Why do people continue to abuse drugs and alcohol despite the negative consequences? Why would a person continue to use something that can inherently harm them? One explanation is that addiction is a consequence of falling victim to decision failures. An addicted person simply overvalues pleasure and undervalues consequences. While there are many explanations for addiction, some are more prevalent than others. The following are simple, but prominent reasons why a person continues to use drugs and alcohol despite the outcomes.

1. Overemphasis on the Immediate Reward

To an addict, the thought of getting immediate gratification from a drug outweighs the long-term consequences. This type of decision making reflects an impulsive pattern of behavior. Having the drug now and experiencing its effects, therefore, becomes the motivator for decision-making. Rather than taking a long-view, the immediate reward becomes the most important driving factor. 

2. Few to No Alternative Rewards

Everyone is a pleasure-seeker in one way or another. Humans inherently look for things they enjoy or that reward the pleasure centers of our brain. When there is a lack of rewards and enjoyment, however, we will find ways to seek them out. Research has shown that factors that limit your enjoyment or deprive you of rewards can lead to drug use. Other research has shown that providing alternative rewards to drug-addicted individuals can help curb drug use. 

3. Self-Medication

The stresses of life can cause emotional suffering. Drugs or alcohol can provide that quick “fix” that helps deal with the pain of circumstances. Many people report using drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate for a number of reasons. Some use alcohol to help with depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, as you consume more alcohol, your body adjusts to continuous consumption. Meaning, the depression and anxiety you drink to forget will always be there. Now you need to drink to feel “normal.”  

4. Genetic Factors/Vulnerability

There is a lot of evidence for a genetic “vulnerability” to drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. Most studies find that your genes/heredity is responsible for about 50% of developing an addiction. The remaining half is based on environmental factors, such as exposure to drugs and alcohol at a young age, school performance, parenting style, etc. For example, heavy drinking causes major changes in the brain that can be passed on from generation. There is no “addiction gene” per se, but many genes associated with behavior can contribute to addiction.  

5. Stress

There is a strong link between chronic stress and the desire to abuse addictive substances. High emotional stress is associated with the loss of control over impulses or to delay gratification. Past or present trauma is a major contributing factor to stress and drug and alcohol abuse. Domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction all contribute significantly to addiction. Stress is also linked with justification of “self-medication.”

Next Steps

Addiction is categorized by undervaluing consequences while overvaluing pleasure. Many different things can contribute to a drug or alcohol addiction. Seeking treatment can help identify the underlying cause of addiction and make recovery possible. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, help is available. Rock Recovery Center in West Palm Beach, Florida can help with advice on next steps. Call our 24-hour helpline or chat live with us now.