Contrary to what people may believe, anyone can develop an addiction, whether that be to alcohol, other drugs, or addictive behaviors. However, there are specific circumstances that can make individuals more vulnerable. These are known as risk factors.
Becoming familiar with addiction risk factors is essential to preventing substance abuse before it happens. These risk factors can also help individuals in active addiction understand some of the potential circumstances that may have contributed to the development of their SUD. This might offer them peace of mind as they move forward in recovery.
Understanding Risk Factors
Addiction knows no boundaries. It can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or level of education—not just those with an “addictive personality.” However, certain risk factors can increase an individual’s risk of using alcohol, other drugs, or addictive behaviors. Risk factors can be categorized into genetic, environmental, and developmental categories.
The Diathesis-Stress Model of Addiction
Recognizing that an individual can be exposed to various risk factors without ever developing an addiction is vital. Similarly, others may be exposed to only a few risk factors and develop severe addictions as a response.
The diathesis-stress model of mental health can explain this variation in addiction formation. To form an addiction, a person must have a diathesis—or biological predisposition—and at least one environmental stressor that rises above their resiliency level. Additionally, a person must have access to and use substances at least once to form a substance use disorder (SUD).
Biological Risk Factors
An individual’s genetic makeup can be a risk factor for addiction. Everyone is born with unique DNA sequencing and associated vulnerabilities created by combining the genes of an individual’s parents. Individuals with parents with addiction—regardless of active addiction or recovery—are at greater risk of developing it themselves. The same can be said for individuals whose parents have a mental health disorder.
It is essential to understand that SUD often co-occurs with mental health disorders. The National Institue on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains the three following reasons for why these conditions commonly co-occur:
1. Common risk factors can contribute to both mental illness and substance use and addiction.
2. Mental illness may contribute to substance use and addiction.
3. Substance use and addiction can contribute to the development of mental illness.
Therefore, family members with a history of substance abuse or mental health problems can increase an individual’s risk of developing either or both.
Environmental Risk Factors
High-risk life experiences can contribute to addiction. For adolescents and others that live at home, environmental risk factors include:
- Parental substance use
- Favorable parental or community attitudes toward substance use
- Poor parental monitoring
- Lack of parental involvement in child’s life
For youth and adults alike, additional environmental risk factors include:
- Family rejection of sexual orientation or gender identity
- Association with peer groups who use substances or engage in high-risk behaviors
- Exposure to trauma
- Low academic achievement
- Poverty and homelessness
- Drug availability
Developmental Risk Factors
These risk factors mesh together genetic vulnerabilities with environmental exposures. It’s the potential meeting point of the diathesis and stressor. As an individual’s body develops and matures into adulthood, they will need to carefully respond to life circumstances to ensure they’re not increasing their likelihood of addiction.
One developmental risk factor is the presence of co-occurring mental health issues. Mental health issues can start as a child but often fully form and develop in young adulthood. Individuals often turn to alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate. Individuals must seek treatment and healthier ways to cope with mental health distress when they arise to avoid engaging in self-medicating practices.
Another developmental factor has to do with substance use itself. Addiction is a progressive disorder. This means that the longer and more frequently an individual uses substances, the more likely they are to develop an addiction. Additionally, it can impact a teen’s or young adult’s brain development. Even in fully grown adults, alcohol and drug use change the brain slowly. The ultimate end goal of these changes is addiction. Therefore, anyone who uses alcohol and other drugs experiences a severe risk of developing an addiction.
Protective Factors Can Help Prevent Addiction
While there are many risk factors for addiction, many protective factors can also help prevent its development. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies the following protective factors:
- Parental engagement
- Healthy family dynamics
- Parental disapproval of substance use
- School connectedness
Additional protective factors include:
- Positive self-image
- Knowledge of healthy coping mechanisms
- Strong problem-solving skills
- Stable interpersonal relationships
- Parental and social acceptance of sexual or gender identity
- Extracurricular involvement
- Access to mental health resources
Recovery Is Possible
For those who are actively struggling with substance abuse, it is vital to understand that with the help of professional treatment, recovery from addiction is possible. Chronic substance abuse can be ceased, but individuals must choose the path of recovery themselves. Effective treatment will help individuals address the underlying causes of their SUD (and co-occurring mental health disorders) and overcome them.
There are a variety of genetic, environmental, and developmental risk factors that are well-known for contributing to the development of addiction. Understanding these risk factors and appropriately responding to them can help to prevent addiction from affecting you or a loved one. At 12 South Recovery, we approach addiction and mental health treatment from a place of compassion and understanding. We know how challenging it can be to face these risk factors without professional support. Fortunately, we offer outpatient programs for young adults and adults seeking recovery. Within our programs, we provide several services and interventions to individualize your care. To learn more, give us a call today at 866-839-6876.