Have you ever wondered why some people develop substance use disorders while others do not? You may also wonder why some people experience more severe addictions than others that regularly use alcohol or other drugs. In general, addiction affects everyone differently for several reasons. These reasons can be broken down into three categories of risk factors: genetic, environmental and drug-specific risk factors.
What are Risk Factors for Developing a Substance Use Disorder?
A risk factor is a characteristic that is associated with a higher likelihood of problematic health outcomes. When it comes to addiction, risk factors make an individual more likely to initially use substances or develop an addiction to alcohol and other drugs.
It is important to note that exposure to risk factors does not guarantee the development of an addiction. Similarly, someone not exposed to risk factors does not guarantee that they will not experience addiction. No single factor results in addiction. Instead, the significance lies in how a person responds to the risk factors. Recognizing these risk factors, and ultimately working to prevent them or actively heal from them, can reduce an individual’s likeliness of falling victim to addiction.
Genetic Risk Factors
Genetic risk factors consider an individual’s unique genetic makeup. A popular misconception surrounding addiction is that addiction develops solely from genetics. As mentioned before, no one aspect results in addiction. Therefore, while genetics are a risk factor, they are not the only risk factor.
The first genetic risk factor to consider is whether or not an addiction or other mental health conditions “run” in the family. Having a relative that struggles with a substance use or mental health disorder can make an individual more likely to develop a condition at some point in their life. This increase in likelihood is because the same brain areas affected by substance use are also affected by mental health conditions and vice versa.
Another genetic risk factor is whether or not a person has other co-occurring mental health conditions. This dynamic is especially important to recognize in those that have not been diagnosed with a mental health disorder but may struggle daily with their mental health. People who struggle with mental health are more likely to develop an addiction because they may turn to alcohol and drugs to self-medicate their distress. In turn, self-medicating only worsens a person’s mental health in the long run.
Environmental Risk Factors
Numerous environmental risk factors play a role in the development of addiction. Environmental risk factors are situational factors that may cause a person to engage with substances initially or use them repeatedly.
Environmental Risk Factors Within the Family
Inside of the home, risk factors may include:
- Parental depression
- Poor parenting
- Poor parent-child attachment
- Lack of parental monitoring
- Negative home environment
- Child abuse or neglect
- Marital or family conflict
- Regular, normalized substance use among parents or older siblings
- Homelessness, poverty or other financial problems
- Other unresolved childhood trauma
Environmental Risk Factors Outside of the Home
Children and teens do not only experience risk factors at home. There are many risk factors that a child may be exposed to outside of their homes that would increase their chance of engaging in substance use. These factors may include:
- Peer rejection in school or extracurricular activities
- Poor academic achievement
- Low commitment or engagement in school
- Community trauma
- School violence
- Societal norms that favor substance use
- Associating with drug-using or deviant peers
Drug-Specific Risk Factors for Substance Use Disorder
After a person engages in substance use just one time, they experience a significant increase in the risk of developing an addiction. The natural brain is wired to favor pleasurable experiences, especially when they are chemically induced. One-time substance use can quickly become repeated without any conscious thought behind it.
When a person is using alcohol or other drugs, drug-specific risk factors may cause a person to develop an addiction more quickly or severely than others. These factors may include:
- The type of substance being used
- The frequency of substance use
- The intensity of substance use
- The duration of substance use
Protective factors work to actively prevent the development of addiction.
To actively prevent the development of addiction, an individual must work to instill protective factors into their life and the lives of their loved ones. Protective factors are associated with reduced potential for an individual to initially use drugs or continue drug use in their life. Protective factors include:
- Strong and positive relationships with family and peers
- Appropriate parental monitoring of child
- Clear rules and expectations of conduct within the family, as well as enforcement of these expectations
- Parental involvement in a child’s life
- Success in school performance and work
- Open and honest conversations about substance use concerns
If you suspect that you or your loved one is struggling with addiction, it is essential to get involved with treatment as soon as possible.
DiscoveryMD is a program for mental health, substance use and co-occurring disorders. We provide several treatment options for individuals looking to manage their mental health symptoms. We will help you identify and overcome the underlying reasons that led you to substance use in the first place and work to prevent relapse from occurring in the future. To learn more, contact us today.