Like most psychological issues, there is no one cause for drug abuse. People abuse drugs for a variety of reasons. Usually, when we take drugs either for recreational purposes or medical uses, there is a specific effect we are trying to achieve. For example, we take pain medications to relieve pain from an injury. Eventually, the pain medication does not work as well as it used to, because we have developed a tolerance. We begin to take more of the medication to achieve the same effect. This cycle can begin with normal use and end in drug abuse.
Drug abuse is closely associated with the reward centers in our brains. The reward system is a collection of brain structures which attempts to regulate and control behavior by inducing pleasurable effects. These pleasurable effects reinforce the behavior that activated the reward system. Drugs activate this reward system, which reinforces their use. The reward system also is responsible for the physical tolerance that develops with repeated drug abuse. The amount of stimulation of the reward system is the determining factor in the addictiveness of a substance.
Within seconds of entering the body, drugs cause dramatic changes to synapses in the brain. By bypassing the five senses and directly activating the brain’s reward system fast and hard, drugs can cause a jolt of intense pleasure. As the brain adapts to the presence of the drug, regions outside of the reward pathway are also affected. Brain regions responsible for judgment, learning and memory begin to physically change. At this point, drug craving and drug seeking behavior become almost like a reflex. The addicted individual is compelled to find and use drugs.
While there is no one cause for drug abuse, certain psychological, economic, and social aspects can increase the likelihood that someone will abuse drugs. These are known as risk factors. Psychological risk factors for drug abuse include mood disorders like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, as well as personality disorders like antisocial personality disorder. Social risk factors for drug abuse include gender, age, certain cultural backgrounds, marital status, and socioeconomic status. Environmental factors, including a person’s family’s beliefs and attitudes and exposure to a peer group that encourages drug use seem to play a large role in initial drug use as well. Studies also suggest that there is a genetic component to drug abuse. People who have immediate family that suffer from drug abuse or drug addiction are more likely to abuse drugs themselves.
One of the most prevalent causes of drug abuse is an inability to face reality. Most people who are addicted to drugs do not want to deal with their current circumstances or emotions so they abuse drugs to avoid dealing with life. Drugs become the solution to all of life’s problems. This inability to deal with reality may be caused by past trauma or a co-occurring psychological disorder. Sometimes, everyday life becomes a struggle and simple things become too much to handle.