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Why Do People Take Drugs? How Genetics, Environment, & Trauma Can Play A Factor In Using Drugs In The First Place

Medically Reviewed
Last Medically Reviewed on: July 9, 2022
A frustrated man on the sofa

Updated on

6 Jul, 2022

People turn to drugs for a variety of reasons. No one case is the same as the next. Drug use is an incredibly complicated circumstance, with explanations in the psychological, environmental, biological, and social spheres of life.

That being said, certain circumstances and life experiences put those individuals at a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder or taking drugs. Therefore, to prevent people from becoming addicted to substances, people must know the risk factors associated with drug use to prevent those with a higher risk from using drugs.

Understanding why people take drugs is a huge and important part of understanding how treatment and recovery work. Understanding why people take drugs is not a preventative measure. It helps people already using drugs uncover the root causes of their addiction and drug abuse behaviors.

To fully understand the causes of drug use, you must get all the information possible. So please read on to learn more about genetic, environmental, psychological, and social causes that could lead someone to develop a drug use disorder.

What Are Some Reasons Why People Take Drugs?

There are several reasons why a person may turn to drugs. Below you will find those reasons broken down into environmental, genetic, biological, psychological, and social factors.

While these are not the only reasons a person may turn to drugs, these categories encompass the majority of reasons and the most common reasons people turn to drugs. To begin, we will talk about the environmental factors.

The environmental factors of drug use are often a sensitive subject for drug users. This is because environmental factors include family, authority, home, childhood, and school. For people who have struggled with family or experienced trauma growing up, dissecting their environmental causes can be difficult.

Many people from households where somebody is an addict or uses drugs will likely use drugs or substances. This is because it is a learned behavior that develops over time by seeing people in a position of authority or power use the substance. However, not all people who grow up with an addict in their household will become an addict.

By being exposed to drugs in childhood or while growing up, the child’s risk of using drugs increases. People who grew up in areas with lots of drug use are also at risk of developing a drug abuse disorder. This can include people who grew up in areas with many drug dealers.

Other environmental factors such as an abusive household can contribute to the risk that a person will turn to drugs. Being raised in an abusive household is an extremely traumatic event.  Many people who experience traumatic events will self-medicate because they do not realize that they have experienced profound trauma.

This translates into the psychological aspects of drug use. People with mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, or other mental disorders go off and turn to substances as a form of self-medication. Self-medicating is when a person uses a substance to numb the pain they feel.

People who experience severe trauma during childhood or later in life will frequently self-medicate with substances. People who self-medicate often end up addicted to the substances that they are self-medicating with.

Other psychological aspects of drug use involve feelings of hopelessness or despair, leaving the person feeling empty. This often causes people to use substances to try to fill the void they feel.

Genetic factors are also important to look at. Many people with a history of addiction or substance abuse in their family are at risk of developing a substance use disorder. While no specific genome indicates whether a person will develop a substance use disorder, a family with a history of addiction indicates that the genetic code for their family has either some genetic predisposition towards addiction or that the environmental factors for psychological factors have been the same for generations.

Lastly are the social factors of addiction. Many people who are not supported by the social institutions and structures that our society has may also fall into substance use. This can be due to a variety of reasons. Places with no activities or places for children to go after school often result in high numbers of children using substances.

Social structures such as public play areas and after-school activities can help reduce these numbers by providing alternatives to drugs that keep the children engaged and experiencing life.

Additionally, underfunded, understaffed, or otherwise uncared-for schools can have higher rates of children using drugs. This is because either authority figures and people in power in the school system do not care, or there are not enough of them to have their attention on all the kids, leaving opportunities for some students to pick up bad habits, such as drug use.

People can also be drawn to drug use recreationally. Many people will begin using drugs for fun to enhance their feeling while at parties or celebrations. While they may think it’s a one-time recreational use, it can quickly and easily become a debilitating addiction.

Many college students experience drug use and substance use disorder because of party culture and drinking culture. Many students will brush off their drug and alcohol use by saying it is recreational or because they are young and in college. However, these are not liable excuses, and some students may suffer from severe substance use disorders.

Why People Addicted To Drugs Need To Get To The Root Of Why They Are Taking Drugs In The First Place

People who are taking and addicted to drugs must understand the root of why they are taking drugs in the first place. Becoming addicted to a substance does not have to be something a person lives with forever. There are ways to overcome addiction.

One of the most important parts of overcoming addiction is to identify why you are using the substance in the first place. Unfortunately, when it comes to drug use, many people use drugs to self-medicate their pain.

Emotional and psychological trauma and pain are not easy to see for someone who is not trained to find it. As a result, many people have experienced severe emotional or psychological trauma in their life and do not even realize it. Because of this, it makes it difficult for users who suffered a traumatic experience to identify that as a root cause.

This is where a therapist or counselor can be extremely helpful. Therapists and counselors, specifically ones trained for identifying addiction causes, help addicts realize the root cause of their addiction.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a very popular therapy for people suffering from drug use and addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the process in which therapists work with their patients to create new neurological pathways in the brain to change behavior over time. This helps reduce the power of triggers and identify different behaviors that may stem back to a root cause, such as a trauma or mental disorder.

Identifying the root cause and reasons for drug use is a huge step in the right direction towards recovery. Recovery without identifying why you became addicted to a substance is still recovering and should not be negated, but it is incredibly important to uncover the psychological and emotional scars that we hold and how they negatively affect our lives.

Why Is It Beneficial For People To Get Professional Help When They Are Addicted To Taking Drugs?

It is extremely beneficial for people suffering from drug use and substance use disorders to seek professional help. Professional help comes in all shapes and sizes, and there will always be a therapist for a center that will be a good match for you.

Professional help is sometimes frowned at because it seems to legitimize the addiction. Many people who do not want to admit that they have an addiction will refuse professional help because it makes them realize how difficult the situation is.

Realizing that you have an addiction that needs to be dealt with is a great first step. Taking a step further by going to therapy, a rehabilitation center, or another professional is even better. Professionals can see the issues getting in the way of our success objectively and give us insight into our lives that we may not have been able to pick up on before.

If you or a loved one is dealing with a drug use disorder, please contact us today to explore the options our professional center can provide you. Nobody deserves to live with addiction, and you are no exception.


Infinite Recovery has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our references. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our editorial guidelines and medical review policy.

  1. Jedrzejczak M. Family and environmental factors of drug addiction among young recruits. Mil Med. 2005;170(8):688-690. doi:10.7205/milmed.170.8.688

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Michael Dadashi

Medical Content Writer

Family owned and operated since 2014, Infinite Recovery was founded by Michael & Ylianna Dadashi to give those struggling with addiction a second chance and help to rebuild their lives. Clean and sober since 2009, Michael is passionate about helping others discover their authentic self and live a life of true freedom and purpose.

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