Risk Factors for Substance Abuse and Addiction

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Addiction is a serious condition that affects the lives of millions of Americans every year. Living with an untreated addiction can lead to serious–even life-threatening–consequences. These include damage to your physical health and emotional well-being, financial and legal trouble, and the loss of important relationships and opportunities.

While anyone can develop issues with substance abuse or addiction, some personal and environmental risk factors make drug abuse and addiction more likely. Understanding these risk factors and how they impact a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction can help you avoid substance abuse or to recognize it if it has already developed.

Understanding Risk Factors for Drug Use and Addiction

Some of the risk factors for substance abuse and addiction begin with choices. While it might be impossible to go back in time and make a different initial decision, people can learn skills to manage certain personal risk factors that contribute to their addiction. Common risk factors include:

Drug of Choice

Using methamphetamines, heroin, and cocaine are more likely to result in addiction than alcohol or marijuana–although it is possible to develop addictions to these substances. More addictive drugs alter the way the brain works, and people who use them for even a short time can find that they are addicted to these substances.

Method of Use

Generally, drugs that you inject or smoke are considered to be more addictive than drugs that you take by mouth. This is because when injected or smoked, drugs enter your bloodstream and brain without being filtered by the liver and other major organs. This can result in a greater amount of the substance circulating the body quickly.

Age of First Use

The age of your first use seems to affect your likelihood of developing an addiction. The younger a person is when they first begin to use drugs, the more likely they are to live with addiction later in life. It is also thought that if people use drugs or alcohol before their brain has completely developed, it can cause structural changes that may make them more susceptible to mental health issues when they are adults.


The place you live and the people you spend time with can seriously affect your likelihood of abusing substances or developing an addiction. If your social group consists mainly of people who abuse substances, you are more likely to do the same.

If you recognize yourself in any of these risk factors, you need to talk to a medical or addiction professional who can help determine what support you need to overcome or avoid addiction.

Recognizing Other Risk Factors for Addiction

While some risk factors for substance abuse and addiction are things that you can change or manage, some are not. Addiction, and the circumstances that contribute to it, are often out of people’s control. These include:

Mental Illness

People who live with a mental illness such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder are more likely than the general population to develop an addiction. When someone lives with both a substance use disorder and a mental illness, it is referred to as having a dual diagnosis. If someone starts addiction treatment, it is important to seek treatment at a facility qualified to provide dual diagnosis treatment.

Family History

If someone in your family has developed an addiction, it is more likely that you will, too. Research suggests that as much as 50% of your likelihood of developing an addiction comes from your family history.

Lack of Parental Involvement

Children who experience a lack of parental involvement are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors as teenagers and adults, including experimenting with drugs and alcohol. While this is not universal, it is a potential risk factor for developing an addiction.

Illness or Injury

Some people use drugs or alcohol to mask the symptoms of a physical illness or develop an addiction to prescription medications. Living with chronic pain can impact a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Although you cannot control things like your family history, parenting, or health, it is still possible to learn skills that can help you manage the effect of these issues on your life without using drugs or alcohol.

Find Help Today

If you or someone you love need more information or treatment for substance abuse, reach out to the staff at New Jersey Addiction Interventions. We know anyone can recover from addiction if they have the comprehensive treatment and the right support. Taking your life back from substance abuse starts with education. We will get you the answers you need and offer the best treatment available so that you can learn to live the healthy life you deserve.

Don’t wait another day for life-saving addiction treatment. Call now to get started.

Medically Reviewed: October 25, 2021

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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