Substance misuse

Causes of substance misuse

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What might be causing you to misuse substances?

Scientists still don’t know the exact causes of substance misuse, and the reasons can be very different for different people.

However, below are some of the reasons people might end up misusing substances.

Trying to reduce pain, or painful feelings

The most common reason people misuse substances is to dull emotional or physical pain, or to escape from the painful feelings caused by problems or difficulties in life.

I couldn’t get pregnant, so I fell into a deep depression. That’s when I think that drugs saved me because they allowed me to still be here.

This is a totally normal desire, and while it can make us feel better in the short-term, this coping mechanism can have serious long-term consequences on our health and wellbeing.

  • Physical pain
  • Painful feelings or memories
  • Your current circumstances

Past or childhood experiences

As mentioned above, wishing to escape painful memories or feelings resulting from things that happened to us when we were young is a natural desire, and one reason why some people might end up misusing substances.

In addition, children often learn and imitate behaviours by observing others. If your parents or people in your environment used alcohol, drugs or other substances, you may have picked up these habits or behaviours as a way to cope.

Other causes

  • Loneliness or disconnection
  • Not feeling seen, understood or valued
  • Your social group or environment
Substance misuse was about altering my mind state. I was trying to silence what was going on.

Genetic factors

Some studies show that some people are more likely to misuse substances based on their genetic makeup. There are also specific genes related to how your body reacts to, and breaks down substances, which can change how some people experience substances.

Regardless of the genetic factors involved, there are still things you can do if you're experiencing cravings, next steps to take to feel better, and long term strategies that work to manage substance misuse.

The substance itself

Some substances can create physical and psychological dependence after regular use, that will lead to withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking them. It’s important to consult with a doctor before stopping use of some substances including heavy alcohol consumption, opiates, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines.

However in many cases, people’s addiction to a substance is caused by a strong desire to escape other painful thoughts, feelings and situations.

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