Why Do We Use Drugs?

If you have a loved one suffering from drug addiction, you may find yourself wondering how they got there in the first place. Why do they continue getting high when it’s clearly ruining their life? How can they possibly enjoy what addiction is doing to their body? What made them start using drugs? You may even be addicted yourself and wonder the same things.

Taking a deeper look can help us uncover stressors, experiences, and influences that may have contributed to our loved one’s drug abuse. It can also provide insight and tools for addressing these unhealthy behaviors and convincing them to enroll in a detox program to begin treatment.

Risk Factors

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines a risk factor as a biological, psychological, familial, communal or cultural characteristic that precedes and is associated with a higher likelihood of negative outcomes.1

Although every person has varying psychological and biological factors that play a role in the likelihood of them becoming substance abusers, it’s important to remember that these individual characteristics are also impacted by a variety of environmental factors. These may include parental involvement, socioeconomic status, and community interaction.

Known biological and environmental risk factors of drug abuse include:1

  • Parents who use drugs and alcohol – A report published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism stated that children of alcoholics are 50 to 60 percent more likely to develop alcohol use disorders than people in the general population. In addition, children of parents who abuse illicit drugs may be 45 to 79 percent more likely than the general public to do the same.2
  • Child abuse and/or neglect – Victims of domestic violence are at higher risk for developing substance abuse disorders and addictions to drugs and alcohol.3
  • Mental illness – Psychological issues such as anxiety and depression put individuals at greater risk for developing an addiction. This is because drug use disorders and mental illness can both be caused by overlapping factors such as cognitive impairment, genes and early exposure to extreme stress or trauma. In many cases, drug use could also be a form of self-medication to cope with mental illness.5
  • Negative life events – Traumatic or stressful events, especially in childhood, have a strong relationship with the development of substance abuse disorders and other health problems later in life, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.6
  • Academic failure – According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, academic failure can lead to drug abuse and addiction.4 This may be attributed to feelings of inadequacy, isolation or as an attempt to improve cognitive performance.
  • Peers that use drugs and alcohol – Even people without any additional risk factors may become addicted to drugs after being offered substances by friends. Social groups and peers have a strong influence, especially during adolescence.4
  • Early use – According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a developmental disease, and environmental factors such as early use and the availability of drugs and alcohol affect the likelihood of a person developing an addiction later in life.4

If an individual (especially a child) has more than one of the above risk factors, he or she has a much greater chance of developing a substance abuse problem that could lead to addiction.

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5 Common Reasons People Use Drugs

With these risk factors in mind, many people end up using drugs for the same reasons, regardless of their age, sex, status or circumstances. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Peer Pressure

Some people who develop an addiction to drugs have friends who are also consistently abusing addictive substances. Sometimes this may even include family members. It’s not uncommon for a person to feel a want or a need to be included, and therefore, is coerced into trying drugs or alcohol.

  • Curiosity

Curiosity or even just boredom can also be a common reason for trying a substance. A lack of education may contribute to the curiosity some people have in regards to drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, even just using a drug once can result in years of addiction.

  • Performance Enhancement

Many times people start using steroids or other addictive drugs as a means to increase their physical abilities, help them stay awake longer to study, or to improve their overall cognitive function.

  • Coping with Life

Some people view drugs and alcohol as a way to escape the realities of life. In these instances, individuals will abuse a substance to minimize feelings of depression, anxiety, anger or sadness. Others may use drugs and alcohol to boost their confidence in social situations when they feel nervous or anxious.

  • Fun

Addictive substances are often glorified for their ability to make people “let loose” and have fun, which gives the false impression that those who are sober are not having fun. People typically want to experience the “feel good” effects of getting high or drunk, thus, they decide to try drugs and fall into an addictive lifestyle.

The Truth About Addiction

While it’s true that risk factors play a role in the likelihood of a person becoming addicted, no one single factor can cause a drug or alcohol addiction. It can happen to anyone. But knowing and understanding the causes and influences behind a loved one’s addiction may help you approach them with patience, compassion, and care. This may be the difference between watching them fall further into addiction or getting them into a medically assisted detox facility to begin treatment.



  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/capt/practicing-effective-prevention/prevention-behavioral-health/risk-protective-factors
  2. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA76/AA76.htm
  3. http://ncadv.org/learn-more/statistics
  4. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-abuse-addiction
  5. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/comorbidity-addiction-other-mental-illnesses/why-do-drug-use-disorders-often-co-occur-other-men
  6. https://www.samhsa.gov/capt/sites/default/files/resources/aces-behavioral-health-problems.pdf
  7. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001522.htm

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