People try drugs or alcohol for a variety of reasons, ranging from curiosity or boredom to social pressure or mental health issues. For some people, trying drugs or alcohol is a one-time event that doesn't lead to further use. For others, though, drug or alcohol use can become a substance use disorder, defined as a chronic and relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences.
But what drives people to try drugs and alcohol in the first place? There are several reasons, but some are more common than others.
Peer pressure is one of the leading causes of drug use among young people. Whether it takes the form of subtle suggestions or outright coercion, peer pressure from family and friends can exert a powerful influence over our decisions and behaviors.
Teens are especially susceptible to this type of social pressure, and many will start using drugs at an early age to fit in or feel accepted by their friends. Many young people will try out drugs or alcohol without fully understanding the risks involved.
Mental health issues like anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, and depression, can also lead people to start using drugs or alcohol. Numerous studies have listed mental health issues as one of the main drivers of substance use disorders, and vice versa.
Many people with mental health disorders self-medicate in an attempt to numb the pain or ease the symptoms like excessive fear, worry, mood changes, or even suicidal ideation. Others may use drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with difficult life experiences. This can lead to a spiral of drug addiction and mental health problems that is very difficult to break free from.
Trauma, especially early childhood trauma, is a major risk factor for developing substance abuse problems later in life. Traumatic experiences like abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, or losing a loved one can have a profound effect on one's mental and emotional health.
For many people, childhood trauma can be long-lasting and far-reaching, and it's often difficult to overcome the damage done in childhood. They may struggle with mental health issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, and depression, and turn to may use substances to try to cope with these problems.
Boredom is another common reason people first try drugs or alcohol. Teens and young adults often have a lot of free time and can be easily bored. They may start using drugs or alcohol to pass the time or to make their lives more exciting. This can lead to addiction, as people continue to use drugs or alcohol to escape the boredom of their everyday lives.
Many young adults first try drugs or alcohol out of curiosity. They may have seen their friends using these substances and want to try them for themselves. Others may be curious about the effects of drugs or alcohol and want to experience them firsthand. It's estimated that over 52% of all high school students try illicit drugs, while over 70% drink alcohol by the time they graduate.
Popular culture often glamorizes drug use, and this can influence young people to start using drugs or alcohol. TV shows, movies, music, and video games often depict drug use in a positive light, and this can make it seem like a harmless or even exciting activity. Constant exposure like this normalizes drug use in entertainment culture. As a result, teens assume using illegal, and prescription drugs is a normal lifestyle.
Many teenagers first start using drugs or alcohol as a way to rebel against their parents or authority figures. They may see drug use as a way to defy the rules and take risks. For example, they may smoke cigarettes to show their independence or hallucinogens to escape to a world they deem more idealistic.
Many people start using drugs or alcohol without knowing much about them. They may believe myths and misconceptions about these substances, which can lead them to underestimate the risks involved. For example, teens might be led to believe that marijuana is medicinal and carries a host of benefits. So, they may be more inclined to start using it without understanding the risks.
People who lack confidence or have low self-esteem are also more likely to start using drugs or alcohol. They may use these substances as a way to boost their confidence or make them feel better about themselves. For example, someone who feels shy in social situations may start drinking alcohol to loosen up and feel more confident.
The above are some of the main reasons people start using drugs or alcohol. It's important to note that not everyone who tries these substances will become addicted. However, drug and alcohol use can lead to addiction, and it’s often hard to break free from this cycle of abuse.
As a parent or guardian, there are a few things you can do to help protect your loved one from addiction:
If you suspect your child is using drugs or alcohol, don't hesitate to reach out for help. There are many physical and mental health care resources available to families struggling with addiction. Early intervention is essential to helping your child get on the path to recovery.