Although drug addiction is a disease, it begins with a choice to try drugs for the first time. Understanding why people make this decision can help us better understand addiction.
The reasons people try drugs are countless, but here are some of the most common factors causing people to turn to drugs.
Most of us are familiar with peer pressure. It can be a disastrously strong influence on young people who want to fit in or be accepted by their peer group.
Usually, peer pressure is much subtler than someone directly saying, “Come on, try it! Don’t you want to be cool?” like we see in PSAs. More often, a teenager is around others who are using drugs and seem to be enjoying themselves.
Eventually, the teen may begin to feel uncomfortable being the only person in the room not using. It may seem like, since everyone else is doing it, it can’t be that bad.
Addiction sometimes begins with a desire to cope with feelings like stress, anxiety, or depression. Feelings of emptiness or loneliness can also cause people to try drugs in an effort to fill the void.
This can be particularly dangerous, because people quickly begin to rely on feeling “better” under the influence of drugs or alcohol. While under the influence, they may forget about their problems and worries. However, this feeling is only temporary, so people begin taking more drugs more often to avoid coping with reality.
Effective treatment for people who self-medicate will likely involve also treating the underlying issues that caused them to turn to drugs in the first place.
Similarly, people may use drugs as an escape from traumatic events. When people experience trauma in life, particularly as children, the memories are often very persistent and damaging.
It’s best for these people to seek help from a psychologist or other professional, but some are ashamed about the trauma they have experienced. To avoid talking to others about such experiences, many turn to drugs as an escape from painful memories.
It’s not unusual for people to develop curiosity about drugs and end up experimenting. This is especially common for people who are frequently exposed to others using drugs. If they see their friends “having fun” or constantly talking about drugs, they may want to see what all the fuss is about.
Once people begin to feel intrigued, it’s far too easy to obtain drugs and begin using.
Young people who are still finding themselves and seeking separation from their parents may rebel. This rebellion often entails experimenting with drugs or alcohol, largely because it’s something that their parents don’t want them to do.
This can also happen when teens feel misunderstood, isolated, or ostracized at school. They feel that they are already “losers” or “failures” and may engage in dangerous and rebellious behaviors like drug use as a result.
Prescription Drugs or Alcohol Not Enough
Just because a drug is prescribed does not mean people can’t become addicted to it. Opioids, like prescription pain medications are highly addictive, and some people begin to crave these drugs after extended use.
Additionally, people quickly begin to build a tolerance to prescription drugs, so the prescribed amount no longer produces the same effect. People may begin gradually taking more than prescribed, which eventually can spiral to trying more potent opioids like heroin.
People who enjoy the effects of alcohol also begin building a tolerance, and they may also decide to experiment with something stronger in the form of drugs.
Although the reasons for trying drugs vary, the story that follows is often the same.
People begin to rely on and crave the feelings they get from drugs. Often, these cravings result from an altered brain chemistry caused by drug use, ultimately leading to a downward spiral.
People can recover from addiction, but it’s a long and difficult journey. We should also focus on addressing the underlying issues that lead to drug use. For example, efforts should be made to stop stigmatizing mental illness and to change the representation of drugs as “cool” and “fun” in popular culture.
If we address the reasons people use drugs in the first place, we can drastically reduce the drug addiction epidemic.