Alexandra LaFollette
January 17, 2020

What Kind of People are Likely to Become Addicted to Drugs? 10 Risk Factors.

Drug addiction can happen to anyone at any time. Luckily, there are identifiable risk factors for high-risk individuals and even yourself.

There are two types of major risk factors: biological and environmental.




The first and primary risk factor for addiction is family history or genetics.

Both genetic and environmental variables contribute to the initiation of the use of addictive agents and to the transition from use to addiction. Addictions are moderate to highly heritable. Family, adoption and twin studies reveal that an individual’s risk tends to be proportional to the degree of genetic relationship to an addicted relative.

Simply put, if your father or mother was an addict, there are good odds that you have a predisposition towards addiction. It doesn't have to be a direct family member, however. Look to you or the subject's family tree - how far back can addiction be identified, if at all?


The metabolism of an individual defines how easily they process and utilize substances. Think about a coworker or friend who can have one cup of coffee and receive a great effect from the caffeine, while other individuals you know who drink the same dosage can barely get out of bed.

Individuals who process substances more slowly (a slower metabolism) will require less of the substance to receive the same effect, meaning they will re-dose more slowly, and they will be less likely to develop an addiction.



Men are more likely to become addicted to substances than women.

Typically, men are more likely to abuse illicit drugs and alcohol – 11.5% of males over 12 have a substance use disorder, compared to 6.4% of females. However, women are more likely to go to the emergency room or fatally overdose due to substance abuse.

There are a variety of reasons for this, some physiological, some sociological.


The method of ingestion of a substance can play a role in susceptibility to addiction. Injecting, insufflating (snorting), or smoking a substance helps it immediately enter your bloodstream and go straight to your brain. This is a more instant gratification than, say, digestion.


There are a variety of substances and a variety of factors that make them addictive. Methamphetamine and cocaine cause an instant spike in dopamine, making them very powerful and addictive substances. Opioids directly interact with your opioid receptors. The American Society of Addiction Medicine has stated that nearly ¼ of people who try heroin for the first time become addicted.


Environmental Risk Factors


Children whose parents are less involved in their life are at a higher risk for addiction. Family difficulties, such as dysfunction, divorce, or infighting, can also play a factor. This adds to another category below - stress.


Stress, simply put, is your body's reaction to a negative stimulus, whether that is environmental, physical, or psychological. It is also one of the key factors in developing an addiction. Stress experienced at early developmental stages can alter your genetic makeup and keep you in a high state of stress for life.

Many drugs have a sedative effect on them, allowing an addict to self medicate against stress. Stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine release dopamine, even if they do not reduce your heart rate or mania.



Who is the individual spending time with? Distinct risk factors for addiction involve merely being around others who use or sell substances. Less obvious factors include interacting with or only being around individuals who cause stress. Being around individuals who remind you of a bad experience or place can also trigger cravings for substances.


Research has proven that the earlier an individual begins using substances, the more likely they are to have an addiction.

Individuals who used cannabis by age 17 years had odds of other drug use, alcohol dependence, and drug abuse/dependence that were 2.1 to 5.2 times higher than those of their co-twin, who did not use cannabis before age 17 years. Controlling for known risk factors (early-onset alcohol or tobacco use, parental conflict/separation, childhood sexual abuse, conduct disorder, major depression, and social anxiety) had only negligible effects on these results. These associations did not differ significantly between monozygotic and dizygotic twins.


Substance addiction can arise from the most simple of circumstances to the most complicated. Homelessness is a significant factor in addiction.

Although obtaining an accurate, recent count is difficult, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2003) estimates, 38% of homeless people were dependent on alcohol and 26% abused other drugs. Alcohol abuse is more common in older generations, while drug abuse is more common in homeless youth and young adults (Didenko and Pankratz, 2007). Substance abuse is much more common among homeless people than in the general population. According to the 2006 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 15% of people above the age of 12 reported using drugs within the past year and only 8% reported using drugs within the past month.


Other factors can be as simple as repeated prescriptions for pain management, and students/career workers taking stimulants to stay competitive. Certain occupations such as truck drivers, oilfield workers, and fishermen that work long hours and require a high state of vigilance have higher than average rates of abuse and addiction.


There is no fool-proof way to evaluate who will become an addict and who will not, but these guidelines are some of the many possible risk factors. There are many other risk factors, and consulting with an addiction professional can shed insight on other potential stressors that can contribute to addiction.

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