Root Causes of Addiction

January 29, 2020. Article by: Government of B.C.

People use substances for many different reasons. Someone may use alcohol to wind down at the end of a long, busy week. A teenager may use cannabis with friends to be social. Someone who has been injured may use opioid medication to manage their pain.

People can use substances – in these ways and others – without experiencing substance use challenges.

There are a range of health and social factors and personal experiences that influence how using substances affects someone. For people who experience challenges or develop a substance use dependence (also called addiction), these factors and experiences may be deeply painful.

Substance use challenges are often the result of circumstances, not choices.

Root causes that may lead to substance use can be based in childhood trauma, be passed down over generations, or grow from difficult life events.

Help reduce stigma and increase compassion. Learn about root causes that could be behind a person’s substance use challenges:

  • Traumatic events: Trauma can have long-lasting effects and can lead a person to look for ways to cope with their painful experiences, including through substance use.   
  • Childhood trauma: Adverse Childhood Experiences – or ACEs – can create changes in the brain that make people more vulnerable to the effects of substances.
  • Intergenerational trauma: Extreme trauma passed on through generations can lead to substance use challenges in families and communities.
  • Physical pain: Research has shown that people who died of overdose in B.C. were twice as likely to experience chronic pain as the general population.
  • Mental health challenges: Someone dealing with stress, anxiety, depression or another mental health challenge may use substances to cope with how they’re feeling.
  • Notions of masculinity: For some men, it can be difficult to talk about problems or ask for help. Suffering in silence like this can increase the risk of substance use challenges.

Just as people use substances for many different reasons, people develop substance use challenges for many different reasons.

Do you or does someone you know need help?  

Call 8-1-1 for information on recovery and addiction treatment services in your area or to speak to a registered nurse or pharmacist.

Search for services in B.C. using the Mental Health and Substance Use Service Map.