Contributing Factors of Substance Abuse and Drug & Alcohol Addiction

Substance abuse does not follow a pattern. It does not have a set of rules that determine whether or not someone will develop an addiction. So what causes substance abuse?

While not everyone who is exposed to certain factors develops dependency on drugs and/or alcohol, but there has been a correlation between certain environmental, individual or genetic, and social factors and substance abuse and addiction.

contributing causes of substance abuseA World Health Organization (WHO) report, entitled “Neuroscience of Psychoactive Substance Use and Dependence”, details many environmental and individual factors, including genetics that contribute to Substance Abuse and Addiction. Genetics contribute to the increased likelihood that an individual will abuse drugs, and to what extent the substance abuse may escalate. Environmental risk factors include availability of drugs, poverty, social changes, peer influences, employment status, type of occupation and cultural attitudes. Individual risk factors include: being a victim of child abuse, personality disorders, extreme changes in family situation, inter-family dependence problems, academic stress, poor academic performance, social deprivation, depression, and suicidal behavior. College student are particularly influenced by a number of different factors: including peer pressure, separation from family and friends, academic performance pressures, and biological mental duress. All can be contributing factors of substance abuse.

The report also states:

“In thinking about dependence, it is important to remember that over a lifespan many people experiment with a variety of potentially dependence-producing substances, but most do not become dependent. There are also individual differences in susceptibility to substance dependence due to environmental and genetic factors.”

Substance abuse is a compilation of experiences, environments and motivations that propel individuals into different directions. It is the unique make-up of an individual’s story. Everyone is brought to the same ending from a different beginning. While some experiences are shared, there are a plethora of risk factors that can contribute to the development of addiction. Most risk factors fall into one of several categories.

Environmental Causes of Substance Abuse and Addiction

Some of our earliest interactions in life play the biggest roles in our development. From early childhood to the ongoing development into adulthood, our relationships with family and peers have some of the greatest influence on the development of addictions. Conflict within the household can amplify stress and cause some to seek an escape through these substances. Stressors can develop as a result of a variety of environmental factors. For example, children exposed to criminal behavior and family members who abuse drugs/alcohol are at a greater risk of developing their own problems. The earlier in life a person is exposed to illicit substances, the higher the risk of addiction.

Causes of Substance Abuse and AddictionThe strength of relationships within the family, structure of authority and overall happiness can affect the development and acceleration of abuse. While the family is not the sole source of influence on many young adults, they play one of the most critical roles as they determine an individual’s earliest social interactions.

An impoverished environment can increase the likelihood of abuse. Poverty can affect generations of family members due to lack of education and limited access to employment or healthcare. Poverty-stricken environments leave many experiencing lifestyles including incarceration, homelessness and poor health. Those who drop out of school, are unemployed or live in unsafe areas are at higher risk, especially if their home environment has already exposed them to drugs and/or alcohol. Exposure to these elements early in life leads many young adults down the same paths and can be difficult to escape. In addition, the effects of poverty can leave many without access to treatment. Treatment and detoxification is difficult to accomplish, especially with limited resources. Those who have the ability to use public health services often have difficulty maintaining it long-term due to family responsibilities. Poverty is a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself as generations are born and raised in lifestyles of high-risk exposure.

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Individual and Genetic Causes of Substance Abuse & Addiction

Biology plays a critical role in predisposition to addictive behaviors especially if the individual’s first experience with abuse is early in life. Experimentation during the most critical stage of development can affect susceptibility and lead many into more serious abuse. During adolescent years, the brain is developing its ability to assess situations and manage emotions. Exposure to drugs and/or alcohol during this process can result in increased risk for poor decision-making and lead many towards more risky behavior. Trying drugs and continued use can have a substantial impact on mental functioning and cause long-lasting, potentially irreversible, consequences.

Mental health and the development of co-occurring disorders can amplify the side effects of drug and alcohol abuse. Many with issues such as depression use these substances in an attempt to self-medicate. In reality, the combination of mind-altering substances with mood disorders can intensify symptoms and increase mental distress. Early life experiences and biological factors can leave many predisposed to the development of disorders and addictions. Use of various substances to numb pain and help those who are victimized by violence is common. To prevent further damage to family or to themselves, many do not seek medical help and use illicit substances to temporarily relieve pain and self-medicate. Substance abuse in these situations is especially vicious due to the “rebound effect” in which an individual coming off the effects of drugs and/or alcohol often experiences greater pain both mentally and physically. Those under the influence of substances operate without consideration for their actions. Alcohol and drugs can lower inhibitions, cloud judgement and cause some to abuse their loved ones. This, however, does not mean substance abuse causes violence; merely, it can be a catalyst for some.

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School & Peers

Contributing factors of substance abuse and addictionFor many, college is the first time a young adult is away from family and friends. Thrust into an unknown world, the desire for companionship can lead many towards dangerous lifestyle changes. College is an impressionable time where the process of self-discovery leads some off track especially when guided by desire for acceptance, no matter the recourse. Recreational drug abuse and binge drinking have become normative behaviors among college-aged students. Popular media continues to portray drugs and alcohol as acceptable, enjoyable ways to relate to others and have a good time. Peer pressure can make even the most steadfast young adult submit to experimentation and a “just this once” mindset. Even with no other risk factors present, peer pressure can be one of the most influential forces in an individual’s life.

Social situations, especially in college, can be especially tolerant of heavy substance abuse and even goes so far as to expect it. With a new set of expectations, including academic performance and the development of independence, the world and its expectations can seem especially challenging and trying. Just as in the case of mental disorders, some may use drugs and/or alcohol to cope with these new challenges. In an effort to release stress, some see no other alternative and begin developing addictive behaviors. Further enabled by the perception of social tolerance, many see no immediate risks nor dangers in their choices.

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Combating Risk Factors of Substance Abuse

Risk factors can influence young adults in a variety of ways. The more risks present in an individual’s life, the more likely drug and/or alcohol addiction may develop. Risk factors become more influential during particular stages of life and can affect individuals differently depending on their own unique experiences. For most, the key to combating risk factors is a healthy balance between those and protective factors. Protective factors include parental supervision, academic competence and a strong sense of self-control and self-worth.

There are no set rules or patterns people follow in the development of addiction. Each individual has a unique genetic make-up coupled with experiences that mold their development. Early intervention in a young person’s development can curb the effect of risk factors of substance abuse and serves to bolster protective factors to combat the cloud created by negative influences.

Should a loved one succumb to drug and/or alcohol abuse, there are options for treatment and sobriety. Sober College offers a comprehensive treatment program that accounts for an individual’s full set of experiences, motivations and influences to provide the most effective therapies. We take into account any and all factors that may have yielded addiction and provide healthy alternatives and coping mechanisms for those who struggle with addiction. Our program is uniquely designed for young adults and caters to their generational experiences in addition to their own. In addition, our Dual Diagnosis Program ensures those who struggle with co-occurring mental disorders receive proper attention and treatment in every avenue of their struggles.

Addiction is a mental disorder in and of itself and requires specialized treatment to overcome. In addition to provide treatment for addiction, Sober College prepares residents for a sober, independent lifestyle upon completion of the program. Delivered at a personalized pace, those who suffer with addiction are prepared for the real world in a safe and supervised environment. Click here to learn more information about addiction and addiction treatment.

Other Resources for further explanation of different risk factors that may contribute to addiction among college students: