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Who develops addiction?


Many people engage in risky use of alcohol and drugs and anyone can develop a substance problem. Some people may progress and develop a severe addiction. Alcohol and drug use touches everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity or economic status. The vast majority of people who use drugs and alcohol – including even many who use them regularly or heavily – do not develop the disease of addiction.

Addiction risk factors

As with other diseases, there are risk factors associated with addiction including:

  • Genetic predisposition

  • Certain brain characteristics that can make someone more vulnerable to addictive substances than the average person

  • Psychological factors (e.g., stress, personality traits like high impulsivity or sensation seeking, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, personality and other psychiatric disorders)

  • Environmental influences (e.g., exposure to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or trauma, substance use or addiction in the family or among peers, access to an addictive substance; exposure to popular culture references that encourage substance use)

  • Starting alcohol, nicotine or other drug use at an early age

Having one or more of these addiction risk factors does not mean someone will become addicted, but it does mean the odds are greater. The more risk factors present, the greater the chance that an individual will develop the disease.

Role of genetics

While psychological and environmental factors appear to be more influential in determining whether an individual starts to use substances, genetic factors appear to have more of an influence in determining who progresses from substance use to addiction.

Can Anyone Get Addicted?

Most experts believe the answer is yes. Some drugs are so highly addictive (e.g., nicotine, heroin) that using them excessively or on a daily basis can cause addiction for anyone. However, most people who try drugs or alcohol do not progress to heavy use or addiction.

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