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Causes of Addiction

causes of addiction

Causes of Addiction

Addiction, or a substance use disorder (SUD), is a disease characterized by uncontrollable use of a substance despite the damage it causes. Drug addiction and alcoholism are two of the most common types of addictions that plague millions of people in the United States. Substance use disorders can negatively impact a person physically and psychologically, often leading to long-term health problems and mental illness. Below, our drug rehab center in Philadelphia shares the most common causes of addiction and why it can worsen without treatment.

What Are Some Causes of Addiction?

Substance-related disease and addictive disorders are very complex and often result in severe consequences for the person. Addiction begins with experimentation with or extended use of drugs or alcohol. As a person's tolerance for a certain amount of these substances grows, they may then use more of them to experience the same high or intoxication. Over time their body becomes dependent on these substances, and they may continue to take them to avoid the body's reactions to not having them, which are withdrawal symptoms. Continued use of drugs or alcohol can lead to addiction, which is an uncontrollable and unquenchable desire to use. Below are some common causes of drug addiction and alcoholism.

Effects of being High

The root cause of addiction is the way drugs and alcohol make people feel. Addiction is heavily based on the flood of dopamine and that feeling of euphoria a person experiences when they use drugs or drink alcohol. Most drugs work by forcing the release and production of chemicals, called neurotransmitters, which relay messages between neurons in the brain and body. Among these neurotransmitters, dopamine is the most heavily affected by drug and alcohol abuse. These substances cause a flood of dopamine in the brain and inhibit the brain's ability to recycle it, causing a surge of euphoria that users enjoy. The person may continue to chase this sense of pleasure and happiness by continuously using drugs and drinking, resulting in addiction.

Mental illness

One study estimated that 7 to 10 million people in the U.S. have at least one psychiatric disorder as well as SUD.1 When a person has an addiction and mental disorder, it's referred to as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Some of the most common mental disorders linked to addiction include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The effects of substance abuse often lead to mental illness. Many people with mental disorders may also begin using drugs and alcohol to cope with the symptoms of their condition. Because these two conditions co-occur often, it's important to offer treatment options that address both issues.

Banyan Treatment Centers Philadelphia offers different addiction programs and therapies that address addiction's underlying issues, including symptoms of mental disorders. We know it's important to focus on every factor of SUDs, so we make sure to incorporate as many treatment methods as possible in our rehab programs.


Trauma is an emotional response to a horrible event such as an accident, natural disaster, or sexual assault. It's normal for people to feel shocked or be in denial immediately following the event. While some people eventually recover from the incident, others may eventually experience symptoms such as unpredictable emotions and flashbacks. The connection between addiction and trauma stems from the person's dependence on drugs or alcohol to numb their symptoms of PTSD. Our trauma recovery groups at Banyan Philadelphia help people recover from an addiction that is linked to a traumatic experience. This is one of the services we offer that address the underlying mental health issues associated with SUDs.


One of the main causes of substance abuse and addiction is genetics. In a study on the connection between genetics and addiction, researchers estimated that genes account for anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of a person's risk of developing an addiction.2 Genes, including the person's stage of development, gender, and even ethnicity, can affect their risk of developing a SUD. Epigenetics, which are the effects of environmental factors on a person's gene expression, can also play a role in the development of addiction.

Environment and learned behavior

Learned behaviors are part of the environmental factors of addiction and refer to behaviors learned through experience and exposure. A person's home environment, especially their childhood experiences, can cause addiction. For example, having a parent or sibling who engages in substance abuse or breaks the law can increase a child's risk of using drugs or drinking in the future. A person's friends and other peers can also have a strong influence. Teens who use drugs or drink heavily can easily influence their other friends or peers, sometimes by peer pressure. Struggling at school or lacking social skills can also increase a child's chances of addiction in the future.

Early use of drugs or alcohol

Early use of drugs or alcohol, which can start at any age, can also cause addiction in the future. This can be linked to the damage to the brain caused by these substances and their effects on development. Early drug or alcohol abuse can also result from an unstable home environment or trauma experienced as a child. Mental illness and genes can also contribute to the early use of drugs or alcohol.

We understand the damage that substance abuse can cause because we've seen it firsthand. Our Philadelphia substance abuse programs include substance-specific treatments for substances like alcohol, benzos, cocaine, heroin, meth, opioids, and prescription drugs. Call us now at 888-280-4763 to find out how we can help you or a loved one recover and get sober.


  1. AA – NCBI
  2. AA – NHI

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Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.