Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that wreaks havoc on your life. When you struggle with substance abuse, all of your other responsibilities tend to take the back burner. This condition can cause you to lose your job, your family, and even your life- but what causes addiction in the first place?

When you suffer from a substance use disorder, other aspects of your life have likely been difficult in the past. Whether that means you suffered from childhood trauma, or mental health conditions, have family members who dealt with addiction, or find yourself socially isolated from others, something in your life has gone awry, causing you to seek out forms of coping, which is what led you to pick up the drugs or alcohol.

The exact cause of addiction is different for everyone, but finding the cause of your substance abuse issues is vital to your recovery. In other words, to successfully let go of the drugs and alcohol, you must treat the root causes of your addiction.

What are the Root Causes of Addiction ?

The underlying causes of addiction are wide-ranging. One person may find that their childhood trauma is what led them to begin abusing substances, while you may discover that a combination of your genetics and your mental health issues is what sparked your compulsive need to use drugs.

Some of the most common root causes of addiction include:

Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma occurs when you experience a distressing situation as a child. This could include experiencing abuse, neglect, bullying, a natural disaster, poverty, or any event that you found difficult to cope with. When you experience trauma as a child, you may have a hard time dealing with the emotions attached to the event, as children tend to have undeveloped coping mechanisms.

As you grow into adulthood, the untreated trauma you experienced will continue to affect you. Without learning the proper coping mechanisms, this can cause you to seek forms of self-medication. This is how childhood trauma leads to the development of addiction.

According to a study posted by Harvard University, children who experience trauma are 4-12 times more likely to suffer from addiction.[1]

Family and Genetics

Do you have a parent or immediate family member who struggled with addiction? If so, genetics could play a huge role in the development of your substance use disorder. According to the APA, “at least half of a person’s susceptibility to drug or alcohol addiction can be linked to genetic factors.”[2]

In addition to genetics, watching a family member deal with addiction can cause you to develop the same habits. If you grew up seeing your mom or dad cope with their emotions by drinking or using drugs, you will learn to avoid your emotions by using substances. This can cause you to develop a substance use disorder as a teenager or young adult.


Humans are inherently social animals who need connections and support from others to live healthy lives. If you find that you haven’t had many close relationships or shoulders to lean on as you grew up, you may be at a higher risk of developing an addiction.

This theory was proved by a study conducted with rats, known as “rat park”. In this study, some rats were placed in complete isolation, without other rats or activities to partake in. The other rats were placed in an ideal environment, with lots of rats to socialize with and activities to have fun with.

Both environments included an opportunity for the rats to abuse substances. This study found that the rats in complete isolation were more prone to abusing the drugs, while the rats who were socializing largely ignored the substances in their environment.[3] This shows that isolation is a huge trigger for substance abuse and addiction.

Mental Health Conditions

Untreated mental health conditions are a huge trigger for substance abuse. This root cause of addiction is similar to the childhood trauma theory, as both causes lead to self-medication through the use of drugs and alcohol.

If you struggle with an untreated mental health condition, you are dealing with uncomfortable emotions and symptoms daily. Without professional treatment, it is very difficult to adopt healthy coping mechanisms to deal with symptoms. This is what causes you to seek out drugs and alcohol to numb your emotions, thoughts, or feelings.

Up to 50% of people who seek treatment for substance abuse also meet the diagnostic criteria for mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and others.

Why Should You Address the Root Cause of Addiction?

If you have a problem, the best way to solve it is to get to the root cause. Otherwise, you are simply treating the symptoms. The same rule applies to addiction.

If you suffer from addiction and only receive treatment for the substance abuse itself, you still have unresolved issues from your past that will come back to haunt you. For example, if you suffer from untreated mental health conditions or childhood trauma, not addressing these concerns could cause you to relapse in the future. Untreated depression could lead to drug relapse as you try to soothe your symptoms. Unresolved trauma or buried emotions can eat away at you until you confront them. It is difficult to truly recover without addressing why you abuse substances in the first place.

Instead of ignoring the root causes of your addiction, you should address them in therapy. This will prevent you from dealing with an unnecessary relapse after you complete a drug and alcohol recovery program.

root causes of addiction

Get the Care You Need

Woburn Addiction Treatment is a leader in the addiction treatment field, with proven success in facilitating long-term recovery. Our team of top clinical & medical experts specializes in treating addiction coupled with mental illness, ensuring that each person receives individualized care. Call us – we’re available 24/day, 7 days/week.

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Finding Help for Addiction

If you or a loved one suffers from the disease of addiction, it’s time to seek help. This condition can cause you to lose everything, including your life. The only way to ensure that you get the help you need to fully recover from a substance use disorder is to attend a professional treatment program where you will receive the services and treatments you need. Contact Woburn Addiction Treatment today for more information on our addiction treatment programs in the Boston area. References:

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harvard pilgrim health care
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