Environmental Factors That Contribute to Substance Use

Although addiction affects everyone differently, several unique risk factors can contribute to the development of substance use and addiction in a person’s life. These risk factors are formidable and relevant elements that increase their chance of using and misusing drugs. In general, the three most impactful categories of risk factors include:

  • Genetic or biological vulnerabilities
  • Environmental risk factors
  • Drug-specific risk factors

Genetic risk factors take into account any family history of substance use, substance use disorders (SUDs) and mental health disorders, as these conditions tend to “run” in families. Biological risk factors acknowledge that unresolved mental health issues can make an individual more likely to develop a SUD from attempting to self-medicate symptoms. Drug-specific risk factors include the specific drug in use and how frequently and intensely it is being used.

Environmental risk factors explain the social, cultural and familial attitudes and behaviors surrounding drug use and mental health. There are numerous environmental risk factors to be aware of as all of these things can affect an individual’s initial decision to use substances as well as continuing their use. It is vital to understand that everyone who uses drugs is at risk of developing a SUD. Still, by recognizing environmental risk factors, families can do their part in protecting their members from the consequences of substance use.

Risk Factors Within the Home

The first set of environmental risk factors is those within the home. For the appropriate development of adolescents and young adults, the home environment must be a safe, supportive and caring place. However, for many, the home environment may be chaotic or triggering.

Substance-Using Behaviors by Family Members

When a child grows up in an environment where their parents or siblings regularly use substances, they learn that substance use is normal and okay. They may be more interested in experimenting with substances at earlier ages or even engage in substance use with family members. Access to drugs can also make people more likely to try or regularly use drugs. These factors heavily increase the risk of substance use and developing associated substance use disorders.

Poor Relationships With Parents

Parents have a duty to nurture their children into adulthood. However, many children do not experience appropriate parent-child bonding and attachment with their parental figures. Lack of parent-child attachments, ineffective parenting and lack of parental involvement can make drug use more likely in developing youth.

Poverty, Homelessness or Other Household Trauma

Poverty and homelessness are undeniable risk factors that can also increase substance use. Individuals may learn to use drugs to cope with their household stress or distress, primarily when chaotic or traumatic home environments exist. Child abuse and neglect, family rejection and dealing with the mental health conditions of family members can all increase an individual’s risk of substance use. 

Risk Factors Within Social Contexts

The next set of environmental risk factors lies in social contexts, such as school. Social contexts influence developing youth to recognize behaviors and attitudes deemed appropriate regarding substance use.

Peer Groups That Engage in Substance Use

Peer groups play a significant role in people’s behaviors. Peer groups that experiment with substance use at younger ages or normalize substance use among their friends increase the risk of substance use and the development of addiction among peers within the group. Substance use is often related to peer pressure as well as the desire for social approval. Associating with individuals that engage in high-risk behaviors can also have an effect.

Lack of School Engagement

Another risk factor involves a lack of school engagement. Poor academic achievement, lack of school connectedness and social rejection can contribute to substance use.

Favorable Attitudes Toward Drug Use

Amid society, favorable attitudes toward drug use are also a risk factor. This statement is true for peer groups, specific workplaces and activities. When drug use is considered normalized or favorable in an environment, an individual has increased risks of substance use.

Protective Factors Surrounding Substance Use

While there are many risk factors, there are also important protective factors that can reduce the likeliness of an individual using substances or developing related substance use disorders. It is essential to understand that these protective factors do not guarantee substance use avoidance, although they can lessen the impact. Protective factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Reliable support and discipline from parents
  • Appropriate parent-child attachment
  • Parental monitoring
  • Parental protection from harm, fear, trauma and neglect
  • Adequate socioeconomic resources for the family
  • Access to social support and educational support resources
  • Monitoring of peer groups and peer activities
  • Positive school engagement
  • High academic standards

DiscoveryMD recognizes that underlying issues, which were the likely culprit for initial substance use, must be addressed during the healing process to ensure effective treatment and recovery from substance use. We offer several programs to help our patients dive deep within themselves to secure long-term healing. To learn more about our treatment services, contact us today.

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