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Updated: Apr 24

What makes one person more likely than another to develop an addiction problem?

Addiction is complicated as it has an impact on a person's behaviour and brain, addiction can cause harm in several ways. The word “addiction” is mostly associated with drug abuse and alcoholism. It is important to remember that addiction can take many forms for example, gambling, sex, social media, etc. What makes one person more vulnerable to develop an addiction problem? There is no straightforward reason for why some people develop addictions while others do not, thus there is no simple solution. However, research has uncovered a number of probable causes that could fuel addiction.

Risk factors for addiction:

There are many risk factors for addiction, from individual factors such as stress tolerance and personality makeup to social factors such as friendships and educational and job opportunities. These factors engage in dynamic interactions that are particular to each individual. The emotional and physical appeal of a substance at a particular moment in a person’s life can be a trigger for addiction for anyone. The effects of drugs are pleasurable and rewarding only in relation to how a person feels emotionally and physically in the context of his or her relationships and social life.

What factors play a role in addiction?

1. How genes can play a role in addiction:

People choose whether or not to use drugs or alcohol; this initial decision is related to personal responsibility. However, once drug or alcohol use has started, one of the major contributing factors for addiction is a person’s genetics. Given that certain people are genetically predisposed to addiction, genes can have a big impact on how addiction develops (Linnér et al., 2020). People with a first-degree relative (parent, children, sibling) with addiction may have an increased risk of developing an addiction. Research, such as an article from Behavioural Pharmacology, indicates that an individual’s genetic makeup can affect how susceptible the person is to developing addiction. The genetic predisposition of an individual may explain why some people are more likely than others to develop a substance use disorder (Linnér et al., 2020).

2. How the environment can play a role in addiction:

There are many factors that influence addiction beyond genes and biology. One of the most significant is the family milieu and early life experiences. Family interactions, parenting style, and levels of supervision all play a role in development of coping skills and susceptibility to mental health (Mennis et al., 2016). Other environmental factors that may affect the onset of substance use include peer pressure, unstable home environment, parents that use drugs, presence of drugs at home, and community influence (Mennis et al., 2016). Studies have connected family violence, divorce, and authoritarian or negligent parenting to a higher risk of substance use issues in later life (Coomber et al., 2019). Growing up with strong links to and a sense of belonging to a family, to a religious tradition, and to a culture is proven to be protective against addiction.

3. How peer pressure can play a role in addiction:

A major environmental contributor to developing an addiction is whether or not the individual’s friends and social circle engage in regular substance use. It can be the start of a habit that could lead to substance abuse if the person feels compelled to take drugs or alcohol when out with friends (Keyzers et al., 2020).

4. How Co-Occurring Mental Conditions can play a role in addiction:

People may experience stress and anxiety due to a mental health disorder, which increases the risk of addiction. People who struggle with mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, may start using drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. In other words, the individual continues to use drugs or alcohol in order to keep the symptoms of their mental illness at bay. By doing so helps to lessen the unpleasant emotions that go along with it. About 50% of people with a substance use disorder also struggle with mental health problems (Matscheck & Piuva, 2020). People who have untreated mental illnesses may use drugs or alcohol as self-medication to treat their symptoms. Those with anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorders are twice as likely to have a substance use disorder (Chavan et al., 2021).

5. How trauma can play a role in addiction:

There is a clear, yet very complex, relationship between trauma and substance abuse. Around two-thirds of those who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also have a drug or alcohol addiction. Exposure to traumatic experiences, especially those occurring in childhood, has been linked to substance use disorders (SUDs), including abuse and dependence (Belfrage et al., 2022). More than 70 percent of adolescents in substance abuse treatment today have a history of trauma exposure (Belfrage et al., 2022).

6. How early drug experimentation can play a role in addiction:

Early drug use can alter the developing brain in ways that are irreversible and greatly raise the likelihood of addiction. Developmental factors in addiction are based on the fact that drug use can have an even more detrimental effect on the developing brain than on the adult brain. According to information from Live Science, teens are more likely to make decisions based on the reward involved, rather than on other factors. Young people may become more likely to engage in drug-using behaviors that lead to addiction as a result of this (Vitiello, 1998).

7. How prescriptions and other factors can play a role in addiction:

There are additional reasons that can cause addiction that are more related to the drugs themselves and less to the person in question (Pacula et al., 2017). For example, certain drugs, like benzodiazepines, are more likely to result in addiction if used for long periods of time. Research described by NIDA shows that benzos act specifically to disturb the dopamine system, which can result in addictive behaviors over time (Pacula et al., 2017). Some medical professionals may administer lengthy courses of these medications without being aware of the issue, which may cause patients to gradually develop addiction (Pacula et al., 2017). This can be particularly dangerous if individuals develop tolerance and begin to misuse the drugs, increasing frequency or dosages (Pacula et al., 2017).

8. How stress can play a role in addiction:

Stress is a risk factor for developing an addiction. If you experience chronic stress at any moment in your life or are exposed to stress in your early years, your risk is higher. Stress is also a barrier to recovery for people in active addiction, and it is a risk factor for relapse. Researchers have long linked the effects of chronic stress to alcohol use (of Clinical Investigation et al., n.d.).

9. How personality traits can play a role in developing addiction:

Although there is no one set addictive personality type, researchers who study the causes of addiction have found a number of traits that are closely linked to an increased risk of drug or alcohol abuse.

People with this higher addiction risk include those who are:

· The Adventurous, Risk-Taking Trait: Individuals who like to take risks and who have little impulse control around experimenting and playing with new experiences and dangerous activities are more likely to try drugs (Maté, 2011).

· The Disconnected, Cautious Trait: Addiction can also occur in cautious persons who struggle with social interactions and at the same time experience depression, anxiety or both (Hari, 2015).

· The Obsessive, Compulsive Trait - Addiction sometimes has to do with a lack of impulse control, but this is not exclusively the inability to resist impulses. In fact, people who are too rigid with managing their impulses may also end up using substances as a manifestation of an obsessive-compulsive behavior pattern. In actuality, addiction frequently develops into a need to take the substance as a result of a habit that has developed over time as opposed to a single impulse to try something new (Hari, 2015).

· Being unable to self-regulate: The individual has an inability to regulate behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that might otherwise enable an ability to moderate use of alcohol or other substances (Maté, 2011).

· Impulsivity: Impulsive people are often viewed as fun to be around due to their spontaneous nature, but this personality trait has a serious dark side. Impulsive people frequently make decisions without giving the decision's possible risks a second thought. They will act in accordance with whatever course of action seems like a good idea at the time, which can often place them in risky circumstances involving alcohol and illegal substances (Hari, 2015).

· Nonconformity: People who are seeking addiction treatment often describe themselves as nonconformists. Because of their interests, values, and goals, they see themselves as fundamentally different from their peers. This lack of perceived support from friends and/or family can increase the desire to turn to drugs and alcohol when faced with challenging situations (Maté, 2011).

· Anxiety: Anxious people may be troubled by thoughts about interpersonal connections, social acceptance, and handling ordinary events. They can suffer from physical complaints such as insomnia, panic attacks, stomach problems, dizziness, shortness of breath, and muscle tension that make it hard to focus on their daily activities. They could turn to drugs and alcohol to quiet the incessant chatter of their minds (Hari, 2015).

· Low Tolerance for Stress: Stress is a natural part of life. However, some people find it significantly more difficult to handle stressful situations, such as an argument with a romantic partner, a high stakes project at work, or an unexpected health crisis. People may turn to drugs and alcohol for short-term relief if they don't learn how to create healthy coping mechanisms to handle their stress (Maté, 2011).

· Sensation Seeking: Sensation seeking refers to the desire to constantly seek out new experiences when placed in situations without a lot of sensory input. Everyone engages in sensation seeking behavior to some extent, but people who report high rates of this activity are most prone to addiction. Sensation seekers are risk takers who enjoy pursuits such as engaging in adventurous sports, attending loud concerts or parties, and travelling to meet new people. They are also more likely to drive recklessly and prefer having multiple sexual partners over stable relationships (Maté, 2011).

· Blame Shifting: Blame shifting refers to finding it difficult to take responsibility for your own mistakes. Substance abusers tend to exhibit this personality trait in higher than average numbers, often arguing that their drug or alcohol use isn’t a big deal or that they could quit using if they really wanted to (Maté, 2011)


There are many causes for addiction. It is clear that people of all backgrounds and beliefs can experience addiction. It might be difficult to understand why some people are more prone to addiction than others. Despite the fact that there are numerous factors that contribute to addiction, it is essential to seek help when you realize you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse. The best and most successful method for treating addiction and achieving long-lasting recovery is to enroll in a substance abuse program.


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