Identifying the Risk Factors For Addiction

risk factors for addiction

The risk factors for addiction can range from social factors to biological factors. For example, drug abuse and substance use disorders are more likely to affect young males. 22% of males and 17% of females used illegal drugs or misused prescription drugs within the last year. 5% of people in non-metropolitan, rural counties used illegal drugs compared to 20.2% of people in larger metropolitan counties.

Drugs can affect emotions and thoughts. To prevent the risk of developing an addiction, individuals can take measures against common risk factors, some of which may include: 

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • History of chronic pain
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Involvement in criminal activity at an early age
  • Having poor relationships with one’s family members
  • Exposure to alcohol use by friends or parents at an early age
  • People looking to escape reality, or have tried another drug before

What Are Some of the Main Risk Factors for Addiction?

Addiction risk factors can be divided into three general groups: 

  1. Biological risk factors
  2. Behavioral risk factors
  3. Environmental risk factors

Biological Risk Factors

Biological risk factors include genetics and brain chemistry but the most important risk factor for addiction is whether or not an individual has tried illicit drugs at all. Your genetics can play a role in risk for developing a substance use disorder. 


Genetics may influence how quickly your body can break down alcohol. Or if you have naturally high levels of dopamine in your brain, the chemical that signals enjoyment and satisfaction. Genetically speaking, the risk for addiction varies depending on which gene you’re looking at.

A study by Howard Shaffer while he was at the University of Southern California found that genetic risk factors contribute 40% of the risk for alcoholism. Other risk factors are environmental influences on your life throughout development (ex: stress), neurobiology (how your brain works), availability of drugs. Your genetics also might determine which risk factors are more likely to affect you as well as whether you become addicted at all. 

So if addiction runs in your family, it is important for you to be aware that you could risk developing an addiction yourself. (Risk factor = hazard rate × exposure time)

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that between 40-60% of people who use drugs like:

  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamines
  • Ecstasy or Special K will become addicted to them; this rate increases significantly if they start using these substances in their teens or if they abuse alcohol too.

“Club drugs” such as ecstasy, meth, cocaine, ketamine, LSD, and GHB are primarily used in higher-income settings by young people. Among lower-income users, the most commonly used drugs are inhalants such as paint thinner, gasoline, paint, correction fluid, and glue.

Previous Health Conditions

Previous health conditions could increase the risk of addiction because you might be at risk for developing a substance abuse disorder. If you have an untreated medical condition such as bipolar disease, schizophrenia, anxiety, or depression then your risk is higher than someone who does not.

Mental Health Disorders

Major Depressive Episodes (MDE) affect 3.5 million adolescents and 4.6 million young adults nationwide. Unstable mental health causes individuals to be more vulnerable and risk suffering from a substance abuse disorder. 51.5 million or 20.6% of adults over the age of 18 have a mental illness. 13.1 million or 5.2% of adults have a serious mental illness.

Medications that can be helpful but may also be addictive are often a part of treatment for mental health problems. This may even intensify mental health disorders, leading to behavioral and chemical disorders. This could cause individuals to show a lack of responsibility and self-control. It can also cause people to succumb to peer pressure and experiment with drugs or alcohol. 

Environmental Risk Factors

Your environment plays a huge role in the risk of addiction. Environmental risk factors for drug abuse include:

  • Early exposure to drugs in the home
  • Peer pressure from friends who already use drugs
  • Living in a neighborhood where drugs are easily accessible
  • Poor parental supervision during adolescence

A risk factor is an environmental or genetic trait that heightens your risk of developing a certain disease or condition. Individuals who live in such environments are at risk of initiating drug use earlier than those who do not. Your risk for addiction goes up if you have friends and family members who abuse drugs and alcohol. People who lack jobs, money, housing, and overall purpose in life are at risk of turning to drug use as a coping mechanism because they already feel depressed and aimless without anything to do with their time.

Behavioral Risk Factors

Behavioral risks include your personality type and peer pressure to try drugs.


Stress is another factor to consider when determining risk factors for addiction. When an individual is under a great deal of stress, they are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol in order to cope. This causes risk for many types of addictions including smoking, prescription drug abuse, and alcoholism.

Financial/Relationship Hardships

Financial or relationship hardships are risk factors for drug or alcohol addiction. When an individual is going through hard times, they are more likely to turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

Social Media Addiction 

With the rise of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, many people have become addicted to the constant connection that is social media. Social media addiction is becoming a risk factor for depression which can risk turning into a full-blown addiction. The risk of addiction depends on how much time one spends on these sites per day. But those who spend an excessive amount of time online may find themselves at a higher risk of addiction than others.

Effects of Drug Abuse

Drug abuse also contributes to risk factors for addiction by altering the brain’s chemical makeup. Once chemicals are changed in the brain it is virtually impossible not to become addicted. The changes that occur with drug use affect every aspect of decision-making within the brain causing long-lasting effects on thinking patterns and behavior. These behaviors can lead individuals to engage in riskier activities such as sharing needles which increase the risk of contracting blood-borne illnesses like HIV.

The Impact of Addiction in the U.S.

The impact of addiction in the US is overwhelming. On a personal level, a person’s life is completely consumed with getting and using drugs; this may mean stealing or committing other dangerous crimes to obtain or finance their habit. Addicts also risk overdosing as the potency of street drugs like heroin fluctuates throughout the day.

Among Americans aged 12 years and older, 31.9 million are current illegal drug users (used within the last 30 days). 11.7% of Americans 12 and overuse illegal drugs.53 million or 19.4% of people 12 and over have used illegal drugs or misused prescription drugs within the last year.

The economic impact of addiction is equally staggering – healthcare costs related to substance abuse have been estimated at between $11 and $12 billion dollars each year by the NIDA. This number includes direct medical care for drug-addicted individuals as well as indirect costs such as lost productivity due to incarceration, unemployment, lack of health insurance, etc.

How Chronic Pain is Contributing to Addiction

Chronic pain is a common element among many substance abusers, and the drugs themselves can be addictive.  The risk is exacerbated when opioids are prescribed for pain management; not only do addicts risk overdosing if they continue abusing the drug(s) after their prescription has run out, but risk factors increase exponentially when prescriptions and illicit drugs (like heroin or fentanyl) are taken in combination. 

The risk of addiction increases, even more, when individuals obtain painkillers from family members/friends with leftover prescriptions. Both risk factors often occur simultaneously: which can increase the chances for addiction. Chronic pain sufferers risk addiction when their prescriptions a doctor does not monitor the individual’s medication use. A lack of cooperation between doctors and pharmacies can also cause unintentional medication misuse. 

To prevent risk factors for drug abuse, patients must be educated about the risk of addiction to opioids (and other drugs) early on in treatment. Not all risk factors can be controlled; however, educating yourself about them before treatment can help you reduce the risk of becoming addicted.

How Young Adults Are Prone to the Risk Factors for Drug Abuse

Young adults are prone to the risk factors for drug abuse because they are under the risk of peer pressure at college or high school. 70% of users who try an illegal drug before age 13 develop a substance abuse disorder within the next 7 years compared to 27% of those who try an illegal drug after age 17. 

They are surrounded by heavy drinkers and other drugs users.  While it is illegal for minors to drink, risk factors still exist because the social pressure to smoke, drink, or use substances can be overwhelming.

Early drug abuse correlates with substance abuse problems later in life, and the most significant increases in destructive behavior appear to take place among older teens and young adults. 2.08 million or 8.33% of 12- to 17-year-olds nationwide report using drugs in the last month. Among them, 83.88% report using marijuana in the last month. 591,000 teenagers aged 12- to 17-years-old used an illicit drug other than marijuana in the last month.

How to Stage an Intervention for Drug Abuse

Staging an intervention for drug abuse is a process that usually takes about three months. The first step to staging an intervention is to thoroughly list risk factors for drug abuse, such as a history of drug abuse in the family or depression. 

The next step is assembling your team of friends and family members who will support you through this time. After assembling all risk factors for addiction, it’s time to plan the intervention. It’s best to keep risk factors simple and ask everyone involved not to bring risk factors for addiction too far outside the comfort zone.

What Defines Addiction? 

Addiction can be defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug-seeking and uses, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her. Drug use is highest among persons between the ages of 18-25 at 39%, in comparison with persons between the ages of 26-29, at 34%.

The difference between addiction and dependence is that addiction is “maladaptive”, and dependence can be adaptive in moderation to help people function, such as the use of anti-diarrheal medication. Addiction consists of compulsive drug craving, seeking, and use that persists even in the face of devastating consequences to one’s health, relationships, or responsibilities.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the addiction or drug, but they can include:

  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Depression
  • Nervousness
  • Sleep problems
  • Agitation or anxiety
  • A strong craving for drugs/alcohol
  • Loss of appetite/weight loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Vomiting

What Are The Treatments Available for Addiction?

The continuum of care model is to treat those affected by the risk factors for drug abuse that provides a treatment plan based on initial risk factors for addiction level.  It can be applied to different substances and their risk factor levels, such as low-risk factors for alcohol abuse or high-risk factors for heroin addiction.  

Treatment services and programs can include:

Individuals with low risk for drugs will most likely benefit from outpatient services, which include behavioral therapies and treatment plans tailored to the individual’s history and what they need to overcome risk factors. 

Indications of high-risk factors would mean an inpatient service is necessary, which includes detoxification and medically managed withdrawal. Initial testing determines the appropriate level of care required by an individual who struggles with addiction and co-occurring disorders such as risk factors depression.

Enter a New Phase of Recovery at North Jersey Rehabs

If you’re deciding to enter treatment for substance abuse, your opportunity for growth is at your feet. Long-term substance abuse can present drastic changes to your life and those around you. Don’t wait until your substance use progresses to receive the necessary care. North Jersey Rehabs is dedicated to providing you with the tools to manifest a healthier lifestyle. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, feel free to contact one of our facilities today!


Get in touch with North Jersey Rehabs

Please complete the form below to contact North Jersey Rehabs. If You need immediate assistance, please call (201) 928-5822. We’re waiting to hear from you!