Content Reviewed by Cameron Bolish, M.Ed., CEO of PaRC

Many people believe that the main factor that plays into the development of addiction is genetics. While it is more likely for an individual to develop an addiction if addiction “runs” in their family, this is only one of the many risk factors involved in whether or not a person will experience addiction in their lifetime.

Addiction affects everyone differently because every person has unique DNA structure, which causes each individual to react differently to any given chemical substance. It is not enough to suggest that a person should just stay away from alcohol or other drugs altogether. Instead, it is essential to bring awareness to the risk factors that increase an individual’s likeliness of developing an addiction.

Risk Factor: Genetic Vulnerabilities

Inherited genes do play a role in whether or not a person may develop an addiction. Substance use significantly alters an individual’s brain, especially with cognitive functioning. If a parent uses alcohol or other drugs, the chemistry of their DNA changes. When that parent has a child, their child will inherit some of those altered genes, making them more susceptible to developing an addiction.

It is important to note that although a person may have higher risks of developing an addiction, it may not be a substance use addiction. Even if a relative struggles with an alcohol addiction, a family member may struggle with a gambling or technology addiction instead. The main concern is that the risk of developing any addiction increases with genetic vulnerabilities.

The factor of genetics is also important when considering dual diagnoses. Having a co-occurring mental health condition is a risk factor in and of itself, although mental health conditions can also be inherited. It is essential to recognize that everyone is born with different genes, which can increase an individual’s likeliness of experiencing a mental health condition and/or co-occurring addiction.

Risk Factor: Environmental Exposure

Several environmental risk factors can play a role in the development of addiction. These factors might also be the reasons why people use drugs. These risk factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Early exposure to alcohol or other drugs
  • Growing up in households where parents or siblings regularly used substances
  • Peer rejection
  • Early patterns of aggressive behavior
  • Unresolved trauma, unresolved grief, or abuse during childhood
  • Peer pressure and trying to “fit in”
  • The availability of alcohol or other drugs
  • Lack of family or parental involvement
  • Poverty, homelessness, or relatives in conflict with the law

When young people are exposed to alcohol or other drugs, they become more curious about the effects of chemical substances. They may want to experiment because their peers are using substances or are generally curious and want to experiment. If alcohol and other drugs are used openly and are readily available in a person’s environment, they are also more likely to start regularly drinking alcohol or using drugs themselves.

As a parent, there are many factors to be concerned about, especially if your family struggles with poverty, homelessness or other trauma. A child or young adult may turn to substances as a temporary escape from their life distress, especially if their parents do the same. Parents and guardians must try to monitor their children and stay involved in their lives to reduce their risks of using or potentially becoming addicted to substances.

Risk Factor: Drug-Specific Factors

If individuals do choose to use drugs or alcohol, there are drug-specific factors that can contribute to whether or not a person will become addicted to a substance. Why do some people develop addiction quickly while it may take several years before they develop an addiction for others? The answer is that there are increased risk factors involved in specific substances being used.

Some drug-specific risk factors include:

  • Drug of choice: Some drugs are more physically or psychologically addictive than others.
  • Frequency of drug use: Some people drink alcohol or use drugs every so often, whereas others turn to substance use daily.
  • Intensity of drug use: An individual can become addicted to substances more quickly when they use substances in larger quantities.
  • Route of administration: Drugs that are injected tend to be more addictive than drugs that are swallowed. Injecting or smoking drugs causes the substance to go directly into the bloodstream, which makes them more potent in nature.

Identifying Protective Factors

Protective factors reduce the risks of potentially developing an addiction. Protective factors also help to ensure that children experience a balance in their home, school and social functioning.

Protective factors include:

  • Strong and positive family bonds
  • Increased parental involvement and monitoring of children’s activities and peers
  • Clear boundaries and expectations that are set and enforced within the family
  • Positive self-esteem and good mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health
  • Success in academics, strong bonds with peers and involvement in extracurricular activities
  • Age-appropriate education surrounding the concerns and consequences of drug use

It is essential to recognize the protective factors that can help prevent the development of addiction in your family. PaRC (Prevention and Recovery Center) is a substance use and addiction treatment center that has programs for individuals struggling with substance use at any age. For more information about risk factors of substance use and addiction, or for more about the treatment center programs that we offer, call us today at (713) 939-7272.