Researchers in the field of substance abuse have discovered that specific risk factors make certain individuals more susceptible to addiction than others. These factors know no boundaries regarding gender, race, economic levels or age.
Not everyone who uses a drug or drinks alcohol becomes addicted. However, for some people, drug abuse and alcoholism are chronic disorders that eventually lead to organic changes in the brain. All of these changes are negative in nature, and certain substances even create a mental phenomenon where the addicted individual “forgets” how to be happy in a normal way, and must be high to enjoy anything. Below are the main risk factors that make some people more prone to the development of drug or alcohol than others:
Teenage Substance Abuse
Experimenting with alcohol, prescription medicine or illicit substances as a teenager substantially increases a person’s risk of becoming an addict. Researchers have determined that the adolescent brain is still developing, and during this time teenagers are prone to take more risks than adults because they have not yet developed the normal inhibitions that make them pause to think before experimenting with something potentially dangerous. Additionally, individuals who try drugs as teenagers are much more likely to develop long-term substance abuse disorders, even if there is a long gap between the time when they experimented with alcohol or pills in school and when an alcohol or drug problem developed later in life. According to the National Institute on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, 40 percent of individuals who take their first drink before 15 years of age become alcoholics as adults.
Family History and Genetics
Similar to other chronic health problems, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, scientists have discovered a genetic factor where substance abuse is concerned. Those with a history of alcoholism or drug abuse in their family have an increased vulnerability for such problems themselves, even if they never witnessed their parents or other family members abusing drugs. This does not mean the person is doomed to become an addict, but his or her biological make up creates an increased risk.
Environmental factors in the community as well as in one’s home are major contributors to the risk of becoming a substance abuser. Those who are raised in dysfunctional or abusive homes where alcohol or drugs were abused have an increased risk of becoming an addict as a teenager or later in life. Residing in impoverished communities can also place certain individuals at a higher risk: communities where substance abuse and alcoholism are rampant encourage the development of such problems in area residents.
Those with psychological conditions, such as post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder are at a higher risk for developing addiction. Additionally, those with what is now recognized as “borderline personality disorder” have certain characteristics that increase their risk of becoming a substance abuser. It is believed that impulse control is a contributing factor in such individuals. Those who have poor coping skills or an inability to handle stress are also at a higher risk of becoming an addict.
Scientists have also discovered that neglect or abuse in childhood, sexual molestation or other traumatic experiences in youth can shape a child’s brain chemistry and subsequently create vulnerability to substance abuse.
Rehab and Appropriate Treatment Essential to Recovery
Alcohol and drug abuse can be treated, and the best rehab programs focus on contributing factors and underlying causes for the addictive tendencies. If co-occurring disorders are present, they must be addressed during therapy. With appropriate treatment, risk factors contributing to addiction can be overcome. Those who have developed substance abuse problems should seek proper therapy immediately to increase their chances of a successful recovery.