While anyone can develop an addiction under the right circumstances, some people are more vulnerable to developing an addiction for several different reasons. The most important factors include genetics, psychological factors, environment, trauma, lack of social connection, and using at an early age.
Having a parent with addiction makes you more vulnerable to addiction.
That’s because it exposes you to most of the major risk factors. It indicates a genetic predisposition, it normalises addictive behaviour, it may result in feelings of alienation, living with an addicted parent can cause psychological problems, and drugs or alcohol are more available, making you more likely to use them at an early age. Having an addicted parent doesn’t necessarily mean you face all of these challenges, but the chances are higher.
This is vague and it means that something in our DNA can pass addiction risk from one generation to another. This may include a wide variety of genetically influenced processes from how someone processes alcohol in the liver, to how strongly she experiences fear and anxiety. That is, there are many paths to addiction, and about half of them appear to be controlled by genes.
Most people who struggle with addiction also struggle with something else too. This is called a dual diagnosis. Some of the most common dual diagnoses include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and schizophrenia. People often become addicted by trying to self-medicate. One common reason people start drinking, for example, is to ease social anxiety and make social interaction more bearable.
Environment and trauma.
Studies have shown that adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, correlate with addiction later in life. This includes circumstances like abuse by a family member, neglect, feeling unsafe, or witnessing violence at home. The more of these experiences you have, the more likely you are to develop a serious addiction.
Using at an early age.
A high percentage of people with serious addictions started using very young, often younger than 12. This is partly related to environment, as discussed above, but also has to do with with brain development. The earlier someone starts using drugs or alcohol, the more it impedes his brain development. He may become more impulsive and have poorer judgement, which only increases the chances of addiction.
Fortunately, none of these guarantees a serious addiction will develop. People with mental health issues who get appropriate treatment will be less likely to develop addictions. Children with ACEs who also have protective factors, like a supportive community or other relatives will do better too.
Castle Craig Hospital is a landmark of addiction and mental health treatment in Scotland, serving the UK, the EU, and patients from all over the world. Our commitment to long term abstinence has created a successful programme of clinical and complementary therapies for mind, body, and spirit. Serving over 10,000 patients for more than 25 years, the Castle Craig model is proven in changing lives. Call our 24 hour free confidential phone-line for information: 0808 231 7723. From outside the UK please call: +44 1721 788 006
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | January 29, 2020