Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD MPH on 9/8/2021
All of the content shown on this page has been fully reviewed by a medical professional to ensure information accuracy.
Substance abuse comes in many different forms and can happen for many different reasons. While every addiction is different, and the intensity can vary from substance to substance, there are some common reasons people may become addicted to a substance.
The Reasons People Abuse Drugs
Why do people abuse drugs? There are many complex reasons. Some reasons are intensely personal while others are more common. However, this list represents the vast majority of reasons why people use drugs.
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1. Legality Equals Accessibility
Nicotine and alcohol are examples of legal and loosely regulated legal drugs that have a risk for addiction. The Worldwide number of deaths reported by the World Health Organization provides the grim data of 6 million deaths from tobacco use and 2.5 million deaths from harmful alcohol use. Usually, individuals develop a habit of smoking cigarettes that they pick up from people around them. Because alcohol consumption is a normal occurrence, there is the risk of addiction. Prescriptions drugs are also technically legal and create addiction and dependence.
2. Prescription Drugs
Prescription drugs can lead to drug abuse. It’s very common for people to think that because their doctors give them a prescription, their medication is safe to consume without consequences. Unfortunately, Opioid prescriptions are extremely addictive and can act as a gateway to other drugs, like fentanyl or heroin. 30% of emergency room admissions from prescription abuse involve opioid drugs. Addiction to prescription drugs is a very real thing.
3. Fitting In
Peer pressure causes people to do things they would normally not to impress friends or loved ones. It’s a way of seeking out the feeling of being valued by others. Receiving an invitation from a friend to come and party with drugs or alcohol can be difficult to turn down.
Fitting in can especially be a reason among young teens and adults. Unfortunately, drug use happens in all types of socioeconomic situations. Wanting to feel liked and loved by family and friends is a huge reason people start doing drugs. Keep in mind, if drugs are a normal part of the environment, it doesn’t seem abnormal to do them.
Depression is a common mental health diagnosis in the United States. Since depression is notoriously difficult to treat for some, many people seek temporary and instant relief provided by drugs or alcohol.
On top of that, many people who struggle with depression do not get proper treatment or diagnosis at all. Some people who have depression have no idea they suffer from it. It makes sense that those struggling with depression tend to self-medicate to handle the symptoms of depression with alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and various other mind-altering substances.
5. To Feel Good
While other reasons behind doing drugs can be especially complex, this one is pretty straightforward. Drugs cause chemical reactions to be released within our brain that mimic feelings of happiness, euphoria, and comfort.
There are many people that use drugs because it makes them feel good (at least at first). Usually, after addiction sets in, the drugs and alcohol cease to produce warm and fuzzy feelings as brain chemistry has been artificially altered by the drug.
If the urge to experiment or try drugs for the first time comes up, availability has a lot to do with why people abuse. For some, experimentation with drugs is incredibly tempting. If the person has the drugs available to them close by, it removes obstacles that otherwise could prevent addiction.
For example, prescription drugs, nicotine, and alcohol are easy to acquire because they are readily available. Raiding a person’s medicine cabinet or running to the store for a pack and a bottle of vodka is the quickest way to develop a life-consuming addiction. Prescribed narcotic medication needs to be out of the reach of other individuals.
In many cases, substances like alcohol, marijuana, and prescription painkillers act as a gateway to drugs with a more intense and mind-altering effect. The chase for euphoric feelings can then cause users to seek out harder drugs. Currently, the opioid epidemic is forcing people to turn to street drugs, like meth or heroin, when their doctor stops writing refills for their prescriptions.
Mind-altering substances, like cocaine and alcohol, promise a heightened euphoric experience, and to some, that experience is worth exploring despite the risks. Unfortunately, drugs like heroin, ecstasy, and meth, which are so addictive that the person will begin a pattern of abuse, can eventually lead to an addiction.
9. Self Medicating
Self-Medicating is one of the top reasons that people abuse drugs and alcohol. Self-medication can stem from stress, anxiety, undiagnosed mental illness, severe depression, loneliness, and trauma. These reasons and sometimes more than one of these reasons can easily lead a person to begin using drugs and alcohol to cope.