What is it that makes a person more likely to get hooked on drugs or alcohol? How can two people experiment with the same drugs, leaving one to be addicted and the other not? These are questions that the science and medical communities don’t even have answers to. It’s not exactly clear what leads to addiction, although it’s believed that a combination of factors such as genetics, co-occurring disorders and family background play a role.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older used illicit drugs or a psychotherapeutic medication in the past month in 2012, the latest year for which this information is available. This number is up and mostly reflects the recent rise in marijuana use. More than half of new illicit drug users begin with marijuana.
Most people use drugs for the first time when they are teenagers, and drug use is highest among people in their late teens and 20s. Interestingly, drug use is increasing in people in their 50s, mainly because of the baby boomers who have a higher rate of illicit drug use compared to previous generations.
What is it that makes a teenager more likely to become addicted? What is that makes an adult more likely to continue using? Let’s take a closer at some of the contributing factors.
Age at First Use
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, children who have their first drink at age 14 or younger are six times more likely to develop alcohol problems than those who don’t try drinking until they are 21.
Why is this? Perhaps it’s because the younger the person is, the more time they have to experiment with other substances. Or, it could be that children who are interested in drinking at a young age have trouble at home or are dealing with emotional disorders that they are trying to escape.
Whatever the case, young people who experiment with drugs and alcohol deserve special attention. It’s important to intervene and get down to the root of the problem (i.e., family problems, lack of self esteem, academic struggles, depression) before it becomes a lifelong problem.
Behavior and Personality
Sometimes, it boils down to the behavior and personality of the person that makes them more likely to use and abuse drugs. What’s interesting is that these personality traits can be on opposite sides of the spectrum. For example, one teenager may have a strong need for independence, be naturally rebellious and display a favorable attitude toward drug use. This person may be just as likely to abuse drugs as the quiet, antisocial teenager struggling with anxiety.
Some of the most crucial behavior and personality factors that can be predictors of future problems include :
- Social alienation
- Approval of drug use
- Need for attention
- Sense of heightened stress
Family and Background
The family dynamic also plays a role in the risk of developing a drug addiction. This is why recovering addicts are always asked to look deeper into their background to understand where the addiction stemmed from. Some of the biggest family risk factors for children developing substance abuse disorders are:
- Family attitudes toward alcohol and drug use
- Family behavior
- Family conflict
- Physical, emotional, sexual abuse
- Poor parenting practices (poor discipline, low academic expectations, unclear expectations)
- Maternal risk factors (low attachment and involvement, manipulative behavior)
Environmental and Social
Environmental and social risk factors also play a critical role in the onset of addiction. Families become very concerned about who their children hang around with as teens and young adults because of the influence of peer pressure. Yet it’s not just the friends that someone hangs around with that make a difference. Societal factors are of concern, too.
Take the increasing use of marijuana over recent years. This has come from the growing acceptance of the drug and its legalization in some states. If society doesn’t view the drug as harmful enough to be illegal, then why should someone else?
Below are environmental and social risk factors for addiction.
- Influence of peers
- Trends in social norms
- Laws governing substance abuse
- Academic failure
- Living conditions (high crime rate, deteriorating neighborhood)
Addiction Doesn’t Discriminate
One of the great mysteries of addiction is that no one truly knows whether or not they have an addictive nature – until they experiment with drugs. By then, it could be too late. At The RS, we see clients from both sides. Some have dealt with a lot of family conflict, growing up in transient neighborhoods with limited opportunity. Others were raised by loving families in affluent neighborhoods.
Addiction has no boundaries. And, no one makes the decision to be addicted. If you know someone experimenting with drugs or alcohol, take it seriously. You never know what contributing factors are there, and some have more addictive potential than others. Not everyone who experiments with drugs or alcohol becomes addicted, but everyone who is addicted experimented at some point. Stop the cycle by recognizing the signs of addiction and knowing how to intervene.