Becoming Addicted

Why Some People Are Affected More

As researchers become more familiar with identifying the biological and environmental risk factors that can lead to addiction, they are beginning to discover some of the differences between people who become addicted and those who do not. These risk factors form a complex blend in which the combined influences have been known to bring about addiction.

Scientists have identified biology (including genes), mental health, social environment, childhood trauma and even the age at which a person begins to use drugs as key factors that affect whether or not a drug or alcohol user becomes addicted.

The Widely Recognized Risk Factors Include:

  1. Genes: Genetics play a significant role: having parents with alcoholism, for instance, makes you four times more likely than other children to become alcoholics. More than 60 percent of alcoholics have family histories of alcoholism.
  2. Personality: Many addicted people also suffer from mental health disorders, especially anxiety, depression or mood illnesses. Some people who suffer from social anxiety, stress-related disorders, and depression begin abusing drugs in an attempt to lessen feelings of distress.
  3. Early use of drugs: The earlier a person begins to use drugs the more likely they are to progress to more serious abuse. In this respect adolescents may be particularly vulnerable because of the strong influence of peer pressure; they are more likely, for example, to engage in new and daring behaviors.
  4. Social environment: People who live, work or go to school in an environment in which the use of alcohol and other drugs is common – such as a workplace in which people see heavy drinking as an important way to bond with coworkers – are more likely to abuse drugs.
  5. Childhood trauma: Scientists know that abuse or neglect of children, persistent conflict in the family, sexual abuse and other traumatic childhood experiences can shape a child’s brain chemistry and subsequent vulnerability to addiction.

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