What Causes Substance Abuse?
Emotional and Mental Health Data Verified

Why Do People Abuse Alcohol or Other Substances of Abuse?

Written by
Dr. Ashok Kumar
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Sep 21, 2013 and last reviewed on Aug 10, 2023   -  5 min read


Substance abuse is a major societal issue because of its enormous personal, social, and economic costs.

Why Do People Abuse Alcohol or Other Substances of Abuse?


Substance abuse is something that should never be taken lightly. Substance abuse is the medical term for a pattern of using a substance (drug) that can cause significant problems or distress. This can be missing school or work or using the substance in dangerous situations, like driving a car. In addition, it can lead to continued substance use or substance-related legal problems that can affect friendships, relationships, or both.

Substance abuse is different from addiction. Many people with substance abuse problems can quit or change their unhealthy behavior. On the other hand, addiction is a disease. It means one cannot stop using even when the condition harms them.

What Substances Are Most Often Abused?

Both legal and illegal drugs contain chemicals that can change how the body and mind function. They can give a pleasurable "high," ease stress, or help avoid problems in life. Alcohol is the most often legal drug of abuse.

The frequently abused substances include:

What Are the Symptoms of Substance Abuse?

The symptoms of substance abuse vary slightly from person to person.

  • Taking larger amounts or over longer periods than intended.

  • Unsuccessfully trying to cut down or control the use of drugs or alcohol.

  • Feeling of abusing drug daily or even several times a day.

  • Wasting a lot of time getting the drug, abusing it, or recovering from its effects.

  • Craving or a strong urge to use drugs or alcohol.

  • Taking risks, like sexual risks or driving under the influence.

  • Giving up on work responsibilities because of drug or alcohol use.

  • Using drugs or alcohol even with continued troubled relationships caused by its use.

  • Driving or doing other risky activities under the influence of the drug.

  • Developing tolerance or needing more drugs or alcohol to acquire the same effect over time.

  • Facing withdrawal symptoms if attempt to stop using drugs or alcohol. Using alcohol or another drug to avoid those symptoms.

  • Spending money on the drug, even though they cannot afford it.

  • Doing certain things to get the drug one usually would not do, such as stealing.

What Causes Substance Abuse?

A common myth is that drug misuse is simply a search for fun. But people take drugs for many reasons other than to get the buzz or high. Indeed, research has shown that straightforward buzz-seeking is the primary reason for the initiation of drug use in less than 20 percent of individuals. Instead, multiple factors, including environmental stressors, genetic vulnerability, social pressures, individual personality characteristics, and psychiatric problems, can cause substance abuse.

Why Is It Important to Know About Substance Abuse?

One of the main reasons to try to know the reasons for drug abuse is that identifying the cause can lead to effective interventions by family members and psychiatrists. For example, many opine addicts will point to chronic pain as their reason for taking opioids. If this can be treated (e.g., by NSAIDS or treatment of underlying cause), they can frequently become abstinent.

Many psychiatric disorders are associated with drugs and substance abuse. One entity known as social anxiety disorder is one of the common causes of alcohol abuse. Social anxiety is also a common reason for the use of stimulants by the young. Another psychiatric disorder associated with drug misuse is depression, a predisposing factor for excess alcohol intake. A vicious cycle may develop because alcohol and its withdrawal are depressogenic.

How Is Substance Drug Abuse Diagnosed?

A mental health professional often diagnoses substance abuse. Clinical findings usually depend on the abused substance, the frequency of use, and the length of time since last used and may include:

  • Constant fatigue.

  • Weight loss.

  • Red eyes.

  • Little or no concern for hygiene.

  • Depression, anxiety, or sleep problems.

  • Unexpected abnormalities in heart rate or blood pressure.

What Is the Treatment for Substance Abuse?

Specific treatment for drug abuse is often determined by the doctor based on the following:

  • Person's age, overall health, and medical history.

  • The extent of the symptoms.

  • Type of substance abused.

  • The tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies.

  • Expectations for the course of the condition.

  • Person's opinion or preference.

Various treatment (or recovery) programs for substance abuse are available inpatient or outpatient. These programs are usually based on the type of abused substance. Detoxification (if needed, based on the substance abuse) and long-term follow-up management or recovery-oriented care systems are important aspects of successful treatment. Long-term follow-up management includes psychosocial support systems, formalized group meetings, and continued medical supervision. In addition, individual and family psychotherapy are usually recommended to address the underlying issues that may have contributed to substance abuse.

How to Prevent Substance Abuse in Children and Teenagers?

The best way to prevent substance abuse is not to take the drug. However, if the healthcare professional prescribes a drug with the potential for addiction, be careful when taking the drug and follow the healthcare professional's instructions. Healthcare professionals should prescribe medicines at safe doses and amounts and closely monitor their use to avoid too great a dose or for too long.

A few useful steps can help prevent drug or other substance abuse. These include:

  • Talk to children about the risks of drug use and misuse.

  • Be a good listener when children talk about peer pressure and support their efforts to resist it. Talk honestly with the child about healthy choices and risky behaviors.

  • Set a good example. Because parents serve as the biggest role models for their children, they are the strongest influence that the children have. Do not misuse alcohol or addictive drugs.

  • Strengthen the bond with the children. Parents should work on their relationship with their children. A strong, stable bond between the parents and children will help reduce the child's risk of using or misusing drugs.


Substance abuse occurs when one uses alcohol, prescription or over-the-counter medicine, and other legal and illegal substances too often or incorrectly. Multiple factors, including genetic vulnerability, environmental stressors, social pressures, individual personality characteristics, and psychiatric problems, cause substance abuse. Long-term follow-up management or recovery-oriented care systems are essential features of successful treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions


Why Do People Suffer From Substance Abuse?

Several factors push an individual into the trap of substance abuse like peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, stress, and lack of parental guidance.


What Constitutes Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse is a recognized medical disorder that includes the addictive usage of certain legal and illegal substances like alcohol, amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cannabis, cocaine, hallucinogens, methaqualone, and opioids.


What 6 Reasons Cause Substance Abuse?

  - Expectations of masculinity and self-Medication.
  - Pressure relating to life circumstances. 
  - Genetic predisposition to substance use.
  - Health conditions.
  - Trauma or adverse childhood experiences.
  - Grief.


What Are the Effects of Substance Abuse on Health?

- Impaired immune system function.
- Recurrent infections
- Cardiovascular problems.
- Gastrointestinal issues.
- Respiratory problems.
- Liver damage.
- Kidney damage.
- Neurological issues.


What Are the Behavioral Effects of Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse can lead to various long-term and short-term behavioral issues like paranoia (unrealistic distrust or fear), aggressiveness, hallucinations (false perceptions), compulsive behavior, impaired judgment, impulsiveness, loss of self-control, extreme mood swings, and memory loss.


How to Stop Drug Abuse?

Drug abuse prevention is a multi-step process that includes insight and destigmatization (to remove false shame and disgrace).
- Comprehend how substance abuse forms. 
- Avoid temptation.
- Avoid peer pressure.
- Consult a therapist for mental illness. 
- Analyze the risk factors of abuse.
- Balance work, personal, and social life.


Can Alcohol Cause Personality Changes?

Alcohol consumption does not completely or permanently change personality, but the person may be perceived as a different person when intoxicated because alcohol can cloud judgment, alters the mood, and cause communication problems.


What Is the Effect of Alcohol on Behavior?

In an alcohol-intoxicated state, the person may exhibit altered behavior like increased aggression, self-disclosure, self-loathing, or sexual adventuresomeness, which may be perceived as an altered personality.


What Is the Effect of Alcohol on Parents?

Alcohol addiction in children makes the parents question their upbringing, and they try to sway the child away from the liquid but, most often, end up with a failed attempt. Addicted parents, on the other hand, give poor parenting, which encourages the child to a similar path. Addiction, to the child, seems like the norm, and the fact that the parents were factorial to the child’s addiction when realized by parents, seems like a lost cause.


Why Do Alcohol Angers People?

Alcohol can easily cross the BBB (blood-brain barrier) and affects cognitive behavior, often presenting as anger and aggression. Alcohol causes neuroinflammation and degrades the gut biome resulting in deficient omega-3-fatty acid. This combination results in violent behaviors.


What Encourages People to Consume High Amounts of Alcohol?

Certain circumstances lead people to consume high amounts of alcohol like:
- Negative emotions.
- The expectation of alcohol relieves negative thoughts and emotions.
- As a coping mechanism.
- Lack of a social support system.
- Stressful event.
- Celebrations.
- A drastic turning point in life.
- Mood enhancement.


What Encourages People to Start Smoking?

- Smoker parents.
- Peer pressure from friends.
- Rebelling against parents.
- Show of independence.
- To mingle with people who smoke.
- Advertising tactics by the tobacco industry target teenagers.
- Low taxes on tobacco products.
- Affordability of cigarettes.
- Urge to try new things.
- The feel-good effect of nicotine (present in tobacco) without intoxication.


What Encourage Girls to Smoke?

Evidently, women smokers outweigh male smokers in the count. Girls smoke due to:
- Cigarettes are perceived as a symbol of freedom.
- Cigarettes are seen as an image of power.
- To relax.
- To take a break.
- To rebel.
- Targeted cigarette advertisements for women.
- Cope-up mechanism.
- Familial stress.
- Household violence.


What Is the Taste of Cigettate?

Typically, cigarettes taste nasty to first-time smokers, with some smokers comparing their taste to licking a burning newspaper or swallowing ash. Currently, flavored cigarettes saturate the market with several distinctive flavors that further aid in attracting new consumers and keep the new and old hooked to the smoke.

Last reviewed at:
10 Aug 2023  -  5 min read




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