There are five key risk factors that contribute to a person developing the disease of addiction. These risk factors are genetics, childhood trauma, mental illness, social environment, and early use. Research shows that the risk of substance addiction increases as the number of risk factors increases. Assessing one’s risk in these aspects can help one prevent substance use disorder (SUD) by putting protective factors in place.
What Are the Most Common Risk Factors of Substance Use?
The five major categories of risk factors may branch out to include many situations. For example, the single category of childhood trauma can include lack of parental supervision, neglect and abuse, drug availability at home or in the community, poverty, peer rejection, and bullying. Youth who have been through these situations are vulnerable to developing SUD.
The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine designed an assessment tool for the five stages of life until young adulthood and how substances can affect individuals in each phase. For example, the preconception and prenatal phase involves genetic disposition and prenatal alcohol exposure. Early childhood factors include individual temperament, family environment, and early learning environment.
Genetics and Family History
People who grow up with parents or family members who have SUD may be at risk for addiction in their own life for two reasons. First, they may have certain genes that predispose them to quickly becoming dependent on drugs or alcohol. For example, research shows that the risk for cannabis use disorder has a strong genetic component.
Secondly, family members with an addiction may expose individuals to an unhealthy home environment. In fact, having parents who abuse substances is considered one of the most common adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Furthermore, exposure to this kind of home environment may normalize the use of substances.
Traumatic Experience as a Risk Factor
People who have experienced abuse or other traumatic events are more likely to use drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate. Adolescents with PTSD are four times more likely to develop substance dependence.
Individuals who have experienced traumatic stress are also more likely to develop mental health issues. Mental illness places individuals at a higher risk of using substances as well. This shows that risk factors often combine and compound.
Seeing Others Use Substances
Humans are social learners who pick up behavioral patterns from the people around them. When a child grows up seeing a parent or a caregiver use drugs or alcohol to self-soothe, the child internalizes substance use as a viable option for stress management. The more or earlier young people see substance use, the more normalized this behavior becomes.
Adolescents who are surrounded by family members or friends who use substances are more likely to have easy access to drugs or alcohol. Accessibility also increases the risk of substance use.
Prevention begins with education and awareness. Evidence-based self-assessment tools are useful starting points for prevention and intervention. Health professionals have developed many such tools. The following questions are a great place to start assessing one’s risk factors.
- Does your family have a history of substance use?
- Do you have family or friends who use substances in front of you?
- Did you have easy access to drugs or alcohol growing up?
- Do you have a history of childhood trauma or ACEs?
- Have you ever experienced traumatic events?
- Do you struggle with mental health issues?
Evidence-Based Protective Factors
Once one is familiar with risk factors, one can implement protective factors. For example, since parental neglect is a key risk factor, parental monitoring can be an effective protective factor. Programs that strengthen the parent-child bond are effective preventative measures against substance use.
In terms of availability and access to substances as a risk factor, communities and schools can adopt anti-substance use policies in their domains. If teen addiction is a concern, frequent substance use screening can deter individuals from engaging in use. Education about drug and alcohol use risks and the benefits of seeking help if one struggles with use can also mitigate harmful effects.
When Are Risk and Protective Factors Most Influential?
Evidence-based protective measures can have a positive influence on people throughout their entire lifespan. Just as risk factors of different categories may interact, preventative or protective factors can also combine to decrease risks. For example, effective parental monitoring along with education has been shown to protect against multiple risks, including addiction, poverty, and mental health issues.
Health professionals have also classified protective factors into universal, selective, and indicated categories. The first group takes the broadest approach to reach the entire population. Selective interventions prioritize certain high-risk groups. Indicated preventions target people who show early signs of being at risk. Among these protective measures, individuals may be less at risk for SUD.
Are you familiar with the common risk factors that predict substance use? Did you know that this knowledge can help you prevent harm and intervene when your loved ones experience risk factors or show signs of developing problematic substance usage? Many people know that early prevention is key, but that requires being informed about the risk factors. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our team of licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists can coach you to become more informed when supporting a loved one. To work with recovery specialists to begin an intervention for your loved one, our residential facility is the best place to be. Our full medical and residential facility offers a range of treatments, including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, and 12-Step programs. We specialize in evidence-based assessment, prevention, and treatment. The sooner you act, the easier making progress will be. Call us today at (866) 906-3203.