substance use disorder

Substance Use Disorder: 4 Common Contributing Factors

A substance use disorder (SUD) is complex mental health conditions that involve various underlying factors. This is why it’s so important for treatment to be comprehensive to address all aspects of the condition.

While each person is unique, there are certain issues that people with substance use disorder often struggle with. Aside from the standard risk factors—genetics, environment, peer pressure—let’s cover four underlying issues that drive substance use in people. 

1. Chemical Imbalance in the Brain

Addiction is often associated with chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances can affect neurotransmitter systems and are crucial for regulating mood, reward, and behavior. For instance, dopamine is a key neurotransmitter in the brain’s reward system, and substance use increases levels, leading to intense feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Over time, repeated substance use can alter the brain’s reward circuitry, making natural rewards like food or sex less satisfying. 

Medications are the gold standard in addressing chemical imbalances in the brain. Antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers help maintain brain chemicals and hormones. It may take time to find a combination that works for you, so please be patient. Some people need to be on medication long-term while others can wean themselves off eventually. 

2. Past Events You Haven’t Dealt With 

Past events can also contribute to substance use and the development of addiction. Various experiences, especially during formative years, can influence your vulnerability to substance use. Common examples of trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) include physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, and household dysfunction. The more ACEs a person has, the more at risk they are for substance use and mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

When you don’t deal with past traumas, they “live” in the body and can cause problems at different points in your life. For example, if you were neglected as a child, you may have trouble forming healthy attachments in adult life. You may be scared to get close to someone, so you end up pushing them away and turning to alcohol to cope. 

By participating in therapy, you can work through past issues and finally come to terms with them. This can be done in several ways: EMDR, individual counseling, and group therapy. Once you have healed from these unresolved issues, you can learn new ways to cope and move on with a healthier life. 

3. Things That Aren’t True About Substance Use Disorder

People with SUD often have false or irrational beliefs that contribute to their substance use. These patterns of thinking lead them to believe that using substances is the only viable way to cope. To break this cycle, therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy are effective. CBT encourages people to challenge their thoughts and beliefs and replace them with healthier ones. 

Here are some examples of how negative thinking can contribute to substance use: 

  • Catastrophizing. Imagining the worst possible outcomes that can happen.
  • Black-and-white thinking. Seeing situations in extremes. 
  • Overgeneralization. Drawing broad, negative conclusions based on a single event. 
  • Emotional reasoning. Believing that negative feelings reflect reality. 
  • Negative self-labeling. Identifying yourself with negative traits or failures. 
  • Discounting the positive. Ignoring or undervaluing positive things that happen to you.
  • Mind reading and jumping to conclusions. Assuming you know what people are thinking and concluding negative thoughts about you.
  • Should statements. Holding onto unrealistic standards and feeling ashamed when you don’t meet them.
  • Personalization. Blaming yourself for things out of your control. 
  • Magnification of problems. Exaggerating the significance of your problems, and perceiving them as insurmountable.

4. Current Conditions That Aren’t Being Treated 

Underlying conditions, whether physical or mental, can also contribute to substance use. If you’re struggling with depression and sadness, you might be tempted to reach for drugs to lift your spirits. If you’re dealing with anxiety, you may gravitate toward alcohol to quiet the mind. However, self-medication is a slippery slope as you could start the cycle of dependence and then have a substance use disorder on top of a mental health disorder. Drugs and alcohol can also exacerbate your mental health disorder, making it difficult to know what symptoms are coming from where. 

Physical conditions can also put you at risk for substance use. For example, if you live with a chronic pain condition, your doctors may prescribe opioids to manage it. However, prescription opioids can be habit-forming and lead to addiction. Consider that 80% of people who use heroin start by misusing prescription painkillers. Treating underlying conditions with medication, alternative therapies, and talk therapies is crucial for healing to begin. 

Find Healing from Substance Use Disorder

If you are facing any one or more of these issues, rest assured that healing is possible. We know things can feel overwhelming sometimes, but all you need to start the healing process is a commitment to working on recovery.

The team at Awakenings Treatment Center will create a personalized treatment plan to meet your specific needs and objectives. We have a range of evidence-based and holistic therapies to support your recovery, and a positive and uplifting environment where you can find yourself again. To start your path to healing, contact our admissions team today.