What Is the Root Cause of Addictive Behaviors?

Are you struggling with addiction while trying to understand the root cause of your addictive behaviors? If so, you are not alone. Individuals struggling with substance use disorder (SUD) or behavioral addictions may not understand why they are addicted or how to stop their addictive behaviors.

Many causes and factors influence addiction, including biological and environmental factors. Trauma also plays a significant role in the development of addiction. Regardless of the exact causes, seeking treatment is always a good idea. 

When you enter a treatment program, professionals will work with you to understand the root causes of your addictive behaviors and help you heal from them alongside your addiction. Additionally, understanding the factors that have led to addiction can help you live a full life of recovery. 

Substance Use Disorders

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes SUDs as “treatable, chronic diseases characterized by a problematic pattern of use of a substance or substances leading to impairments in health, social function, and control over substance use.” SUD is extremely common across the United States. The CDC cites the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which indicates that 40.3 million Americans 12 years and older had SUD in that past year.

Several complex issues or factors can lead people to use substances and ultimately develop SUD. These factors typically include past trauma and other co-occurring mental health conditions. A co-occurring disorder is when a person experiences a substance use and mental health disorder simultaneously. They are common but treatable through evidence-based modalities, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and dual diagnosis treatment. 

Behavioral Addictions

While SUD describes a dependence on substances, behavioral addictions occur when a person becomes addicted to a specific action. Behavioral addictions are similar to SUD in that specific actions produce short-term chemical rewards in the brain.

Behavioral addictions can become life-consuming. People with these conditions struggle to function at school or work and become unable to fulfill their day-to-day responsibilities because of addiction. Examples of behavioral addictions include gambling, food, video games, sex, porn, and the internet. 

Though they differ slightly, both SUD and behavioral addiction are treatable. The first steps are recognizing the signs of addictive behaviors, accepting them, and seeking help.

Recognizing Addictive Behaviors Within Yourself

It may be hard for you to recognize the signs of addiction within yourself. Individuals with addiction often struggle to see and accept their symptoms. This blindness prevents them from seeking treatment immediately. Friends, family, and loved ones sometimes have to stage an intervention to help a person seek treatment. 

Aside from an effective intervention, you can be on the lookout for signs and symptoms that will help you recognize addiction within yourself. 

Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For

There are several physical symptoms to look out for to determine whether you have SUD. Some of those signs and symptoms include: 

  • Poor hygiene 
  • Sudden weight gain or loss 
  • Dilated pupils or red, bloodshot eyes 
  • Changes in complexion, such as paleness, increased acne, scars, jaundice, or bruises 

Individuals with behavioral addictions may exhibit similar symptoms, such as: 

  • Symptoms of depression and anxiety 
  • Trouble controlling a specific behavior, like gambling, eating, or browsing the internet 
  • An inability to concentrate on tasks 
  • Trying to hide an addictive behavior   
  • Avoiding work, school, social interactions, and other obligations to engage in the addictive behavior 

How Addictive Behaviors Impact Mental Health

SUD and behavioral addictions do not only cause problems with physical health. They can also significantly impair your mental health. You may experience symptoms of anxiety and depression or a decline in other areas of mental and emotional health. 

If untreated, SUD and behavioral addictions can lead to more severe mental health conditions. Seeking treatment is the most effective way to heal your mental health and live free from addictive behaviors. 

You can also recognize SUD and behavioral addictions through many emotional symptoms. A person with an addiction to drugs and alcohol or specific behaviors may become easily agitated, experience severe anxiety and depression, or go through mood swings, especially when a person can not use a substance or engage in addictive behaviors.

Root Cause of Addictive Behaviors

As mentioned, several factors can lead to the development of addiction. Those factors include the following.


A family history of addiction may increase your chances of developing an addiction. 


Living through distressing situations in childhood or throughout your life correlates to the development of addiction. The inability to cope with this trauma can cause you to engage in unhealthy behaviors.

Mental Illness

Again, addiction and mental illness often go hand-in-hand. People with mental health conditions are at a greater risk of developing an addiction, especially if that mental health condition remains untreated. 

Treating Addictive Behaviors

Take comfort in knowing you can overcome and recover from addiction. Recovery can be achieved through psychotherapy, MAT, group therapy, meditation, and participating in alumni programs. Speak with your doctor if you have concerns about your mental health, physical well-being, or addictive behaviors today. 

Millions of people across the United States struggle with addictive behaviors. These include substance use disorder (SUD) and behavioral addictions. SUD is the inability to control substance use, whereas behavioral addictions cause people to depend on specific addictive behaviors. Both can make it difficult to function day-to-day and understanding their root cause is vital to effective treatment. At NorthStar Transitions, we have programs that can help you recover from both. We know that you are more than your condition and that addiction is a symptom of deeper problems. Through a variety of evidence-based and holistic practices, we can help you achieve recovery. To learn more about addictive behaviors and seek treatment today, call NorthStar Transitions at (303) 558-6400

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