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Though it is common knowledge that recreational drug and alcohol use are barriers to health and fitness, many athletes and fitness influencers use these substances. An occasional cocktail during a special event is nothing to worry about, but consuming several drinks every week (or every night) can make your fitness goals hard to achieve.

Despite the stigma surrounding addiction, substance abuse isn’t a character flaw but rather a coping mechanism. To address unhealthy substance use, you must first identify the cause of the misuse. Here are four common – and treatable! – causes. 

What is addiction?

When you think about someone suffering from addiction, you may think about someone who hits rock bottom and needs to attend a detoxification and treatment center – commonly known as rehab. 

Treating addiction does not always require attending a rehabilitation center. An individual who is addicted to nicotine may be able to stop smoking on their own, but the more addictive a substance is, the more likely the addictive behavior will be severe and require inpatient treatment.

At its mildest, addiction refers to substance use that is ongoing despite evidence of negative implications to the life of the individual using it. For example, you may know that your drinking affects your fitness performance, liver health, and impacts your relationships with your loved ones, but you continue to drink anyway. 

Causes of substance abuse

Drugs and alcohol are addictive because they create feelings of happiness, contentment, pleasure, and numbness. Substance abuse is therefore largely a coping mechanism for the following situations:


People who have or once had significant instability in their lives are more likely to develop an addiction. If you have ever worried about having enough money, where you were going to live, or whether the people in your life would be there long term, you may have developed an addiction as a coping mechanism for all this erratic change. 

Treatment for substance abuse involves learning coping mechanisms for uncertainty. Counseling sessions will help you replace unhealthy coping mechanisms with healthy ones. 


Traumatic experiences can impact the brain in ways that neuroscientists are only beginning to understand. Dissociative identity disorder (DID), wherein an affected individual develops multiple personalities, is now believed to be the brain’s way of coping with traumatic memories. 

If you have experienced one or more traumatic events but have not received effective medical treatment, you may be using drugs and/or alcohol to numb the associated memories. 

Mental Health

Anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem are all mental health conditions that can be treated with a combination of medication and counseling. However, due to the stigma surrounding mental illness, many people neglect to treat mental illness and instead develop their own unhealthy coping mechanisms – such as drug and alcohol dependency.  


If you’ve ever heard someone say they have an ‘addictive personality,’ they’re likely referring to their genetics. People with a family history of substance abuse are likely genetically predisposed to develop an addiction. 

However, genetic predisposition doesn’t mean that developing an addiction is inevitable. Though you may have an increased chance of developing one, you also have the power and the strength to treat your addiction and start the path to recovery.

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