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7 Risk Factors for Addiction in Teenagers

drug abuse risk factors

Substance addiction is a chronic disease that affects a person’s mental health and behaviors. It develops after an individual has used drugs regularly, over a period of time. With consecutive use, drugs disrupt the user’s brain function and make it very difficult to quit. Because of the nature of this disease, anyone who uses drugs and alcohol consistently can become addicted.

However, it’s important to note that not everyone who tries drugs or alcohol will become addicted. There are certain risk factors, or vulnerabilities, that make a person more susceptible to the disease. 

Risk factors increase a person’s chances for drug abuse and addiction.

Protective factors reduce a person’s risk of abusing drugs.

One of the most critical risk factors for addiction is early drug abuse. During the teen and young adult years, the brain is still growing. When drugs are introduced during this period of development, it creates a higher potential for addiction (and a variety of other negative, long-term effects). As cited in an article from the Partnership to End Addiction, a significant 90 percent of people with addictions started using substances during their teenage years.

If you are a parent of a teen or young adult, it is important to understand that drug and alcohol use now can pose a variety of adverse consequences for your child long-term. You can protect them by having open conversations about substance use, and by staying active and involved in their everyday lives. Parental involvement is one of the most essential protective factors against addiction.

As a parent, you can also get educated on other risk factors for addiction in teens and young adults. Just keep in mind that risk factors are not a guarantee your teen will get addicted to drugs. Instead, they should be used as a way to understand if there is potential for a drug problem. By knowing these ahead of time, you can take the necessary steps and precautions to keep your child safe. 

What Makes Some Teens More Vulnerable to Addiction?

  1. Genetics and family history. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “the genes that people are born with account for about half of a person’s risk for addiction.” In other words, some people are genetically predisposed. If you have a family history of addiction, your child may be at greater risk than his or her peers.
  2. Mental health disorders. National research shows that about half of people who experience a mental illness (such as depression or ADHD) will also experience a substance use disorder at some point in their lives, and the same goes vice versa. If you have concerns your child is struggling with mental health issues, take care. Most mental health disorders start in the adolescent years, which is also the time in which people are most likely to try drugs.
  3. Behavior or impulse control problems. Teenagers have a natural, greater propensity to act on impulse, without thinking about the consequences. This is because the part of their brain dedicated to rational decision-making has not fully developed. However, if your teen is experiencing any excessive behavioral or impulse control issues, it is important to understand this can lead to a greater risk for drug abuse and addiction. 
  4. High levels of stress or pressure. Stress and substance abuse go hand-in-hand. If your teen is prone to high stress, or feels great pressure to succeed, this can put him or her at increased risk for drug abuse. Stress can stem from academics, athletics, friendships (i.e. peer pressure), as well as home life.  
  5. History of trauma. Similar to stress, trauma is also a significant risk factor for drug abuse and addiction. As we cited in a recent article, about 70 percent of adolescents in drug treatment today have a history of trauma exposure. Traumatic events such as natural disasters, injury or death, and abuse or neglect can make a person more likely to use drugs. 
  6. Environmental risk factors. A teen’s home environment can also play a role in his or her likelihood to abuse drugs. For example, a lack of parental supervision can put a teen at greater risk of using drugs more regularly. In addition, the presence of a caregiver who drinks or abuses drugs can also contribute to a child’s propensity to use.
  7. Gateway drugs used at an early age. As noted above, early exposure to drugs and alcohol is one of the biggest risk factors for addiction today. Teens who use a gateway drug – such as marijuana or even alcohol – are introduced to the euphoric effects (i.e. the “high”) of the substance at a young age. Over time, they may feel more comfortable trying other, and potentially stronger, drugs to get high.

As you can see, there are many types of risk factors for addiction, from environmental to biological. The more risks that a person is exposed to, the more likely he or she is abuse drugs longer-term. As noted by the NIDA, certain risk factors are more prominent at different stages of our lives. Peer pressure and lack of impulse control, for example, are greater risk factors for teen addiction. Earlier risk factors might include the lack of a parental figure at home, academic stress, or difficulty due to a mental disorder.

How to Reduce Addiction Risk Factors for Your Teen

Just as risk factors for addiction can vary in effect, depending on the person and their age, protective factors can also have a greater impact at certain life stages. Below are some protective factors against addiction, that are especially effective for teenagers and young adults.

  • Parental monitoring
  • Strong child-parent bond
  • Anti-drug use policies and regulations
  • Strong neighborhood attachment 
  • Safe and supportive community
  • Safe and supportive relationships
  • Self-care and taking care of one’s mental health
  • Teaching positive coping skills, to deal with stress and pressure
  • Family, school, and community interventions to promote positive behaviors in teens
  • Open and caring conversations with caregivers

According to a survey from the Center on Addiction, parents have the largest influence over their children’s decisions when it comes to substance abuse. Almost 56 percent of teenagers today believe the most common reason people their age stay away from drugs and alcohol is their parents. As a parent, you have the power to influence your child’s relationship with drugs. You have the power to prevent drug abuse and addiction, by talking to, monitoring, and staying involved with your teen. If you are at all concerned about your loved one’s substance abuse, please do not hesitate to reach out to Turnbridge. We have a specialized drug rehab program for teenagers, and can help your son or daughter get back on the right path. Call 877-581-1793 to learn more.