Thanks to scientific research, we now have a better understanding of what could cause a person to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. There are certain environmental and genetic risk factors that put some people at higher risk for addiction than others.
While a risk factor doesn’t guarantee that someone will develop an addiction, it increases the chances that they will. The presence of multiple risk factors further increases the likelihood.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines environmental factors as those that pertain to school, work, family, home, and one’s neighborhood or city. There are unique features related to:
These are especially important for children and teens. Seeing parents take part in unhealthy habits might influence children and teenagers to take drugs.
According to Healthline, peers can have a strong influence on people who otherwise live in a healthy home environment. This is particularly relevant for teens.
Among teens, not doing well in school or social awkwardness can increase the risk that they will try drugs.
The availability of a chosen substance makes it easier to become addicted. Parties, happy hours, and special occasions can be easy situations where teens can buy or try drugs or misuse alcohol.
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Genes can increase your chances of becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs, per NIDA. Your gender, ethnicity, and even developmental stage can have an influence on your addiction potential as well.
Genetics account for between 40 and 60 percent of an individual’s risk potential.
Along with genes and environmental factors, there are other risk factors that could increase your likelihood of misusing substances. Some of these include:
If you have a mental health disorder, such as a personality disorder, depression, anxiety, or another issue, it is more likely that you could abuse drugs.
Usually, this creates a cycle that is difficult to stop because drug misuse can also worsen some mental health issues. People with some mental health issues are between 28 and 70 percent more likely to misuse alcohol.
Medical problems could have an impact on your risk of becoming addicted to drugs. People who rely on opioid painkillers to manage chronic pain are at risk of substance misuse. Many of these painkillers are habit-forming, and many people who abuse heroin started by abusing prescription painkillers.
Not all drugs are created equal. Certain drugs, such as methamphetamine and heroin, are easier to become addicted to because they are associated with painful symptoms of withdrawal. This incentivizes a person to use these drugs more often to end discomfort.
Swallowing a drug makes it harder to become addicted because your liver has to filter it first. Smoking or injecting a drug ensures that it reaches your brain and bloodstream quickly, which facilitates addiction.
Generally, the younger you are when you first start using drugs, the easier it is to become addicted. Using drugs at a young age could change the way your brain works and make you more prone to becoming addicted as an adult.
According to Healthline, if you are between the ages of 18 and 24, you are more likely to have an alcohol or substance use disorder.
A March 2013 case study from the Journal of Addiction highlighted a few reasons why teenagers are more vulnerable to drug or alcohol misuse than adults.
During adolescence, teens’ hormonal changes cause decreases in grey matter and white matter. In teens, the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that makes decisions and sets goals) is still developing.
The part of the brain that has a role in memory, motivation, and repetition of positive actions is also changing.
Though mistreatment does not always have to come from a member of the child or teen’s family, the Journal of Addiction states that 16 percent of children who were abused report misusing substances. In addition, 29 percent of children who have been mistreated report some use of substances.
Both physical abuse and sexual abuse at least double the risk of adolescents becoming addicted to drugs. Emotional abuse is also linked to higher rates of misuse.
While these risk factors can make it easier for someone to become addicted to alcohol or drugs, there are also protective factors that can help to prevent misuse.
Not everyone will be able to benefit from protective factors, but SAMHSA mentions that interventions that deal with various factors, instead of a single issue, can also have a positive influence on people who are at risk of misusing drugs.
Protective factors also help ease difficult life events, especially in children and teens.
Per SAMHSA, good parenting can assist children and teens even if they experience stressful events, such as a divorce, poverty, or a parent’s mental health diagnosis.
SAMHSA also states that different kinds of interventions can have a deep impact on children, teens, and adults.
Protective factors have the power to influence a person’s drug or alcohol habits for the rest of their life. They can help to offset the power of risk factors.
Even though one person may struggle with multiple risk factors for addiction, interventions can change their trajectory. If drug use is caught early enough, comprehensive treatment can stop it. With help, addiction doesn’t have to take hold.
(October 2018) What are the risk factors for addiction? Medical News Today. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323467.php
(March 2013) Familial, Social, and Individual Factors Contributing to Risk for Adolescent Substance Use. Journal of Addiction. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4008086/
(June 2016) Risk Factors for Addiction. Healthline. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/health/addiction/risk-factors
(August 2018) Risk & Protective Factors. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.samhsa.gov/capt/practicing-effective-prevention/prevention-behavioral-health/risk-protective-factors
(May 2018) The Risk Factors of the Alcohol Use Disorders—Through Review of Its Comorbidities. Frontiers in Neuroscience. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5958183/
(July 2018) Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved March 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-misuse-addiction