Risk factors for addiction
People of all backgrounds and beliefs can experience addiction. It can be
hard to understand why some people are more prone to it than others. Regardless
of your upbringing or moral code, many factors can raise your risk of becoming
addicted to alcohol and other drugs. Your genetics, environment, medical
history, and age all play a role. Certain types of drugs, and methods of using
them, are also more addictive than others.
Addiction isn’t a matter of weak willpower or lack of
morals. The chemical reactions that happen in your brain when you have an addiction
are quite different than those that happen in someone without one. That
explains why one person may be able to smoke cigarettes every so often for
pleasure, while another needs them on a daily basis to function.
Heredity is a major risk factor for addiction. According to the National
Institute on Drug Abuse, up to half of your risk of addiction to alcohol,
nicotine, or other drugs is based on genetics. If you have family members
who’ve experienced addiction, you’re more likely to experience it too.
If you have an “addictive personality,” you may be at risk of a wide range
of addictions. For example, if you have an alcoholic parent, you might choose
not to drink but still become addicted to smoking or gambling.
Environmental factors can also raise your risk of addiction. For children
and teens, lack of parental involvement can lead to greater risk-taking or
experimentation with alcohol and other drugs. Young people who experience abuse
or neglect from parents may also use drugs or alcohol to cope with their
Peer pressure is another risk factor for addiction, especially among young
people. Even when it’s not overt or aggressive, pressure from friends to fit in
can create an environment of “experimentation” with substances that can lead to
addiction. The availability of a substance in your social group can also affect
your risk of becoming addicted. For example, large amounts of alcohol are
available in many social settings that are popular among college students.
If you’re trying to recover from an addiction, you may need to avoid environmental
triggers, including some activities, settings, or people. For example, you may
need to avoid the people that you previously used drugs with. You may
experience cravings in certain social circles and situations, raising your risk
of relapse. This might be the case even after a long period of sobriety.
In the medical community, you have a “dual diagnosis” if you have both an
addictive disorder and another mental health condition, such as depression.
Underlying mental health issues can increase your risk of addiction. In turn,
an addiction can increase the severity of other mental health conditions. This creates
a vicious cycle in which your addiction tends to progress quickly and with
severe consequences. You may feel like alcohol or drugs decrease your depression
symptoms for a short period of time. But in the long run, addiction will likely
make things worse.
Other medical conditions can also increase your risk of addiction. For
example, if you take prescription pain pills after a surgery, you may be at
risk of addiction. An injury or illness may also change your lifestyle in ways
that encourage you to use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Your doctor
can help you develop better strategies to cope with changes in your health and
Another risk factor for addiction is the age at which you begin the
behavior. A survey conducted by the National Institute
on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that young adults between the age of
18 and 24 were most likely to have both alcohol use disorders and other drug
addictions. Addictive behavior when you’re young can also impact your brain
development, making you more prone to mental health disorders as you get older
and your addiction progresses.
Drug of choice
While some addictions progress slowly over the course of several months or
years, others move more quickly. The object of your addiction can play a role.
Drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines tend to be more
physically addictive than alcohol or marijuana. If you use cocaine or heroin, the
withdrawal or “comedown” phase tends to be physically painful. This may push
you to use them more often and in higher doses to prevent the withdrawal
symptoms. This can speed up the process of addiction and raise your risk of
serious complications, including overdose.
Method of use
Just as certain drugs may be more addictive than others, your method of using
drugs can also increase your risk of addiction. Drugs that are smoked or
injected into your body tend to be more addictive than those that you swallow. When
you smoke or inject drugs, they go straight into your bloodstream and brain, rather
than passing through your liver and other organs where they’re filtered first.
Even if you have many risks factors for addiction, you can combat or avoid it.
Risk factors can increase your chance of becoming addicted, but they don’t
guarantee that you’ll experience addiction.
If you have a lot of risk factors for addiction, talk to your doctor. They
can help you learn more about addiction, your risk of developing it, and
strategies to avoid it. They may recommend abstinence and suggest that you
avoid drinking alcohol, using drugs, or practicing other addictive behaviors.
If you suspect you have an addiction, ask your doctor for help. They may
recommend counseling, medications, or other treatment options. It’s possible to
recover from an addiction and lead a healthy life.