Many studies report the high prevalence of multiply drug-resistant (MDR) strains. Because MDR infections are often significantly harder and more expensive to treat, they represent a growing public health threat. However, for different pathogens, different underlying mechanisms are traditionally used to explain these observations, and it is unclear whether each bacterial taxon has its own mechanism(s) for multidrug resistance or whether there are common mechanisms between distantly related pathogens. In this review, we provide a systematic overview of the causes of the excess of MDR infections and define testable predictions made by each hypothetical mechanism, including experimental, epidemiological, population genomic, and other tests of these hypotheses. Better understanding the cause(s) of the excess of MDR is the first step to rational design of more effective interventions to prevent the origin and/or proliferation of MDR.