What Triggers Substance Abuse in Human Beings: Identifying the Top 7 Causes

Substance abuse is a complex issue that is personal but can also impact those around the individual. From excessive alcohol use to the opioid epidemic, substance abuse has become a prevalent public health issue. More than 70,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2017 alone, and that’s only in the United States.

You may be curious as to what the main triggers are for substance abuse. Why do some people appear to be more easily predisposed to this? What even causes someone to start? Here, we will explore the top seven causes that initiate substance abuse.

What Triggers Substance Abuse in Human Beings

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But First, What Exactly Is Substance Abuse?

Substance use disorder refers to the compulsive use of a substance that interferes with the person’s everyday functioning. This can include alcohol abuse, nonprescription drug use, and even prescription drug use.

Excessive alcohol use is to blame for 1 in 5 deaths of adults aged 20-49. Over time, it can have long-term impacts such as liver disease and is even linked to a higher risk of certain types of cancer. While alcohol isn’t too harmful in moderation, it may be good to know what some of these risk factors and triggers are regarding substance abuse.

Genetic Predisposition

Unfortunately, this is one thing that triggers substance abuse that can’t be controlled. This doesn’t mean that if someone’s parent was an addict they are certain to become one too. However, there are certainly ties between one generation having substance abuse issues and the next having them as well. A mix of having this predisposition and also growing up exposed to these behaviors can lead to substance abuse later on. Growing up in an environment with excessive alcohol or drug abuse can lead someone to see these behaviors as the norm.


The loss of a loved one can trigger painful, even unbearable emotions in someone. Grief is handled in many different ways. Some people try to avoid their emotions, while others face them head-on with counseling or simply letting themselves feel.

Not everyone has access to counseling, and not everyone has healthy coping mechanisms for devastating emotions. Some people may turn to drugs or alcohol as a short-term way to deal with their grief, but if it’s repeatedly used as a way to deal with the difficult emotions that come with this, they may develop long-term substance abuse.


High levels of stress and anxiety can cause some people to turn to drugs and alcohol. This could be due to career pressure, especially if they feel their identity derives from their career. High levels of pressure at various levels of schooling could also cause undue stress. Some students may turn to stimulants to manage the workload, while others may use substances simply to relieve pressure.

Individuals who don’t have a strong support system or feel that they can’t turn to those around them are particularly susceptible to using substances to take some of the stress away.


There’s an unfortunate link between trauma and developing addictions. This occurs both with childhood trauma and trauma that starts as an adult. With trauma, the brain gets locked into panic mode. It can feel like an endless loop of what triggered the event for those who have experienced trauma.

To try to alleviate these unhealed emotional wounds, some people may turn to drugs or alcohol. This is not a true solution to the core problem. Though it can feel that way temporarily as the person with an addiction continues to go back to that substance for temporary relief. In the long run, this dependence only harms the person more.

Trauma is not easily treated, but with long-term psychological help, those with trauma-related addictions can forge a path to recovery. Both the trauma and the addiction need to be treated. Even if someone finds relief from trauma through therapy, they will not automatically stop using substances if they’ve developed an addiction.

Social Pressure and Curiosity

Some people may simply be curious the first time they seek to use a drug. Perhaps their friends often talk about how great a certain drug is. When someone’s consistently exposed to drugs or overuses alcohol, they may eventually want to try it. Others in this type of environment may even feel pressured by their peers to join in on the use.

Health Conditions

Sometimes someone gets led into addiction initially by a visit to the doctor’s office. It’s become more and more common for people to be addicted to prescription drugs that were meant to help treat a diagnosed condition. Some people may start misusing painkillers or medications for a mental health condition. Some signs that someone may be misusing prescribed medication include consistently taking more than the recommended dose or ignoring potential side effects of the drug.


This also relates to medical conditions, but in this case, some people misuse drugs as a means to alleviate pain even if they haven’t been prescribed any painkillers. This could start for multiple reasons. Perhaps they don’t have insurance and obtaining these substances illicitly is cheaper than seeing a doctor. There are also some people who try to avoid visits to the doctor at all costs. Some people also self-medicate emotional wounds.

Addiction and Substance Abuse Can Be an Escape for People Looking to Overcome a Problem

Though there are a variety of potential triggers as to why someone may develop substance use disorder, it is often started as a means to take control of a situation. Unfortunately, this attempt to try to overcome a problem may lead to more issues where the substance now takes control of their life.

Grief, trauma, and stress are some common triggers that cause a person to try to escape with substances. To recover from addiction, it’s important to have a safe and comfortable environment to work through the layered issues that often accompany addiction.

If you or someone you know has symptoms of substance abuse, there is hope to overcome it. Check out Achieve Wellness and Recovery to start on this path.

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