Science has made incredible breakthroughs in studying the impacts of alcohol and drugs and, ultimately, ways in which effective treatment—including medications—can potentially assist tens of thousands in overcoming substance abuse. However, one question continues to plague experts and the public in general: why do people do drugs? Gaining a new perspective on drug use causes and motivations may help establish better policies and programs that address treatment and long-term care.
In this article, we’re exploring the myriad of reasons that people do drugs and ways to prevent substance abuse from impacting lives on a larger scale. The fact remains that millions are facing struggles with mental health and substance abuse. Identifying ways in which normalized drug use and defining signs of misuse can help many Americans find effective treatment for the disease of addiction.
Why are drugs so common?
Across generations, genders, and demographics, drug use has spiked across the country. As overdose fatalities continue to rise, many are inquiring about what can be done to prevent drug and alcohol dependency risks.
The sobering statistics depict a nation suffering at excessive rates due to substance use disorder (SUD). Heroin users in the United States have tripled from 2003 to 2014. Additionally, U.S. teens are twice as likely as their European counterparts to use illicit drugs. Since 1999, the number of drug overdose deaths involving opioids in the U.S. has quadrupled, totaling over a half-million fatalities during that period.
Legal drugs are like alcohol and tobacco are commonly used. Prescription medication abuse is becoming more commonplace, and the rise of synthetic drugs has created a potentially more dangerous threat. Drugs are common because they provide an outlet for people who want to feel good, stop feeling bad, perform better in school or at work, or simply because they’re curious.
Substance Abuse throughout History
A research article published in the National Institute of Health asserts that psychoactive substances are used in religious ceremonies, medicinal use, and recreational use for millennia. Historically, people have refined potent compounds and devised faster routes of administering substances, contributing to substance misuse.
Tobacco and coca are a cash crop, appearing to flourish throughout the centuries. Opium, alcohol, and cannabis use date back to millennia BC. Abnormal patterns of substance use have been described since antiquity. Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BCE was precipitated by years of heavy drinking.
Cultural history suggests that the relationship between people and drugs is extremely complex. History illustrates that our relationship with substances is shaped by a multitude of factors, including motivational beliefs that span ties to cultural, societal, religious, and psychological needs.
Effectively, addiction is not only a substance, but how a person uses that substance. Why do people use drugs, though? Why do some have a propensity to seek out substances that either relieve symptoms of physical conditions or enhance life outlooks? The answer, by and large, is not straightforward.
Alcohol and Drug Use Explained
It’s clear that drug abuse and addiction have increased nationwide. What’s unclear is the specific reasons why. Yes, substances have long been incorporated into every culture and civilization since the dawn of time. However, even with ongoing research and scientific literature being published in high volumes—disclosing the harmful effects of substance use—people are still drawn to the allure of alcohol and drugs. We each have our reasons for seeking out and using legal or illicit substances. In general, the majority of drug users can be grouped into two broad categories that highlight why people use drugs:
- For enhancing pleasure
- For treating pain
If we examine coffee, we can surmise why this particular product is highly sought and considered highly addictive. Caffeine is, in fact, the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world. As a natural stimulant, coffee has various effects on the body, including increasing metabolism, enhancing exercise performance, and boost mood. Additionally, at least 80% of the adult population consumes caffeine in amounts large enough to have a lasting effect on the brain.
Maybe the combination of behavioral effects, plus the pleasurable role coffee plays in our everyday routine, makes it too appealing to pass up. While coffee, at times, carries adverse side effects, it doesn’t disrupt mental and physical cycles the way that substances like cocaine, heroin, and pharmaceuticals do. However, the parallels between habitual use are strikingly evident.
Why Do People Do Drugs?
In a nutshell, drugs excite parts of the brain that produce positive emotions and good feelings. The reward pathway leads many of us to seek more substance to produce the same desired effect. However, before long, the brain becomes accustomed to these good feelings and requires more of the drug to feel normal. Without the drug, a person may feel sick, awful, anxious, and irritable.
Addiction exerts a long and powerful influence on the brain that manifests in three distinct ways: craving for the object of addiction, loss of control over its use, and continuing use despite negative consequences.
The substance of choice may also help to answer: why do people do drugs? For instance, heroin abuse and opioid abuse correlate with the rise in chronic pain conditions. Currently, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) reports that 11% of American adults experience chronic pain, and nearly 18% struggle with severe pain. Today, roughly 21 to 29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them. Between 8 and 12% develop opioid use disorder, and an estimated 6% who misuse opioids transition to heroin.
One reason many Americans choose to use alcohol or drugs is to find relief from physical ailments. Other reasons: why do people do drugs?
According to stress.org, around 55% of Americans are stressed at any given point during the day. Americans are among the most stressed-out populations in the world. Factors that influence the susceptibility to stress are genetic vulnerability, coping styles, personality type, and social support.
A study in NCCIH asserts that we assess its seriousness when confronted with a problem and determine whether or not we have the resources necessary to cope. In the case that we don’t, stress may impact our well-being and decision-making process. For some, coping mechanisms come in the form of a pill bottle or in a wine glass. From there, substance dependency may begin to take hold.
Distress produces overreaction, confusion, poor concentration, and performance anxiety. All of these symptoms can be addressed with certain substances like anti-anxiety meds or alcohol. Self-medicating becomes a new norm.
Peer pressure is a common reason many decide to try drugs or alcohol. Peer pressure mostly impacts adolescents from early school years through college, and it can manifest as either a negative or positive influence. In the case of substance abuse, negative peer pressure can cause kids to do things they would not otherwise do with the hopes of fitting in or being noticed.
About 55% of teens tried drugs for the first time because they felt pressured by their friends. Additionally, about 70% of teens who smoke say they started smoking because their friends smoke or they felt peer pressure to try smoking. —Foundation for a Drug-Free World
According to a study published by John Hopkins, an estimated 26% of Americans ages 18 and older, or about one in four adults, have a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. About 18% of American adults ages 18 or older suffer from an anxiety disorder, and 9.5% suffer from depressive illness. Of those totals, around 56% didn’t receive any mental health services or treatment.
As a result of inadequate or no treatment, many Americans turn toward alcohol or drugs to help cope with mental illness symptoms. Substance abuse is too prevalent among individuals who have a diagnosable mental health condition. Roughly 50% of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse. Why do people do drugs? To escape underlying mental health conditions that can often be debilitating.
Facing a co-occurring disorder is incredibly difficult. Addiction can fuel symptoms of mental health disorders and vice versa. It’s important to seek support services from a Colorado dual diagnosis care center. AspenRidge Recovery has helped thousands find effective treatment that combats substance use and provides therapy to treat underlying mental health conditions. Contact us today to learn more about our programs at 855-281-5588.
Isolation and boredom are well-known triggers for drug and alcohol use. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of American’s to self-isolate. Unfortunately, this sparked a resurgence in overdose deaths, relapses and led others to indulge in legal substances, prescriptions, and illicit substances. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related deaths. During the first wave of lockdowns, Nielsen reported a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol.
Loneliness and isolation can result in using alcohol or drugs to deal with those intense feelings. Turning to the comfort of alcohol or drugs becomes a way to cope with feeling alone, ashamed, rejected, or confused. Substance use provides a false sense of security that allows many to ignore ongoing psychological issues rather than addressing them.
Now, more than ever, therapy and dual diagnosis care is desperately needed. However, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Americans are searching for remote treatment options. AspenRidge offers online programs that can help support you during a difficult time.
Why do people do drugs? It’s not always easy to identify triggers and the rationality behind alcohol and drug abuse. Multiple factors make substance use disorder extremely complex and next to impossible to determine the origins. The list above helps showcase some possible reasons that people turn to addictive substances in the first place.
At our AspenRidge locations, we offer specialized addiction treatment programs that provide an integrative approach. Part of rehabilitation includes creating an individualized program that meets the criteria and needs of an individual. Our treatment options also incorporate skills building and ongoing therapy to strengthen mental health and provide effective and healthy coping strategies and behaviors that help avoid relapse.
Our knowledgeable, board-certified, and licensed therapists will work with you in individual and group therapy. Our ultimate goal is to help you learn to manage your life sober. For more information on AspenRidge programs or to tour our AspenRidge facilities, call our 24/7 phone line at (866) 977-8625.