What Are the Risk Factors for Addiction?

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What Are the Risk Factors for Addiction?

One curious thing about addiction is that relatively few people develop it. For example, alcohol is generally considered an addictive substance, yet although more than 60 percent of Americans drink and about half binge drink, only about 12 percent of those people develop alcohol use disorder. What are the factors that make some people become addicted while others don’t? Research shows there are roughly four main factors.


The biggest factor in whether or not you develop addiction is your genes. Studies of twins and adopted children have allowed researchers to determine that half your risk for developing addiction is genetic. What that means, exactly, is a messy question. Some genes have been identified that seem to be closely related specifically to substance use, and often to specific substances. For example, there is a specific allele of a dopamine receptor gene that is more common in people who are addicted to cocaine or alcohol. On the other hand, people with two copies of another specific gene variation almost never develop alcohol use disorder. Some genes are protective, while others put you at greater risk. The best indicator of genetic risk is whether you have a parent or sibling with a substance use disorder.

Mental illness

Mental illness is another major risk factor for developing addiction. By various estimates, anywhere between 50 and 80 percent of people with substance use disorders have a co-occurring mental health issue. These issues include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, OCD, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, and personality disorders. Complicating the genetic picture above, many of these disorders have a strong genetic component as well. It may be hard to untangle whether a person’s genetic predisposition to a substance use disorder is because they are susceptible to the substance or to a mental health issue.

Early use

The younger someone starts using drugs and alcohol, even just experimentally, the greater the likelihood that he or she will develop an addiction later in life. Again, this factor is more complex than it sounds. For example, if you have a parent with a substance use disorder, you are more likely to have access to drugs or alcohol from a younger age. There are also certain conditions that are associated with earlier age of use. For example people with schizophrenia or ADHD typically use drugs and alcohol at an earlier age, although it’s not completely clear why. Whatever the cause, early use is associated with greater addiction risk. Some people with serious substance use disorders start as young as 10 or 12.


Trauma actually falls under the broader category of environmental influences. These include various forms of abuse, neglect, and trauma. Children who suffered abuse and women in abusive relationships, for example, are more likely to develop depression and addiction. People who develop PTSD, perhaps after an accident or assault, have an extremely high risk of developing a substance use issue, perhaps as high as 60 percent.

Pinnacle Recovery specializes in inpatient rehabilitation, trauma recovery, AA programs and AA alternatives, experiential therapy, dual diagnosis, family therapy, co-occurring and dual diagnosis addictions. We also offer a wide range of sober living and intensive outpatient treatment programs. Call 1-866-301-0573 today for more information.

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