Addiction is a chronic condition characterized by compulsive drug seeking and using behavior. Addiction is a brain disorder that causes long-term changes in brain functioning, even long after an individual stops using alcohol or other substances.
Addiction impacts the lives of people everywhere; it knows no age, gender, race, occupation, or culture. Addiction also affects everyone differently, as some struggle with mild cravings while others experience debilitating symptoms. However, specific factors can make an individual more at risk for developing an addiction at some point in their life. It is important to become familiar with these factors so you can limit them in your life or in the life of your loved ones. It is also essential to recognize protective factors that help reduce the risk of developing an addiction.
Biological Risk Factors
Biological risk factors for developing an addiction refer to an individual’s genetic predisposition. Like any mental health condition, addiction can and does run in families. Scientists estimate that genetic factors account for nearly 40 to 60% of an individual’s vulnerability to developing an addiction, although this also takes into account how environmental factors play into an individual’s genetic makeup.
If a relative is in recovery for or has a known substance use disorder, you are in the higher risk category of developing a substance use disorder as well. If a relative is in recovery for or has a known mental health disorder, you are also at higher risk of developing not only a mental health disorder but also a substance use disorder. This is because people with mental health disorders are more likely to use drugs to self-medicate.
Environmental Risk Factors
Environmental risk factors for developing an addiction refer to how different environments and relationships influence an individual’s understanding of substance use. For example, consider how influential the home environment is on a developing child or teen. When a child is exposed to substance use by parents or siblings within the home at a young age, they are more likely to identify with substance use as normal. Substances being readily available within a home can also increase the risk of substance use because of experimentation, curiosity, or trying to “fit in,” which can all contribute to the development of a substance use disorder in the long run.
Even without substances present in a home environment, several circumstances can put a person at risk of using or becoming addicted to alcohol or other drugs. Early childhood or youth circumstances that can increase risks may include:
- Parental neglect
- Physical, verbal, sexual, or emotional abuse by parents or guardians
- Unresolved trauma
- Lack of parental supervision
- Poverty and homelessness
- Availability of substances in any given environment
- Other risky behavior
Other environments that pose unique risk factors for developing an addiction are school and social environments. Especially for youth and teenagers, friends and peer groups play a significant role in influencing one another. Peers that use drugs can sway friends to use substances even one time, which is all it takes to start the development of addiction. Individuals that tend to struggle more in academics or lack social skills, in turn, tend to isolate themselves and are also at higher risk of becoming addicted to substances.
Drug-Specific Risk Factors
The other category of factors that inevitably play a role in the development of addiction is drug-specific factors. While anyone can become addicted to any substance, some factors play into the severity of the addiction. For example, some drugs are more addictive than others. Opiates and stimulants tend to be more physically addictive than other drugs. However, nearly all substances can produce psychological withdrawal, which is what causes a person to repeat substance use.
A person that uses substances also needs to consider how often they are drinking or using drugs. The more frequent their substance use is, the more likely they will become addicted. The intensity of substance use must also be considered, such as whether or not an individual is increasing the amount of the substance they are consuming. This is especially evident if someone feels that they need to increase their dosage to achieve the desired effect.
Another drug-specific factor is the method of substance use. One of the most addictive routes of administration is smoking or injecting drugs. This is because when substances are smoked or injected, they go straight to your brain through your bloodstream in a matter of minutes.
Factors That Protect Against Addiction and Relapse
While there are many risk factors associated with substance use and addiction, there are also many protective factors that work to prevent addiction and relapse from occurring. Some of these protective factors include:
- Strong and positive family bonds
- Parental monitoring of and involvement in a child’s life
- Substance use education programs in schools
- Adopting conventional norms about substance use
- Fostering reliable, healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with adversity and distress
- Clear expectations that are consistently enforced by parents
- Striving for success in school, work, and other affiliations
Addiction knows no age, race, gender, occupation, or culture. Since addiction affects everyone differently, it is important to recognize the risk factors that can increase an individual’s vulnerability to developing an addiction in their lifetime. Genetic factors take into account an individual’s genetic predisposition, such as whether or not a relative has been diagnosed with addiction before. Environmental risk factors include an individual being raised in a house where substance use was normalized or having peer groups that encourage substance use. Drug-specific risk factors involve drug of choice, frequency and intensity of drug use, and method of use. SoCal Mental Health wants to meet clients exactly where they are in their treatment journey. We offer effective therapy programs that will help you to restructure your life so you can experience long-term healing for your addiction. Call us at (714) 328-4760.