What Influences Drug Use and Addiction?

imagesIs Continued Drug Abuse a Voluntary Behavior?

The initial decision to take drugs is mostly voluntary.  However, when drug abuse takes over, a person’s ability to exert self-control can become seriously impaired.  Brain imaging studies from drug-addicted individuals show physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control.  Scientists believe that these changes alter the way the brain works, and may help explain the compulsive and destructive behaviors of addiction.

Why do some people become addicted to drugs, while others do not?

As with any other disease, vulnerability to addiction differs from person to person.  In general, the more risk factors an individual has, the greater the chance that taking drugs will lead to abuse and addiction.  “Protective” factors reduce a person’s risk of developing addiction.

Risk Factors Domain Protective Factors
Early Aggressive Behavior Individual Self-Control
Poor Social Skills Individual Positive Relationships
Lack of Parental Supervision_____ Family Parental Monitoring and Support
Substance Abuse Peer Academic Competence
Drug Availability School Anti-Drug Use Policies
Poverty Community______ Strong Neighborhood Attachment


What factors determine if a person will become addicted?

No single factor determines whether a person will become addicted to drugs.  The overall risk for addiction is impacted by the biological makeup of the individual – it can even be influenced by gender or ethnicity, his or her developmental stage, and the surrounding social environment (e.g., conditions at home, at school, and in the neighborhood).

Which biological factors increase risk of addiction?

Scientists estimate that genetic factors account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction, including the effects of environment on gene expression and function.  Adolescents and individuals with mental disorders are at greater risk of drug abuse and addiction than the general population.

What environmental factors increase the risk of addiction?

  • Home and Family. The influence of the home environment is usually most important in childhood.  Parents or older family members who abuse alcohol or drugs, or who engage in criminal behavior, can increase children’s risks of developing their own drug problems.
  • Peers and School. Friends and acquaintances have the greatest influence during adolescence.  Drug-abusing peers can sway even those without risk factors to try drugs for the first time.  Academic failure or poor social skills can put a child further at risk for drug abuse.

Source:  National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Next Week… How can I, as a teen, protect myself from all these factors?