What Are the Risk Factors for Addiction?

question mark and lightbulb - addiction risk factorsAnyone can develop a drug or alcohol addiction regardless of their beliefs, social status, background, or ethnicity. It can be hard to understand why one person is more susceptible to addiction than another. Research shows biological and personal factors make some people more prone to developing a substance use disorder.

Addiction Risk Factors & Prevention

However, it is critical to note that even if some of the risk factors apply to an individual, it does not mean they will abuse substances or develop an addiction. By knowing and recognizing the risks of addiction, they can take preventative measures by changing the risk factors if possible.

Here are eight risk factors that research shows increase the risk of addiction.

Childhood Trauma

Many studies show that experiencing trauma during childhood increases the risk of substance abuse and addiction. The more traumatic or stressful events the child experiences, the greater the risk of addiction. For example, a study of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) shows that later in life, a male that has experienced six ACEs is 46 times more likely to use intravenous (IV) drugs than a male who did not have any severe adverse childhood experiences.

Adverse childhood experiences include:

  • Sexual, emotional, or physical abuse
  • Living in a house with domestic or household violence
  • Neglect
  • Having a parent or caregiver who struggles with mental health disorders or substance use disorders
  • Losing a parent to death or divorce
  • Having an incarcerated parent

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Trauma experienced after childhood can cause post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD increases the risk of drug or alcohol addiction. Many military and emergency service personnel have traumatizing experiences resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder. Experiencing physical or sexual assault also increases the risk of substance use disorders.

Genetics & Family History

The study of human genes is genetics. Genes are the basic unit of DNA forming human genomes and are responsible for providing the body with all the information it needs for its cellular activities. A person’s genetics is a risk factor for developing an addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that a person’s genetics determines up to 50% of their risk of drug or alcohol addiction. If an individual has family members with substance use disorders, they are more likely to struggle with substance abuse or addiction.


An individual’s environment can put them at a greater risk of addiction. When parents are not involved in their children’s lives, children are more likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs. Some young people turn to drugs or alcohol to escape their home situations or cope with their feelings and emotions.

Peer Pressure

Sometimes people, especially younger ones, are subject to peer pressure. Their friends or classmates may be pressuring them to experiment with different substances. They use drugs or alcohol to fit in with the crowd, leading to possible addiction.

Age of Exposure

The earlier a child or teen is exposed to drugs or alcohol, the more likely they may develop a substance use disorder. Addiction occurs for several reasons, including:

  • A lack of healthy decision-making skills and a struggle with self-control
  • Possible lack of supervision at home
  • Struggling with the stresses of adolescence
  • Experiencing a transition such as leaving home and going to college for the first time or moving from middle school to high school
  • Desire or temptation to try new things

Mental Health Disorders

When an individual suffers from a mental disorder such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and others, they are at greater risk of using alcohol or drugs and developing an addiction. Often individuals with mental health disorders use substances to cope with their illness and make themselves feel better. When a substance use disorder develops in an individual with a mental health disorder, it is called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder.

Drug Choice & Method of Use

How fast addiction develops depends on the choice of drug and its method of delivery. People using heroin, methamphetamines, or cocaine develop addictions more quickly than those using alcohol or marijuana. When a person injects or smokes drugs, the substance goes directly into the bloodstream. When substances are swallowed or snorted it takes longer to feel the effects.

You Are Not Alone

Addiction is a chronic brain disease that makes changes to your brain. Anyone can become addicted to drugs or alcohol. If you or a loved one needs help with substance abuse or addiction, you are not alone. At English Mountain Recovery, located in the serene mountains of Eastern Tennessee, we are here to help you overcome your addiction and live a life of sobriety. Take the first step on the path to recovery, and call us today.

English Mountain Recovery - Tennessee drug rehab center - alcohol rehab -Looking into Tennessee intensive outpatient programs? To learn more about programs offered at English Mountain Recovery, call and speak with someone today at (877) 615-8569. We are ready to help you or your loved one recover.

About the Author: Terry Hurley

Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.

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