emotions related to fear, anger or general anxiety may also arise when a traumatic experience occurs. In some cases, trauma may not cause actual emotional pain.

Trauma may include a variety of situations, and some traumatic experiences may be overlooked when trying to identify the cause of drug abuse. Situations that may be traumatic include:

Car accidents or any accident that causes a serious physical injury
War experiences

Abuse during childhood
Abuse as an adult

[list icon=”chevron-right”]
[list_item]Being the victim of a crime[/list_item]
[list_item]Accidents of any type[/list_item]
[list_item]Betrayal of any type[/list_item]

The emotional experiences that occur after being the victim of a crime, living through an accident or facing abuse can vary. Being the victim of a crime may be traumatic, but the emotional experience may relate to fear and anger rather than pain. Accidents are chaotic experiences that may be hard to comprehend, but it may not come with any feeling of pain or even fear. The experience of an accident may be traumatic because it was too chaotic for the mind to process.

Depending on the situation and the traumatic experience, the emotional reaction and physical factors that contribute to the situation may vary. In some cases, drug abuse is an attempted escape from the chaotic state of mind that occurs after a traumatic experience.

The mind can try to relive the experience in an attempt to put it into a logical order. That constant reminder or memory of the trauma can make it hard to focus on the present, which contributes to substance abuse.

Every individual situation is different, but certain factors and life experiences have a higher chance of contributing to drug abuse. The key to treating substance abuse and recovering for a lifetime is identifying the reasons that you or a loved one is using drugs. When you recognize the cause of substance abuse, it is possible to develop or find the right treatment plan.

Sources: http://www.samhsa.gov/co-occurring/topics/data/disorders.aspx