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7 Causes of Substance Abuse

The causes of substance abuse are broader than most people understand. It’s not just about the genetic component. It’s not just about mental health issues. Rather, it’s about all kinds of issues combined into a sort of mishmash of craziness.

Here are some of the causes of substance abuse:

  1. Environment
  2. Using when you’re young
  3. The drugs you choose
  4. Anxiety
  5. Depression
  6. Stress
  7. Genetic predisposition

In my life, all of these causes applied. Let’s look at them more closely.

Environment — A Cause of Substance Abuse

I can say for sure that the environment my parents provided me had nothing to do with my substance abuse. I grew up in a good home, always in nice neighborhoods, and always went to good schools. So in that respect, my environment didn’t play a role. 

However, I can say that the way I was treated in school definitely played a role. I was bullied a lot, and I moved schools a lot, which led to new bullies. I was overweight and always the new kid, which made me a target, and I was the smart kid on top of that, which certainly didn’t help.

When I went to high school, I was in an environment that led to a lot of boredom. There was little to do in the Kansas town I lived in, and all my friends smoked weed and drank, so eventually, it just made sense to try it. I was constantly bored, so I figured: why not? Smoking weed quickly led to drinking, which then led to harder drugs—fast.

Using When You’re Young

Since I started using in high school at 17, my age absolutely played a role. I was doing meth and cocaine and opiates by the time I was 18, which I’m sure had an effect on my growing brain. Studies have shown that the younger you are when you start using, the more likely you are to develop a substance use disorder, so making bad choices at a young age likely pushed me down the road toward addiction.

The Drugs You Choose

It didn’t help at all that I was doing meth and coke and OxyContin when I was only 18. These drugs are highly addictive. I’m sure they changed my brain, and by the time I tried OxyContin, my brain was ready for something big.

Oxy turned me into a full-fledged addict and took me to places I never want to go back to. I wish I’d never tried oxy—it’s one of the most devious drugs I’ve ever come across and made me do things I never would have done otherwise. Choosing to do a heavy drug like that absolutely was one of the major causes of my substance abuse.


I didn’t realize it until I became much older, but I’ve suffered from anxiety my entire life. It runs in my family—to the point that many of us have OCD in addition to anxiety neurosis—and while it didn’t cause other members of my family to become alcoholics or drug addicts, it played a strong role in the beginnings of my substance use disorder (SUD).

For me, drugs calmed something that I didn’t know needed to be calmed. This was especially true of alcohol and similar drugs, like Xanax. I often wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn’t had such bad anxiety. I still think I would have become a drug addict, but possibly not as early on.


Just like my bad anxiety, I had deep depression at a young age. Unlike the anxiety, I knew that I was depressed, but I hid it from my parents and friends. When I turned 17 and started using, I found immediate relief from my depression. I’ve met plenty of people like me who started using because they liked how it made them feel—it treated their depression for a while. Opiates especially helped with my depression for a number of years, but eventually, they stopped working.


As a kid with OCD, I stressed out about almost everything you can think of, but especially school. The older I got, the worse it got as it became more and more clear that school played such a huge role in the rest of my life.

The stress never got better, but alcohol and drugs gave me a way to escape it for a while. Eventually, they stopped working, and the stress got worse. I can absolutely say that alcohol and drugs are not a long-term solution to stress. I needed healthy coping mechanisms, and I did not have them.

Genetic Predisposition

This is probably the biggest reason that I got hooked—there’s something in my genes that got set off the first time I got high.

I can say for a fact that all the other causes I’ve listed above, though they played a role in my substance use disorder, were not the root cause of my addiction.

Instead, it was my genes. The first time I ever tried weed, I was hooked. Yes, it helped with my depression. Yes, drinking help with my anxiety. Yes, I was in an environment where drinking and getting high were common among my peers.

But so many of my peers never turned out like me. Only a handful really. The vast majority just moved on with their lives.

I was primed for it. This is what sets me apart and likely makes me more of an addict than anything else.

There Are Many Causes of Substance Abuse — Have You Experienced Them?

Substance abuse, unfortunately, can be caused by many different things. This is only a partial list, and you might have experienced other things in your life that led you to abuse different substances.

What is your experience? Share it with me in the comments.

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1 year ago

I completely agree with you on this. However with me weed never did anything. Now oxys and coke that changed my world entirely. It took away the ocd stress and everything involved in having to deal with it all. It was like no one understood until I found this drug. The drug understood. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions would love to chat. For obvious reasons I’m using an alias lol. Not sure I want to comment a lot but being Asian American (first gen) born late 80:, having ocd, anxiety etc and just everything has made me almost born to be addicted. Others can say that’s not true but it is


Adam Fout

I'm a speculative fiction and nonfiction writer. I have a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Professional and Technical Communication. I'm a graduate of the 2020 Odyssey Writing Workshop. I'm a regular contributor to Recovery Today Magazine, and I have been published in numerous literary magazines, including December, J Journal, and Flash Fiction Online, among others.

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