Who Is the Most At-Risk For Drug & Alcohol Addiction?

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Addiction can affect anyone, pulling them into its darkness as the disease progresses. However, there are risk factors that place certain individuals at a higher risk of substance abuse. While the risk factors are not a sure sign of a person engaging in drug or alcohol abuse, they do increase the risk. By identifying these risk factors and being aware of them in your own life, you can stay aware of your drug or alcohol use to ensure it does not get out of control, spiraling into a full-blown addiction.

The Factors

There are multiple factors that may contribute to someone’s increased risk of drug or alcohol abuse. These are not necessarily factors that ensure someone will eventually become an addict, only that their chances are higher.


A misconception about addiction is that addicts lack the willpower to quit. People who have never dealt with substance abuse do not understand the difficulty of overcoming it because their brains are not wired in the same way. Genetics plays a major role in increasing someone’s risk of drug or alcohol addiction.

In fact, 50% of your risk can be due to genetics, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This means that having family members who have struggled with addiction makes you a candidate for addiction as well. It should be noted as well that just because your family member was an alcoholic doesn’t mean you will be addicted to alcohol.

It means that you have a predisposition for an addictive personality and while you may not become addicted to alcohol specifically, you are more at risk for becoming addicted to something. This could be a number of things such as drugs, nicotine, exercise, shopping, and gambling, among other things.

Co-Occurring Mental Disorders

Having a mental disorder can drive you to addiction or make an existing addiction more severe. Also, addiction can worsen symptoms of mental disorders. This cycle continues, causing both the addiction and the symptoms of the mental disorder to become more and more severe.

Oftentimes, individuals use drugs or alcohol to alleviate symptoms associated with their dual diagnosis. This leads to addiction, which causes the symptoms to worsen, which causes the person to continue using drugs or alcohol. This is how having a dual diagnosis makes your risk factor for addiction go up.

Using Early in Life

Teenagers and young adults do not yet have a fully developed brain. In fact, your brain does not finish developing fully until age 25. This means that those under the age of 25, specifically 18 to 24, that use drugs or alcohol are more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Remember that addiction can impact your brain development as well, increasing your risk of mental illness.


Your surroundings can also play a major role in increasing your risk of addiction. This is true on a number of levels and situations within your home environment. For example, peer pressure is rampant among young people because they desperately want to fit in. Peer pressure doesn’t necessarily mean bullying someone into using drugs or alcohol; it can also just be friends asking an individual to partake in the activity as a way of fitting in.

Another factor within your environment that raises your risk of addiction is minimum parental involvement in your life. It is common that those who have little parental communication, abuse, or even neglect from parents use drugs or alcohol to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

If your friend group regularly has drugs or alcohol nearby, you may find yourself constantly partaking in the consumption of the substances. This can be detrimental, as you are constantly around the addictive substances and cannot escape them.

These reasons are why many recovering addicts move away from their daily environment to aid in their sobriety.

What, When, How, & Why

The substance you are using can play a role in raising your risk of addiction. Some substances cause addiction to progress slowly while others progress more rapidly. Remember the impacts can also be more dangerous the younger you are.

If you are using certain drugs such as methamphetamines, cocaine, or heroin, you are more likely to become addicted faster. This is because these drugs have more physically addictive qualities on the body than other types of drugs. These drugs are also harder to overcome because their withdrawal symptoms tend to be more intense, causing you to use more to alleviate the discomfort.

How you are using drugs also plays a role in your addiction. Drugs can be consumed in a number of different ways, such as smoked, injected, or eaten. Different methods of using drugs can increase your risk of addiction based on how they flow through the body.

Smoking or injecting drugs, for example, goes directly to your brain and into your bloodstream. These methods are more addictive because the drugs are not filtered by your organs, such as when you consume the drugs orally. Why you use the substance also plays a role, as you already know. Alleviating symptoms of mental illness, physical discomfort, or trying to escape from your physical environment can cause you to use more.

Substance abuse cannot be blamed entirely on one factor or another. However, certain factors can increase your chances of developing an addiction later in life. Your genetics, surroundings, age of use, the drug of choice, method of use, and reasons for using play major roles in shaping the formation and progression of addiction in your brain. Knowing if you have any underlying risk factors for addiction can help you make smarter choices in the future concerning substance use. For more information on the risk factors for addiction, contact Northstar Transitions at (303) 558-6400.