What Are the Most Common Root Causes of Addiction?

what are the most common root causes of addiction

Addiction is a complex and deeply personal condition with several root causes. While substance use is usually a choice, addiction is the loss of control over a person’s substance use. Over time, substance abuse can change how a person’s body and mind function, making it nearly impossible to stop using drugs and alcohol. Addiction is likely to worsen without significant interventions, including detoxification and substance abuse treatment. 

It is important to address addiction’s physical, environmental, emotional, and behavioral aspects during treatment. When people learn the skills they need to manage the symptoms of their addiction in healthy ways and get the support they need in recovery, they may be able to stay sober for life. 

Understanding the root causes of addiction is vital to long-term recovery. Here are some of the most common factors that can lead to addiction.

Co-occurring Disorders

Living with mental illness is one of the most significant root causes of addiction. People with mental illness are more likely to use drugs and alcohol and become dependent on them than those without mental illness. Nearly half of all people who enter substance abuse treatment also have a co-occurring mental health condition.[1]

Some of the most common co-occurring disorders that can lead to addiction include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Schizophrenia

Without treatment for mental illness, many people turn to other methods of managing their symptoms, including using drugs and alcohol. But even those receiving treatment for mental illness are at risk of using drugs and alcohol to mask their symptoms. Over time, substance abuse can lead to dependence and addiction.


More than 70% of people in substance abuse treatment have experienced some type of trauma in their lifetime.[2] When someone experiences a stressful situation that overwhelms their ability to cope, they may experience trauma. Some stressors that may cause trauma include:

  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Abuse
  • Neglect
  • The death of a loved one
  • A near-death experience, such as an accident or injury
  • A severe medical diagnosis
  • A natural disaster
  • Military combat

You could think of trauma as the imprint of a stressful event on a person’s brain. Trauma sometimes causes significant changes in the way a person thinks and behaves. Its symptoms include:

  • Detachment
  • Avoidance of people, places, or dates related to the traumatic event
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Anxiety
  • Hopelessness

Some people turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the discomfort of trauma and to cope during their daily lives. This is called “self-medicating.” While using substances may provide temporary relief from trauma symptoms, prolonged periods of drug and alcohol abuse can lead to severe physical, social, and emotional harm. A person who abuses substances may also develop an addiction that requires intervention and treatment to overcome. 

Genetic Predisposition

Research shows that people with an addicted parent are more likely to develop an addiction later in life. In fact, genetics make up about half of a person’s predisposition for substance abuse and addiction.[3] Addiction and medical specialists believe addiction has a genetic component and that some people are born with a greater risk of developing a dependence on drugs or alcohol.

People who grow up with an addicted parent are likely to be exposed to drugs or alcohol at a younger age. They may come to see substance abuse as a normal part of life. People who grow up in a household with an addicted parent are more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol at a younger age. 

Parents living with addiction cannot model healthy decision-making or how to cope with stress, and their children may grow up lacking these essential skills. Without the skills to manage stress and challenges, people may be more likely to use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.

Prescription Medications

Most people assume that the medications their doctor prescribes are perfectly safe. In most cases, this is true. However, many people become addicted to prescription medications, including opioid pain relievers and medications for anxiety and ADHD. 

People with chronic pain, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, or who have suffered an accident or injury may receive a prescription for medications that have the potential to be addictive. Some of these medications provide a sense of calm or euphoria that may cause people to take them more often or in higher doses than prescribed. In a short period, addiction can develop.

While some factors increase a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction, anyone taking a prescription painkiller or anti-anxiety medication could become dependent on it.

How Does Substance Abuse Treatment Address the Root Causes of Addiction?

Recovery from addiction involves more than just putting the drugs and alcohol down. It requires addressing the root causes of your substance abuse so you can achieve complete healing.

In a comprehensive addiction treatment program, people identify their root causes of addiction and learn how to manage their symptoms in healthy ways. Treatment programs utilize a combination of evidence-based and holistic therapies, including:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Education
  • Medications
  • Mental health treatment
  • Medical care
  • Holistic therapies, including art therapy, nutrition counseling, meditation, exercise, and massage

People learn and practice the skills they need to overcome addiction, heal trauma, and manage stress to live the healthy, sober lifestyle they choose. 

Get Help Now

Moving Mountains Recovery uses a holistic and individualized approach to recovery to help each client embrace a sober lifestyle and overcome the underlying causes of their addiction. We are committed to clinical excellence, which is why every client receives a custom-tailored treatment program that is uniquely designed by our clinical and medical team to meet his or her needs.

If you or someone you love requires addiction treatment, reach out today to the Moving Mountains Recovery admissions team today.


  1. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders/part-1-connection-between-substance-use-disorders-mental-illness
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051362/
  3. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/genetics-epigenetics-addiction
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