Environmental Factors and Addiction

Reasons why people develop addictions are complex and depend on the individual. Scientists do know that genetics can make a person more vulnerable to develop addiction than others. Genes that code for personality traits, and those that determine slight differences in brain chemistry can pre-dispose someone to addiction. However this is only half of the story.

Genetics, we think, can only make a person more likely to develop an addiction, there is no single gene that is passed down that determines someone definitely will develop an addiction. Scientists believe that addiction is due to ‘roughly’ 50% genetic factors and 50% environmental.

Some environmental factors have a significant impact. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between age of onset of drinking alcohol or taking drugs and development of addiction. The younger someone is when they start drinking or taking drugs the more like they are to develop an addiction. Research has shown that as many as 50% of adolescents who start drinking at age 14 go on to develop alcoholism. Those who resist drug use until the age of 21 have been shown to have a very low likelihood of developing addiction later on.

Unsurprisingly children of parents who abuse drugs or alcohol are more likely to develop addiction themselves. Whilst some of this correlation can be related to genetics, it is important to recognise the impact of being exposed to someone who abusing drugs or alcohol. In addition to this those who come from homes where parents or other family members engage in criminal activity are at higher risk of developing drug or alcohol addiction.  Not only this but conflict at home and family management problems also contribute to drug use. Unhappy family life can put an amount of stress on a child/adolescent, and stress can lead to seeking avenues of stress relief, unfortunately occasionally people find drug-taking temporarily relieves life stressors.

The people we socialise with have a huge impact on what we do in our spare time. Being surrounded by those who recreationally take drugs or have addictions makes us more likely to engage in this behaviour also, increasing our risk of substance abuse problems and addiction. Peer groups at school have a huge influence on a child’s likeliness of experimenting with drugs. We like to be liked and we often share interests and opinions with our friends. A huge contributing factor to drug abuse risk is having friends who take drugs.

Studies show that if a person’s community has favourable attitudes toward drug use, firearms and crime, their risk of addiction is increased. Like with peers and social groups a person’s surrounding community can influence their drug taking behaviour. If you live in a neighbourhood where drugs are easily accessible, you are more likely to engage in regular drug taking behaviour then if you don’t.

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