Psychological Causes of Substance Abuse
Health & Wellness

The Psychological Causes of Substance Abuse

It is often said that substance abuse is a symptom of a deeper underlying issue. While we readily see the physical ravages of drug abuse, the psychological causes of substance abuse must also be recognized in equal measure. Since psychological problems often are the root of one’s drug addiction, those issues must also be addressed for substance abuse recovery to be effective. The following are the leading psychological causes of substance abuse.

Underlying Mental Health Issues

Perhaps the most common psychological cause of substance abuse is the presence of an underlying mental health issue. Common mental illnesses seen in those addicted to substances include anxiety, depression, and PTSD. In many cases, people who abuse substances have undiagnosed mental illnesses. People who struggle with mental illness are afraid to seek professional help due to stigma. As a result, they turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.


Another common psychological cause of substance abuse is stress—especially not having healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress. Daily life is inevitably full of stressful situations. From work and school to family and financial concerns, it is easy to feel stressed and anxious. For most people, they can manage their stress through healthy means such as proper diet, exercise, restful sleep, meditation, and other healthy outlets. However, for those who don’t adopt a stress reduction regimen, their unresolved stress will become unmanageable. As a result, they may turn to sick coping mechanisms such as drinking and drug use.

Social Anxiety

Another critical psychological cause of drug and alcohol abuse is social anxiety. For people who are introverted or feel socially awkward, daily life can be a challenge to navigate. Whether it is in social situations or professional situations, finding ways to feel comfortable and “fit in” is difficult for those who are socially anxious. For those people, drugs and alcohol act as a “social lubricant” to feel more at ease. With drugs and alcohol, those who are socially awkward feel more confident in engaging in conversations and making connections with others.


Unresolved trauma is another cause of drug and alcohol addiction. Trauma can be both emotional and physical. Examples include being involved in a crash, enduring a natural disaster, going to war, and physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. These unsettling experiences can have tremendous impacts on the people who experience them firsthand. Despite the many quality mental health programs and resources, people have to deal with these issues, stigma and shame make many hesitant to seek help. As a result, they deal with their unresolved trauma through the use of alcohol and drugs.

Specialized Help is Available

For those who struggle with substance abuse and psychological issues, standard drug treatment will not be a good fit. Fortunately, there has been an increase in drug treatment facilities that offer dual diagnosis programs. These specialized programs combine drug treatment therapies with treatment for mental health conditions. At a dual diagnosis treatment center, treatment professionals with experience treating both mental health and substance abuse disorders create a comprehensive treatment plan that is individualized for each client’s unique and specific needs.

Through a combination of medication-assisted treatment, individual and group therapy, life and coping skills training as well as aftercare treatment, each client will receive the tools and ongoing support they need to address both their psychological and addiction issues. In comparison to other treatment programs, dual diagnosis treatment is longer in duration and offers more comprehensive resources for post-treatment support. These options give those with substance abuse and psychological issues the best chance at long-term recovery.

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