Alcoholism and drug addiction are chronic diseases that cause long-term changes to the brain. These changes include a craving for the addictive substance as well as withdrawal symptoms when an individual tries to quit using the substance.
Not everyone who drinks alcohol or uses a drug becomes addicted. Researchers have found there are certain risk factors that make one person more prone to addiction than another. These risk factors cut across all ages and economic levels and affect both men and women.
Teenage Substance Abuse
Teenagers who use alcohol or drugs are more likely to have problems with addiction as adults. During adolescence, the brain is still developing and is particularly sensitive to drugs and alcohol. It is also more vulnerable to addiction. Combine a developing brain with a teenager’s natural tendency to experiment and take risks and you have a recipe for future addiction.
Genetics and Family History
Like other chronic disorders including heart disease, diabetes and cancer, there is a genetic factor associated with addiction. Individuals who have a history of drug abuse or alcoholism in their family need to be aware of their genetic vulnerability for addiction. It is not a guarantee that they will also become addicted, but it does mean that their biological makeup will make it harder to stop using an addictive substance once they start.
Home and Community
Environmental factors in the home and community are large contributors to the risk of addiction. Growing up in an abusive home or with parents who were addicted increases the chances of abusing drugs or alcohol. Living in a community that is dangerous or impoverished can put and individual at risk of addiction. A community where drug and alcohol abuse are rampant will foster addiction among its residents.
Individuals with psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder are at greater risk of becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs. There are also certain personality traits that increase the risk of addiction, including aggression and problems with impulse control. Low self esteem and perfectionism can also contribute to the risk of addiction.
Highly Addictive Substances
Some substances are far more addictive than others. Use of these substances will put anyone at a high risk of addiction. These substances include methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. Even people who have no other risk factors can become addicted after only a few uses of these highly addictive substances.
Drug and alcohol addiction are treatable conditions. The best treatment programs focus on the causes and contributing factors for the addiction. If there are co-occurring disorders, they should be addressed as part of addiction treatment. Counseling and therapy should include problems in the family environment. With proper treatment, the risks that contributed to an addiction can be overcome.