Risk Factors for an Addiction - Drug Addiction

It is important to clarify that a ‘risk factor’ is an indicator for an addiction and not an actual cause.

Risk factors are contributors to the likelihood of someone developing an addiction. This doesn’t mean that they will become an addict rather that they are susceptible to doing so.

These are used by rehabilitation centres, clinics and online sources as a means of determining the causes of a person’s addiction and planning their treatment.

Risk factors include:

  • Environment
  • Genetics
  • Personality
  • Social isolation
  • Injury, illness or disease
  • Type of substance


This includes family life, surroundings, friends, education and employment.

Family life/surroundings

If you come from a stable family background then there is probably less chance of you developing an addiction although drug addiction can affect any background.  However, if you live in a place where drug addiction is seen as acceptable or happens on a regular basis then this can be a risk factor.

Being brought up in a house in which drug addiction is prevalent and seen as the norm may encourage you to think the same.


Your friends often have a major influence over what you say and do and if they engage in drug taking then there is strong chance that you will do the same. Peer group pressure is difficult to resist and many people find themselves undertaking activities they may never have contemplated in order to be part of the group.

Smoking, drinking or taking drugs are often seen as forms of rebellion, growing up or as means of ‘proving’  yourself. This may be more of an issue for young men who traditionally have consumed large amounts of alcohol as a statement of masculinity. In other words, you are more of a man if you can hold your drink.

However, ‘binge drinking’  has become more of a problem amongst young women with the rise of the ‘ladette’ and the resulting behaviour that goes with this tag. Young women are consuming more alcohol than before which may be storing up problems in the future.


Young people like to experiment with drink, drugs or cigarettes but they may also feel compelled to do so especially if their group of friends already does so.

Smoking behind the bike sheds was something that many people tried when they were at school but nowadays it is not uncommon for drugs or alcohol to be consumed on school premises. Many pupils will openly smoke on their way to and from school as well as during the day.


If you are employed in a company where drug use is common amongst employees or the nature of the job results in people using drugs or alcohol as a means of coping then it can be hard to resist.

People under extreme stress or who work in physically and emotionally challenging roles can turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of relieving their stress.

Ironically, doctors have some of the highest rates of alcohol and drug abuse.


It has been suggested that our genetics play in part in whether we will become addicts or not. Experts claim that some people inherit genes which increase their vulnerability to drug addiction or their brain chemistry functions in such a way that they are drawn towards certain substances.

Find out more about this in our genetics and addiction section.


There are people with a particular type of personality who are more susceptible to addiction than others. This includes people who have a nervous or anxious disposition, lack confidence or find it difficult to control their temper.

If you have low self-esteem, find it difficult to make friends or say no then you may be at greater risk.

Find out more in our addictive personality section.

Social isolation

An addiction such as alcohol or drugs can help someone who is lonely, feels isolated or who has withdrawn themselves from society. In this sense their addiction is seen as a ‘comforter’ or a ‘coping mechanism’ and in their own minds enables them to cope.

Injury, illness or disease

An addiction can develop from legitimate substances such as prescription drugs. These are prescribed to treat an illness or injury but people can become dependent upon these. It is only when the drug is withdrawn or the dose reduced that a problem comes to light.

Type of substance

Some drugs are more addictive than others. Drugs such as cocaine, heroin or nicotine can cause an addiction the first time they are used whereas others will lead to a dependency over a period of time, e.g. prescription drugs.

Addiction is often the result of more than one factor. These risk factors plus a vulnerable personality can lead to an addiction but this is by no means given.


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