According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there are several risk factors that can contribute to a person’s vulnerability to drug and alcohol addiction. Risk factors are traits at the biological, psychological, family, cultural, and community level that are linked to a greater likelihood of substance abuse.
Meanwhile, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) states that some risk factors do not change with time and others may be variable, such as income level, social/peer group, adverse childhood experiences, and employment status.
While risk factors can increase the chance that an individual will use substances, it is important to note, however, that many who are high-risk do not actually begin using substances or become dependent. And still, persons of any age, gender, or socioeconomic status can become addicted to a substance.
Certain factors, however, can affect the likelihood and speed of developing an addiction. And people with several risk factors are also at an increased risk of incurring even more risk factors, which may include:
- An individual’s genetic predisposition to addiction
- Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
- Early aggressive behavior, lack of self-control
- A deficiency in parental supervision, lack of attachment, nurturing, and involvement
- Substance abuse by the parent or caregiver, a family history of addiction of any kind
- Substance availability, trafficking patterns
- Poverty in the community
- Negative/disruptive classroom behavior or social skills
- Poor academic performance
- Personal belief that drug use is acceptable
- Association with drug-using peers, peer pressure
- Early use during periods of brain development
- Use of highly-addictive substances such as opioids and stimulants
- Existence of a mental disorder such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, ADHD, or post-traumatic stress disorder
Risk factors also affect youth at different life stages, but can also be intervened. For example, risks in early childhood, including aggressiveness, can be altered or prevented through family and school interventions that help children develop appropriate and beneficial behaviors. Conversely, adverse behaviors, if not addressed, can result in even more risks, such as poor academic performance and social problems.
These factors can impact drug use in many ways. For example, the more risks a child incurs, the greater the chance that child will use drugs. And some risk factors have more potency than others at specific developmental stages, such as peer pressure during adolescence.
Studies have revealed that the most critical risk period for drug use occurs during major transitions in a child’s life. For example, one is when they leave elementary school and move on to middle school. Early adolescence is when many children will be exposed to drugs for the first time.
Next, as teens enter high school, they will encounter a host of social, educational, and emotional challenges. This parallels with greater availability of drugs, alcohol, and substance users. Finally, when young adults advance on to college or work, the risk of drug and alcohol use increases again.
Risk and Factors Exist in Several Frameworks
All individuals have biological or psychological traits that make them more or less susceptible to behavioral issues. And because people have relationships within their community and society, each individual’s psychological and biological traits occur in various frameworks.
Furthermore, a number of risk factors operate within each of these frameworks, and factors will impact each other. This is why focusing on just one context or framework when addressing a person’s risk factors will not likely be successful, because people don’t exist in a vacuum, void of other influences.
For example, risk factors may include parents who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction or a mental health condition. But in this framework, parental involvement may serve as a protective factor – a circumstance that may help prevent substance abuse.
Certain risk factors can also accumulate and influence a person’s entire lifetime and may include circumstances such as poverty and family dysfunction. In turn, these factors may contribute to the development of mental health issues or substance abuse later in life.
But again, protective factors such as effective parenting has been shown to mitigate the impact of several risk factors, including poverty, divorce, and parental mental health conditions.
A Word About Adverse Childhood Experiences
According to SAMHSA, adverse childhood experiences are stressful or traumatic events experienced by the child, such as abuse and neglect.
They can also include family dysfunction (i.e., substance abuse, domestic violence) and are strongly correlated to the development of a variety of health conditions that can occur throughout an individual’s lifetime, such as drug and alcohol addiction.
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Domestic partner violence
- Substance abuse within household
- Household mental illness
- Parental separation or divorce
- Incarcerated member of household
The risk factors that an individual is exposed to can increase the likelihood that he or she will become a substance abuser. However, the presence of even a large number of risk factors does not guarantee that he or she will; and others, despite the apparent absence of risk factors, still may exhibit potential for addition.
Moreover, drug and alcohol addiction is not just disease, and it is not simply a matter of choice. Furthermore, and it is not solely a product of the environment. Addiction can develop due to any or all of the above reasons. The complex nature of addiction’s evolution, therefore, requires a multi-faceted approach and broad examination of an individual’s existing risk factors and past circumstances and experiences.