Are there really underlying causes for addiction?

Underlying Causes of Addiction

While there are no actual underlying causes for substance use, individuals with a drug or problem may have reasons to justify their use. When someone claims there are “causes” it makes it sound as if that person has no control and that just is not the case. Substance users always have control, no one forces the alcohol or drugs into their bodies, those are choices those individuals decide to make.

Many people who feel they have an alcohol “addiction” blame it on their current situation, whether it involves relationships, a job, financial stress or just life in general. But these factors really do not contribute or cause substance use. All people experience stressful situations and go through hard times. If they are taught that drinking or drugging are good ways to deal with the natural struggles and challenges of life, then that is what they will use to cope. It is simple really; it is all based on a person’s own beliefs. If they believe drugs and alcohol are good coping tools they will use them as such. If they do not, they won’t use them.

The fundamental reason why people in our society use substances is because they like to use them and gain some form of happiness or pleasure from it. Now, someone might also use substances as a learned coping mechanism if they believe it will help them during difficult times, but nonetheless, doesn’t it come right down to liking the feeling of being drunk and/or high? Just because a person has stress and/or trauma in their life does not mean they must get drunk and high.

All people experience stress and trauma, and the majority do not drink or drug at all. So getting drunk or high when things are difficult does not have to be the way these issues are handled. That choice is up to that person, and they can change that pattern and the course of their life. That is where St. Jude’s will help you.

The most important thing a person struggling with substance use problems can do is separate substance use from life issues, so that each can be addressed with their own specific solutions. By breaking the connection between substance use habits and other life issues, a person dealing with these problems is able to solve each with amazing efficiency. Substance use problems can be a thing of the past, and changing your belief system about substance use can be the key to making it a reality.

  • Amanda Jayne Lukas

    Wow, of course there are underlying causes to addiction. They aren’t just excuses. I am surprised to hear a former addict say such things. Ever wonder why so many people with depression turn to drugs and alcohol? Because depression, here the underlying cause, is very painful and the alcohol numbs the pain. Get rid of the depression, you might get rid of the drinking fairly easily, otherwise the untreated depression will cause the person to keep using.

    • Hi Amanda,
      Thank you for taking the time to post a comment on our article. We are glad that it provoked your interest and we are happy that you are sharing your opinion with us. We do agree with you that depression can significantly affect the quality of life of a person. Substance use or not, if a person is dealing with depression it affects
      all areas of that individual’s life. However, there are many people who deal with depression and do not choose to use substances. This is mainly due to the fact, that substance use is a choice.

      Depression doesn’t make a person do something or not, the individual in question chooses that path for themselves and it is sad that often people deny the responsibility for that choice. There are many healthier ways to deal with depression- to establish healthy eating habits, to exercise, to discontinue toxic relationships and many more. These activities are available choices to a person who suffers from depression.

      Often times depression is linked to substance use because of ‘cultural connection’ – however thousands of studies prove this relationship wrong. For instance, you could say; John drinks because his father passed away or Mary drinks because of her accident. If this was true then everyone who had an accident would drink, or anyone who lost a loved one would become substance user. Thankfully this is not the case. As you pointed out, a depressed individual might drink, because the alcohol “numbs the pain”, and yet many people choose healthier ways to deal with depression.

      Having said that, we are not taking depression lightly in anyway, we are just trying to give people with depression a reason to take back their choice, because at the end of the day, depression does not cause substance use. It is the depressed person’s choice to use substance and that choice can be changed at any time. It only takes a person to believe they do have a choice.

    • If you replace the word excuses with reasons would you have the same reaction? Sometimes we have excuses for our use of drugs and alcohol, other times we have our reasons. Neither is causal. If depression actually causes use, then ALL people would use every time they were depressed. The vast majority worldwide do not. As a researcher we cannot throw out the majority of the human population from our studies because they don’t fit the causal narrative. But, you have made a direct connection between use and depression, where in most who have not learned this connection it does not exist. You live in a culture that states your theory of a causal connection. Because you believe in it, it is your reality and you act accordingly (maybe not you personally – I am just using you in that role to make the point here.) So the facts do not bear out your idea. Just feel good knowing people can be depressed (some severely depressed) and they are not caused to get drunk and high. That choice remains theirs and always has.

      • porky

        yes once you replace the word with an interchangeable one that has a different meaning its going to change the meaning of the paragraph. There’s a huge disconnect between the idea of having a reason meaning your powerless, because if you have a reason to why you are addicted that’s a means to an ends you no longer have an excuse after that point other then to seek help for you’re underlying condition no? and i don’t see how you could believe people are a product of their environment and at the same time buy into this unless they are extremely self aware of the position there in because if you do believe people are product of their environment then self awareness is the only thing that imo can add accountability

  • Blake Mason

    Cause and effect.. .Does Science and Physics not tell us that we are bound by this law?

    The choices we make are causes, whether they are conscious or
    unconscious, and will produce corresponding outcomes or effects. The
    Law works the same for everyone at all times.

    Took drugs=Cause Addiction=Effect

    • Hi Blake,
      Thank you for taking the time to leave us a comment. Everyone is free to choose, but every choice comes with its consequences, good or bad. Just like you say- cause and effect. Therefore, taking responsibility for the choices we make and accepting the consequences that come with them is mandatory for a person who wishes to
      discontinue substance use and move on with his/her life.

    • The part that is missing in your cause and effect example is what drives you to take drugs to begin with? The answer is this; you have a reason, a desire, a pursuit to use based on your beliefs, drives, wants etc. If trauma is the reason to use, and you believe taking a drug is a good way to address the trauma, then you use your power of reasoning to get high and address trauma in this manner. Taking drugs is not simply an action that comes out of the blue. It takes several complicated emotional and physical steps to use drugs heavily. So your example could be more accurately stated as the following: I have a reason to take a drug, and I like it, so I will do it a lot, and I become physically toxic and in need of detox (or not depending on the person’s habits and physiology) . The detox part I added here to make an example of an effect. It is the “Took Drugs” part of your equation that is missing all the human details. Why did you take them? Why didn’t you decide not to use, and instead find a more productive avenue to address your trauma? The why is the argument isn’t it? But I think the answer is self-evident. people get high because they have their reasons – and in the end, reasons are not causes.

  • Guest

    So you state that there are no underlying causes to addiction but then agree that there are? Im just curious after all the research Drs have put into addiction,how is it they are all wrong but you guys are right? Do you know something they all dont?

    • Mark Scheeren

      Yes, we do know quite a bit about this issue, and our research has become much more mainstream as the decades have gone by. Most doctors do not adhere or believe in the disease of addiction theory when polled. However, most do believe in the underlying issues argument as you do. With that said, I understand why you are a believer; I was a believer at one time as well. The reason for this is because when a belief becomes stated enough, the culture adopts the belief, whether it is true or not. Our culture, we call it the Recovery Society, has decided to invest in this idea that stress (trauma, pain, etc.) equals substance use. But, there is a serious flaw in this causal argument. Most people do not use substances, and ALL of them experience emotional and physical pain. A causal argument leaves no room for this. Causes make things happen whether we like it or not. That is the difference between a cause and a reason. Now, no one here is saying that people do not have their reasons to use, but we are stating the fact that they are not caused to use. If the Causal perspective were true, and stress = use were totally caused, then we ALL would use. But we don’t. So, as a researcher it is imperative to look at both sides of the population – those that use when bad things happen and those that don’t. Then you search for commonalities and differences. After 25 years of observing and researching, it became apparent that those who believe in the causal perspective do indeed continue to get drunk and high when things go wrong, while those who do not believe in this perspective, by and large do not, or have moderate appetites that are not tied to other areas of their lives. This is a topic we address in our program. we call it breaking the cultural connection. By noting that beliefs drive behavior, you can believe in reality by knowing that we create our own reasons for use. those reasons are both controllable and self-directed. in other words – powerlessness goes away when you know that you are not caused to behave, but rather, you have your reasons for behaving in a certain way. And that includes of course heavy substance use – or as the recovery society calls it – addiction.

      • Peter

        I have to disagree with this view that stress=use then we would all use as being far too simplistic, from my personal experience I know that many people have maladaptive coping behaviours, I spent a decade in a drug induced haze I found life extremely stressful and my abusive childhood had not taught me a healthy outlook or a healthy means of dealing with the stresses of life, the turning point was when I had children, I didn’t want them to be brought up with permanently stoned parents, I want to be the best father I’m capable of being, this lead to therapy and self help learning to think in a different way, I now never even think of getting high, I can have almost any drug you can name within minutes but I’m not at all tempted.

        • Peter, I am certainly happy to hear of your success with changing your life. This topic can be complicated because we tend to see things from a personal experience perspective. In light of this, I will try to break down the discussion into a clear single point. The point I have made for many years is simply that stress or trauma does not inherently (or automatically) equal substance use. I do not argue the validity of your personal experience. For you, it is clear that you believe that having maladaptive coping behaviors equaled substance use. And in this I absolutely believe that to be your truth. When someone believes that stress=use, it does. When they believe they have stress and it does not necessarily equal use, it doesn’t necessarily equal use. The point being, what the connection is between use and stress/trauma is based on what you believe and what you have learned. And because beliefs are so utterly fickle and personal, a blanket, all-inclusive causal statement such as “stress equals substance use” is simply not logically sound nor is it even possible for the simple reason that millions experience worse lives than yours or mine and never touch a drop of alcohol or take any drugs whatsoever. Stress and trauma do not inherently cause use. Rather people find their reasons to use. This is the fundamental difference between causes and reasons. The good news is reasons require a thoughtful reasoning mind. So, at any point our stress or trauma doesn’t force us to behave in any way that is out of our control. This is because substance use is not caused but rather, is reasoned out based on our personal beliefs, wants, motives and desires.

  • Blake Mason

    So you state that there are no underlying causes to addiction but then agree that there are?

  • Michelle Brown Dunbar

    This is such a difficult concept to grasp. I, too, questioned whether or not there are “underlying causes” to addiction. It sounds so plausible to say that people develop drug and alcohol problems because of other issues in their life mainly because many people with drug and alcohol problems also have other life issues. But for many you can’t really tell which came first. The main problem with tying “addiction” to other life issues is that all people always have life issues. All people experience trauma at some point in life; all people have financial difficulties and relationship issues and all people experience anxiety and depression at some level. If the life issues (i.e. underlying issues) causes the substance use problem, then all people would struggle with “addiction” and they would never be able to stop because life issues exist continuously. Certainly people can and do use their life issues as a reason to drink/drug, but as for causation, I’m thankful that is clearly not the case at all.

  • Bob

    You clearly know nothing about the past 50 years of research in the field of addiction… Saying that substance users “always have control” is plain wrong, and insulting to a lot of patients all over the world. There is a small but very consistent (across countries and species, it’s the same in rats as in humans) percentage of individuals that are absolutely incapable of controlling their intake, and this percentage varies with the substance. Did you know that the most addictive substance is tobacco ? 33% of tobacco smokers are considered to be addicted. For a substance like cocaine, it’s “only” about 23%… Yet no one thinks tobacco smokers keep smoking because they love “getting high”. Dangerousness and potency of a substance have no relation to its addictive properties.
    Just as will power has nothing to do with stopping or continuing use of a drug for those people. I personally quit smoking with absolutely no adverse effects and have had no urge to smoke again. The main factor here is not that I had a strong will, but that my brain didn’t consider tobacco as an absolute necessity, unlike the brain of addicts.

    There are underlying causes for addiction. Yes, we do not know what they are at the moment, and it is likely that it’s a very complex interaction of genetic predispositions, juvenile and adult experience, traumatic events and so on. But just because we have no idea what the causes are doesn’t mean we haven’t identified dysregulated neuronal circuits and adaptations in the brains of vulnerable individuals, which clealry show that some people do not have the same ability as the majority of us to stop using a substance.

  • Thomas Salvagno

    First off I want to thank you for helping people with addictions and for your work in this field. With that being said the topic is “is there underlying causes for addictions”. You guys say no but then state that it’s a persons choice. Wouldn’t that mean that a person choices are underlying cause of addictions, if so then there is underlying causes of addiction and the choice. Which I don’t believe it is. I don’t believe that addiction(s) is a disease or a choice. You keep stating that there’s reasons and effects but every effect has a cause. You need all three reason, cause, and effect, in order to formulate a scenario. The REASON people get “high” is that the first time they do it makes them feel good and they keep chasing that “high”, over and over again. It doesn’t matter why, if it’s trauma or stress or any other thing. Those are excuses for justification. The brain makes that connection later on, but the REASON is always that it make us feel good, which makes are “base brain” happy. The EFFECT is a addiction. That’s the end result. The CAUSE is ??? honestly I don’t know but I do have a theory. Look at it as the flu. The CAUSE is that my immunity system is weak. The REASON is that I did not take care of myself. The EFFECT is that now a have the flu. So it goes, the CAUSE will in a way explain the REASON, why the EFFECT happened in the first place.There may be multiple causes of addiction not just one single thing. One thing I what to point out its that in my scenario is that a did not mention drugs or substance use. Addictions have absolutely not correlation drugs or substance use/abuse. And that is in my opinion where most treatment programs and studys about addiction(s) go wrong. Where does the line end or get crossed between doing something and addiction(s)? When a person stops doing and using drugs and/or substances, there’s still addiction(s) in they life. Good or bad is what society and/or the individual believes it to be, but that facts remain the addiction is still there. As in the flu scenario everyone’s trying to treat and study the cough and the sneezing and the fever. There treating and study why immune system is weak and why the person did not take care of himself, but NOT THE FLU!!!! The flu is the problem, the flu is the addiction. A person whose smokes 2-3 packs of cigarettes a day get “cured” and/or completes treatment, but is still addicted to something that is harmful to himself and/or the others. It’s killing him just like using and abusing substances. It’s a compulsive obsession that drive him. There absolutely no difference between the two addictions. It doesn’t even need to be a substance, addiction can be a noun,( person, place, or thing ) it can be a action as well.

  • Brian Dawson

    i have 28 years in recovery and I have no underlining mental health disorder. I got to a point that using drugs and alcohol were no longer working then I used the 12 steps of RECOVERY as a means to fix how I thought and life does improve and you learn healthy coping skills, and its like peeling an onion your always working on yourself, and when you blame your circumstances on your continued relapses is to be an excuse to not manning up and working on yourself. and everyone is allowed to their opinions

  • Ron Freedman

    Wow! You can’t make this stuff up.
    Oh wait, my bad…you just did!
    This is the same convoluted hogwash that created gay conversion therapy.
    The fact that you truly believe in what you wrote, tells me that perhaps you never were an addict.
    There is a tragic distinction, though not necessarily visible, between some who go overboard with their use of drugs, and addicts.
    Spontaneous, lasting sobriety is not, and never has been a reality for addicts.
    I was aware during my 30 years of active addiction that my consequences were the result of using, yet I could not stop, even as the consequences got progressively worse.
    That’s because cognitive awareness is meaningless to the addict who’s in the grips of addiction.
    It’s absolutely ludicrous to believe that the “aha!” moment, while enlightening, is enough to create lasting sobriety for an addict.
    Finding out who I really am, through learning how to be honest with myself and others, followed by the hard work of clearing out the wreckage of the past, put me in a position of discovering purpose.
    Side step it all you want, but countless recovering addicts, including myself, know that the core of this disease, is spiritual in nature.
    I have been clean for 15 years by way of the 12th step approach. It doesn’t work for everyone, but in my case, it helped me to sort out the jumbled mess of puzzle pieces that me.
    The work continues, but the worst I have to deal with are the problems of luxury that the rest of the world deals with.
    When I stop going to meetings, to nurture my gratitude by giving back to those in need, those luxury problems become an indictment of the world and everyone in it.
    Just one addict’s experience.