The question “how does someone become an addict?” does not have a simple solution. There is not one single factor that determines if someone will become an addict or not. However, there are certain biological and environmental attributes, which serve as risk factors that will greatly increase the chance an individual will develop an addiction if they are exposed to drugs alcohol or other substances.
The following risk factors are the reason some people become addicted while others do not.
Biological Risk Factors for Addiction
Even though there is no “addiction gene”, there are certain biological factors that affect someone’s chances of becoming addicted or not. These factors include:
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that genetic material is responsible for about half, or 40-60%, of the risk of alcohol use disorder. There is not one single gene that is responsible to a genetic predisposition of addiction, but instead the reality is there are hundreds of genes that could affect the chance of addiction, which all play a small role in the larger picture.
Just because someone in your family has struggled with addiction does not mean that you will as well, but it will increase the chances. For example, if a parent struggles with addiction, it is 8 times more likely that their child will suffer from addiction as well.
During adolescence, the brain functions that control decision making, judgment, and planning are not fully developed. Because of this, the teen brain is much more likely to want to participate in risky behavior. More than this, early drug use can influence the development of the brain, making someone much more susceptible to addiction in the future. The earlier a person begins experimenting with drugs, the more likely they are to become addicted.
Co-occurring mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can leave people at a greater risk for addiction. While there are many reasons this happens, sometimes people believe taking drugs or alcohol will help alleviate their mental health symptoms, but it is not a permanent or successful solution. In addition, because mental illness can affect the same brain chemicals as addiction, co-occurring disorders are very common.
Environmental Risk Factors for Addiction
The other half of risk factors for addiction are due to environmental conditions. These influences can be related to family, friends, or a person’s surroundings. The most impactful environmental influences include:
Home and Family Life
Everything from parenting styles, family interactions, and levels of supervision play a pivotal role in the development of substance abuse later in life. When learning how to cope with stress in our early years, we learn from our parents are guardians, and even mirror these habits if they are unhealthy such as drug abuse. Physical/emotional/sexual abuse, authoritarian and avoidant parenting, and divorce are all correlated with an increased likelihood for addiction.
Accessibility to Drugs and Alcohol
If drugs and alcohol are easily accessible to an individual, there is a much greater chance they will experiment with them. This includes environments such as home, school, or greater community. A high level of accessibility to drugs and alcohol, in combination with a lack of knowledge about the effects of these substances, lead to higher rates of addiction.
Especially for teens, pressure from peers and immediate friend group can become a huge risk factor for addiction. Due to the fact that adolescents are so easily impressionable, many teens will start abusing drugs because their friends are, and they want to fit in with the crowd. This sense of belonging in a group and feeling connected to others is a strong influence in the start and maintenance of addiction.
While these biological and environmental risk factors may put someone at a greater risk of addiction, it does not mean their fate is sealed. While you may not be able to change your genetics or environment, seeking help in the early stages of addiction can ensure your life stays on the right path.
At Desert Rose Recovery, we have a deep understanding of the risk factors linked to addiction. We work with our patients to get to the heart of the addiction and create a customized path to sobriety for each individual. Call us today to speak with an addiction specialist.