Addictions develop over time, requiring extensive contact with drugs. However, a person’s likelihood to use drugs as well as their sensitivity to said drugs can speed up the addiction process. There are factors outside of a person’s control that make them more likely to get addicted. From genetics to school year experiences, countless factors increase or decrease the likelihood of addiction.
Up to a tenth of the country has used an illicit drug in the past month, and the majority of Americans have tried illicit drugs in their lifetime. This country is no stranger to drugs, and as news reports and statistics show, illegal meth, heroin, and marijuana are produced and distributed throughout the nation. Aside from prescription drugs and alcohol, teens and adults today must face the fact that at some point, they will possibly be confronted with the choice of taking drugs, or not taking them, either through friends, family, or distant acquaintances.
Until the moment drug use turns into addiction, every instance of use is a matter of choice. But choices are not always rational. Instead, many of us are impulsive, and rash, especially in our youth, and in times of great stress and pain.
Acknowledging and studying how certain risk factors affect addiction can help us better understand why some people get addicted while others don’t, and it helps us better identify whether someone is at risk of developing an addiction or not. For people who have gone through the process of getting addicted, it can help them understand why, and how it happened. For those scared of struggling with addiction, it can provide the additional information they need to confirm that drugs are not worth the risk.
Addiction and Family History
Statistically, the risk of developing an addiction when exposed to drug use correlates with a family history of drug abuse. Roughly half of the risk of getting addicted is genetic. That does not mean that nearly half of all people who have a history of addiction in the family will develop an addiction. What it means is that in people who do develop an addiction, it’s likely there was a family history of addiction, and that they were genetically predisposed to react more strongly to certain drugs.
We don’t completely understand why that is. One possible explanation may be that drug use leaves an impression on the genes, passing on a susceptibility. A more plausible explanation may be that some families are more susceptible to the addictive qualities of drugs due to the way their brain works.
It’s a topic of much debate, with a substantial amount of research dedicated to uncovering the truth, and no clear consensus in sight. Comorbid factors such as mental illness can also be genetic, especially in the case of mood disorders and anxiety. Because these also increase the risk of addiction, the waters are quite muddied when it comes to ascertaining exactly how much risk family history accounts for. Human genome experts are working on isolating potential genes that may explain a tendency towards substance abuse.
Other forms of predisposition include childhood experiences and mental health issues. These are not genetic but do count as affecting a person’s risk for addiction. Growing up in a hostile environment can lead to many emotional instabilities and insecurities, which can be “medicated” through drug use. Mental health issues also correlate with addiction, for similar reasons. When mental healthcare is unavailable, too expensive, or avoided out of the fear of being stigmatized or ostracized, drug use temporarily becomes an attractive alternative.
Predisposition Isn’t a Guarantee
An important message to remember is that simply being predisposed towards addiction does not mean you will be addicted. The biggest risk factor is and always will be extensive drug use. So, staying away from drugs eliminates the possibility of developing a drug addiction.
Behavioral addictions are more difficult to avoid. You can form an unhealthy relationship with food, sex, gambling, and other activities. However, many argue that these disorders are separate from addiction. In either case, just as there are many factors that increase risk, there are also things you can do to stave off the risk of addiction, such as:
- Biannual checkups – there are health conditions that can lead to mental health problems. If gone unnoticed, they can wreak havoc on your life. Getting regular checkups can uncover deficiencies, abnormalities, and stop mental symptoms before they grow.
- Going to therapy – many Americans avoid therapy yet struggle with mental health issues or symptoms of a developing emotional problem. Like other diseases, these issues can fester and grow. In the early stages, they can be remedied at home through a happier, healthier lifestyle. But in cases of severe anxiety, depression, or trauma, getting professional help is critical.
- Leading a healthy life – eat well, move often. Not only is a balanced diet good for your waistline, but it’s essential for your mental health.
- Avoiding excess stress – stress is a fact of life, but there’s only so much we can take, even with all the world’s relaxation techniques. Eliminate unnecessary stress.
- Enjoying your work – while this is not possible for everyone, you should aim to do something you genuinely like doing. Not everyone has the privilege of pursuing their passions, but it can genuinely help to do work you enjoy doing.
- Making friends – having emotional support in your life matters a lot. Being able to support others emotionally is just as, if not more important. We rely on human interaction and being there for others not only allows us to create stronger bonds but makes us feel more important and useful.
If you or someone you know is at risk for developing an addiction, it’s important to remember that that is not the same as having an addiction. Preemptively asking someone to seek treatment for an addiction they don’t have is out of line. But what you can do is ask someone to seek help for any other problems they may have. If you fear your friend is struggling with a mental health issue, like depression, and may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and forget about their problems, then asking them to address the issue before it escalates can help.
If you’re struggling mentally and are worried about developing an addiction, know that you’re still in control. Drugs don’t have legs of their own, and won’t make their way into your life unless you let them in. But it’s a good idea to seek out help anyway, especially to address your thoughts, mood, and behavior, and potentially find out if there’s anything going on in your head.
If you or someone you know has been struggling with addiction, then getting help is critical. The sooner you address an addiction, the easier it is to treat the problem. Like other diseases, if left to grow unchecked for too long, treatment can become very difficult.