Talking about risk factors for drug abuse can be difficult. That’s because there are so many different factors that feed into it. So, we would like to say, right off the bat, that no one thing can lead to drug abuse or addiction. Instead, numerous factors relate to each other in complicated ways. The presence of any or all of these risk factors does not guarantee that an individual will become addicted to any substance or will even use it at all.
We know that if parent abuses substances regularly, their children are more likely to abuse those substances as well. This, in combination with the fact that identical twins have more similar rates of addiction than fraternal twins, seems to imply that there could be a genetic component to addiction. But even if genetics are involved, even if someone can have a genetic predisposition to substance abuse, this does not guarantee that the person will develop a substance abuse problem. Instead, it might make them more vulnerable to having one.
We can consider the D2 receptor as another biological risk factor. It is a type of dopamine receptor in the reward circulatory of the brain. Some studies suggest that people with fewer D2 receptors might have a higher risk of addiction compared to those who have the typical number of receptors. We know that many substances are associated with an increase in dopamine within the reward circuits in the brain. Having fewer receptors might explain why individuals seek out drugs in the first place.
Psychological Risk Factors
One thing that tends to get asked a lot is if there is such a thing as an addictive personality. The answer is, probably yes. While there is no single personality trait that causes a person to become addicted, researchers have identified several personality traits that seem to be present in many individuals with substance abuse problems. One of these is impulsivity. When we talk about impulsivity here, we mean an inability to control oneself. The inability to inhibit one’s actions, even when faced with negative consequences.
Another component is sensation seeking. The need to seek out elevated levels of external stimulation and new experiences. So, a constant need for new, more thrilling things in life. Risk sensitivity also plays a role. So, individuals who focus solely on the benefits of the experiences without thinking about the risks. The last personality factor we will talk about is neuroticism or being abnormally tense and anxious and sensitive to stress. These individuals might be at risk because they might attempt to minimize their stress reactions through self-medication.
Environmental Risk Factors
When we talk about this type of risk factor, we are looking at a pattern that might make an individual more vulnerable to addiction but not necessarily ensure that the person will show definite signs of addiction. One of the most important environmental factors seems to be the presence of stress in an individual’s life, both childhood stress and everyday stress. Animals who are placed in stressful environments, tend to self-administer more substances than animals who are not exposed to stressors.
When we talk about stressors, we mean a lot of different things. Some of them might be family related. Children in families with marital instability tend to have a higher risk, as are individuals who suffer abuse, whether that be physical, sexual, or psychological. Lack of enough family involvement from parents and siblings and lack of familial supervision also seems to increase the risk for substance abuse.
Social Risk Factors
The friends an individual has can also play a role. If a friend group uses substances and highly approves of them, an individual is more likely to start. This might be true for several reasons. One is that we make friends with people because of shared interests. So, we might hold things that our friends believe in high esteem. Another reason is social facilitation. Substances are often abused in a group setting, so they can serve to enhance the social bond. We have not mentioned it yet but of course, peer pressure can also play a role.
The availability of substances can also make an enormous difference. When substances are easily available, the ease of obtaining them will push people to use them. The type of drug can also have an influence. There are some with a fast rate of administration. These can be consumed by being injected or snorted or smoked. The drugs consumed by these three means are more likely to be abused than those ingested orally because they take effect faster. This causes the brain to form a stronger association which might make it more likely that they will crave the drug in the future.
You might think that all of these environmental factors are less important than some of the biological and psychological factors that we talked about before. But we want you to know that this is not the case. We’ve talked about all the risk factors, but we want to tell you that even though we discussed them separately, these three things are interconnected. Certain environmental factors might put an individual at a greater risk of substance abuse, but it is only when those things are combined with biological and psychological predispositions that they would start to take effect.