Why Do People Do Drugs and Who is Most Susceptible?
Of the 323.1 million people who populate the U.S., roughly 6.6% are dependent on alcohol, and 9.4% have used an illicit drug during the past month. Most Americans are aware that drug and alcohol abuse is unhealthy, and can lead to serious life problems and hardships. But despite the heightened public awareness about the dangers surrounding drug and alcohol abuse, millions of Americans continue falling prey to addiction.
Opioid addiction in the U.S. is currently a public health emergency, and caused more than 53,000 overdose deaths in 2016 — a 46% increase from the number of opioid overdose deaths that occurred in 2015. High-risk drinking in the U.S. increased by 30% from 2002 to 2013, while alcohol abuse and dependence rates increased by 50%. Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the U.S., followed by cocaine.
Why do people become addicted to drugs, and which Americans are most susceptible to this chronic relapsing brain disease?
Here’s a close look at why people do drugs, and at how you can connect the person you care about with addiction treatment that can help them turn their life around for the best.
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Why Do People Get Addicted to Drugs?
Drug use disorders can be caused by any one of countless reasons — there is no one overwhelming cause of addiction. A person may become addicted to alcohol because everyone else in their family drinks, while another may abuse alcohol as a way to avoid dealing with stress. A person who uses painkillers may become unintentionally addicted if their doctor prescribes too-high doses, while someone else may choose to abuse painkillers because it helps them relax and feel more sociable.
Why do people do drugs? Stress, mental illness, and education are just a few common reasons people start using drugs, along with certain biological factors, environment, and early initiation.
1. High Levels of Stress
Stress affects about 73 million Americans at any given time, and can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. Having some stress in your life is normal from time to time, but chronic stress can be debilitating and interfere with everyday living. Stress can produce physical symptoms such as chest pain and muscle tension, along with psychological symptoms including irritability and constant worrying.
Some people use drugs and alcohol as a way to avoid stress, or to self-medicate for symptoms of stress. Millions of Americans with full-time jobs often do drugs to relieve work-related stress — especially those who work in high-stress environments such as doctors, nurses, miners, lawyers, and retail workers. Surveys show that roughly 15% of U.S. workers have used or been impaired by alcohol while on the clock at least once during the previous year.
2. Untreated Mental Illness
Roughly 60% of people who suffer from substance use disorders also suffer from mental health disorders. Drug addiction and mental illness are both caused by changes in brain chemicals and neurotransmitters responsible for regulating your mood and overall mental well-being. A person who suffers from both addiction and mental illness is known to have co-occurring disorders, or a dual diagnosis.
Just like stress, mental health disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia can produce symptoms that interfere with your ability to perform normal everyday tasks. Those who suffer from mental illnesses will often use drugs and alcohol to avoid, cope with, and mask their symptoms. Of the 20.2 million Americans diagnosed with substance use disorders, 7.9 million of these individuals suffer from co-occurring disorders.
3. Lack of Proper Education
While education level does play a role in a person’s likelihood of suffering from addiction, not everyone with drug use disorders fit the common stereotype of being uneducated, poor, and unemployed. However, those with higher education levels are found less likely to develop drug use disorders. A study conducted on alcohol dependence by education level found that Americans who dropped out of high school were six times more likely to become dependent on alcohol than those who earned college degrees.
Those with lower education levels who abuse drugs and alcohol may do so for unique reasons that are indirectly linked to their education status. For instance, these individuals may lack general knowledge about the long-term effects of drugs on the brain and body, or use drugs and alcohol to cope with abuse, unemployment, and unhealthy home environments.
Why Do People Become Addicted: Biological Factors?
A person’s genetic background accounts for between 40% and 60% of their vulnerability to addiction. Biological factors such as a person’s age, gender, and ethnicity can all play a role in whether a person becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol. For instance, teenagers and people with mental health disorders are at much higher risk for addiction than the general population.
Since the brain continues to develop into adulthood, children and teenagers who use drugs are often putting themselves at risk for long-lasting brain changes that can affect memory and decision making. Teenagers who abuse drugs are also at higher risk for mental health disorders, since drugs and alcohol can interfere with the brain’s chemical makeup. When mental health disorders are left untreated, teenage drug use can easily turn into a full-blown addiction.
Science shows that certain drugs interfere with hormones in ways that make women more predisposed to substance use disorders. For instance, cocaine has been found to bind with unique estrogen receptors in women to produce greater euphoric effects — putting women at higher risk for cocaine use disorder.
Research shows that women are also more likely to abuse opioid painkillers than men, since women tend to undergo a higher number of invasive surgical procedures like cesarean section and hysterectomies that are commonly treated with painkillers. Women are also more vulnerable to alcohol use disorder, since women can achieve higher concentrations of alcohol in the blood than men, and become impaired more quickly.
Why Do People Become Addicted: Environmental Factors?
A person’s environment at home, school, work, and in the neighborhood also plays a major role in whether that person is predisposed to addiction. Spending time in environments that are negative, stressful, and that provide easy access to drugs and alcohol can increase a person’s likelihood for becoming addicted. Those who live in neighborhoods and communities where poverty is prevalent are also at high risk for addiction by default.
Children of parents with alcohol use disorder are often four times more likely than the general population to suffer from addiction on behalf of environment, while children of parents with drug use disorders are up to 79% more likely to abuse drugs. Many times, children of addicts will witness and/or experience drug-induced abuse and violence firsthand, and can usually access drugs and alcohol around the clock. Lack of parental supervision and peer pressure are other common environmental risk factors that can lead to addiction among youth.
Why Do People Become Addicted: Early Initiation?
Evidence shows that people who start using drugs and alcohol at an early age are more likely to become addicts later in life, and may have a more difficult time with overcoming addiction. School, friends, and acquaintances tend to have a strong influence on teenage drug abuse, since teens may use drugs and alcohol to impress or fit in with peers, or for the sake of experiment. Kids who suffer academic failure or who struggle in social situations may also choose to abuse drugs in an effort to feel more confident or to cope with their feelings.
In a detailed report on treatment admissions for substance use disorders, it was found that 74% of admissions between the ages of 18 and 30 started using drugs and alcohol at the age of 17 or younger. More than 34% of these individuals started using between the ages of 15 and 17, while nearly 30% started using between the ages of 12 and 14. Alcohol and marijuana are cited as the most commonly abused “early initiation” substances among U.S. children and teens.
Addiction is Not One Size Fits All
While some people may be more susceptible to addiction on behalf of factors such as mental illness, education, and environment, addiction is never just limited to these individuals. Addiction can affect anyone of any gender and education level, may or may not be genetic, and can be either intentional or unintentional. Addiction is not one size fits all, and odds are you wouldn’t be able to pick an addict out of a lineup comprised of your neighbors, community members, friends, and those you love the most.
If you suspect that someone you care about may be suffering from addiction, look for behaviors that can reveal whether that person needs help. Those with substance use disorders will often make a series of lifestyle changes to prioritize drug and alcohol use above all else — including work, education, family, and their favorite hobbies and interests.
Addiction can cause one to become irritable, moody, and depressed. Addiction can lead to decreased performance at work or school, or to the development of one or more serious health problems. Addiction can also lead to financial problems, loss of relationships, and problems with the law.
Why do people get addicted to drugs if drug and alcohol use leads to negative consequences? Here are common traits shared among those who suffer from addiction:
1. They Tend to Have Mental Health Disorders
Look for signs of depression and anxiety, and for the presence of symptoms that may indicate schizophrenia, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or any other type of anxiety or mood disorder.
2. They Lack Healthy Stress Management
Consider whether your loved one copes with stress using healthy methods such as exercise, yoga, deep breathing, and talk therapy. If your loved one is frequently under stress but doesn’t engage in any healthy stress-relieving activities, it’s possible they may be using drugs and alcohol to cope.
3. They Have Relatives with Substance Use Disorders
Since addiction is genetic and can run in the family, your loved one may be suffering from addiction if they have close blood relatives who struggle with alcohol or drug use disorders.
4. They’re Risky and Adventurous
People who are adventurous and enjoy taking risks tend to be more experimental than others, and are often among the first people to try alcohol and dangerous illicit drugs.
5. They Tend to Be Obsessive and Compulsive
Those who are unable to control impulses or who tend to engage in obsessive behavior are often more likely to suffer from addiction than their counterparts.
6. They Lack Concern and Enthusiasm
Having an apathetic outlook on life is a common trait of people with substance use disorders. Apathy can cause people to abuse drugs and alcohol despite knowing they may face negative consequences when doing so.
It’s Within Your Power to Get Treatment
If you learn that you or your loved one is more susceptible to addiction on behalf of certain risk factors, understand that preventing and overcoming addiction is fully within your power — even if addiction is in your genetics and family background. Addiction treatments are designed to help you overcome drug and alcohol dependency, and use a range of therapies to teach you important skills for avoiding triggers and staying sober.
1. Drug Detox
Treatments at drug and alcohol detox centers can be customized especially for you or your loved one based on the substance being used, and on the root cause of addiction. Drug detox is safest and most effective when conducted as an inpatient medical detox, which allows patients to recover from drugs and alcohol surrounded by nurses and doctors who monitor their vitals 24/7. A medical detox often involves the use of medications that can relieve some or all withdrawal symptoms — allowing you or your loved one to recover from addiction with less pain and discomfort.
Detox is often followed by therapy to address the root cause of addiction — whether it be mental illness, environment, stress, or another factor. For instance, those who live in environments that encourage drug use may receive family therapy to improve family dynamics, and to eliminate future problems with addiction. Those who started using drugs to cope with stress may undergo counseling or support group therapy to learn of new, healthier ways to manage stress that don’t involve drugs or alcohol.
3. Affordable Treatment Options
Detox treatment can be made affordable for nearly anyone who struggles with drug use disorders on behalf of insurance, grants, government funding, sliding scale fees, and more. If you need addiction treatment and do not currently have health insurance, find out which insurance plans cover the cost of detox so you can benefit from free drug detox treatment.
Nobody should have to face and overcome addiction on their own — including you. If you need help fighting addiction, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-483-2193(Who Answers?). Our experienced drug abuse counselors will help you find the nearest drug detox center in your area devoted to guiding you along the path to improved health and sobriety.