Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Risk Factors for Addiction

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Risk Factors for Addiction

Do genetics affect our likelihood of developing an addiction? What role do the environment, our friends and families play in developing addictions? Answering these questions is neither simple nor straightforward. As you will learn in this article, psychology has found several risk factors that influence the likelihood of developing an addiction.Risk factors for addiction influence a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction.There are many reasons why someone may become addicted:

  • Family: a person may have inherited an addiction from their parents, either directly through their genes or indirectly through learning.

  • Peer pressure.

  • As a stress response.

  • Biology: due to reward responses in the brain and genetic susceptibility.

  • Personality.

Although we will discuss these risk factors separately, it is crucial to know they can work together to make someone even more susceptible to addiction.

Risk factors in addiction in psychology

Let us now describe and evaluate risk factors in the development of addiction.

Stress

Is PTSD a risk factor for addictions? Prolonged, chronic stress and traumatic life events are associated with an increased risk of addiction. As the self-medication model (Gelkopf et al. 2002) suggests, people may develop addictive habits as a method of self-soothing treatment. The person associates the pleasure derived from engaging in the object of addiction with stress relief. This leads the addict to rely on their addiction to cope with stress.

  • Epstein et al. (1998) examined data from the National Women’s Study and found an association between childhood rape and alcoholism in adulthood among women diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Anderson and Teicher (2008) suggested that early experiences with stressful situations have detrimental effects on the brain because the brain is in a vulnerable stage of development during childhood. According to Anderson and Teicher, this leads to vulnerability to addiction in adolescence.
  • Dawes et al. (2000) showed that stress is one of the strongest predictors of relapse in drug users.
  • Kessler et al. (1995) found that 34% of males and 27% of females who had PTSD reported substance abuse or dependence at some point in their lives, compared to 15% of males and 8% of females who did not have PTSD. This finding suggests PTSD can significantly increase the risk of addiction.

Risk factors in drug addiction and alcohol abuse: peer groups

Peer groups are a risk factor for addiction because peers act as role models for potentially addictive behaviour such as drug and alcohol use. Social identity theory, Tajfel and Turner (1986) proposed, states that peers are highly influential because people want to belong to an ‘in-group’ and be socially accepted. This means that if the ‘in-group’ is engaging in addictive behaviour such as alcohol or drug use, an at-risk person may develop an addiction to become part of this group.

  • O’Connell et al. (2009) suggest that three main factors contribute to peer influence in alcohol addiction:

    • An at-risk teen’s attitudes and norms about drinking are influenced by associating with peers who drink alcohol.

    • These experienced peers provide more opportunities for the at-risk individual to drink alcohol.

    • Individual overestimates how much their peers are drinking, so they consume more to keep up with the perceived norm.

  • Morgan and Grube (1991) showed that peers affected both the initiation and maintenance of smoking.

  • Morton et al. (2005) showed that adolescents who spent more time with deviant peers were more likely to drink alcohol.
  • The Malaysian national drug agency demonstrated that out of 26,841 drug addicts surveyed between 2007 and 2008, 55% became addicted after being introduced to drugs by their peer group.Risk Factors for Addiction risk factors in addiction psychology peer groups StudySmarterPeer pressure: a man thinking about his peers having a good time, Yzabelle Bostyn - StudySmarter. Made with images from Canva.

Family

The family can influence addiction in two ways.First, they can act as role models if they are addicted themselves. For example, the child sees their parent drinking and sees this as approval of the behaviour. Glynn (1981) demonstrated this influence in his research. He conducted a meta-analysis of addiction research and found that parental substance abuse was the most important factor influencing the child’s development of the same addiction. He explained this using Bandura’s social learning theory, which states that a child who identifies with an addicted parent might develop an addiction by mimicking the parent’s behaviour (their role model).

  • Wardle et al. (2007) reported that gambling addicts are more likely to have parents who gamble regularly.

  • Livingston et al. (2010) found that high school graduates who could drink at home were significantly more likely to drink excessively in college. Thus, an early experience of alcohol consumption and its endorsement could lead to excessive consumption.

The key to family influences on addiction is perception. If a child perceives a parent’s lack of interest in monitoring their behaviour as approval, they are significantly more likely to become addicted.Second, parenting style can influence the development of addiction in children. Often controlling and authoritarian parenting styles can lead to addiction. Ahmadi et al. (2014) found that authoritative parenting styles (showing warmth while exerting control) were associated with lower levels of substance abuse in children. In contrast, despotic (authoritarian, restrictive, strong punishment) and permissive (no control) parenting styles lead to risky behaviours and addiction.

Personality

Although there is no such thing as an ‘addictive personality’, certain traits might indicate that someone is more likely to become addicted, such as hostility and neuroticism (Butler and Montgomery, 2004).There is a strong correlation between addiction and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). A major feature of ASPD is impulsivity, which is characterised by an inability to plan, risk-taking, and the pursuit of immediate gratification. Impulsivity has also been linked to addiction (Ivanov et al, 2008).

A genetic influence?

Ivanov et al. (2008) suggest that impulsivity has a genetic component. Meanwhile, Ray et al. (2009) showed that novelty seeking is associated with genetic markers for the D4 dopamine receptor and that such individuals who seek novelty are more likely to become alcoholics. They suggested this may be due to dopamine sensitivity, suggesting that genetically influenced personality traits may lead to addiction.

Biological risk factors: genetic vulnerability as a risk factor affecting addiction

This section will explain genetic vulnerability as a risk factor in developing addiction.


Although addiction itself cannot be inherited, you can inherit a genetic predisposition to it. The likelihood of someone becoming addicted also depends on psychosocial factors such as those described above (stress, peers, family, and personality). Therefore, genetic susceptibility can help us understand why some people can drink or use drugs recreationally without developing an addiction and why some others become addicted.

Risk Factors for Addiction genetic vulnerability as a risk factor in developing addiction StudySmarterGenetics and addictive behaviours, Yzabelle Bostyn - StudySmarter

Dopamine: the way the neurotransmitter dopamine communicates in the brain depends on dopamine receptors on the surface of neurons. There are a variety of dopamine receptors. For example, the D2 receptor is thought to affect addiction when it is present in abnormally low numbers. Since the proportion of receptors in the brain is genetic, we can conclude that some people have a genetic susceptibility to addiction.

Supporting study

Kendler et al. (2012): using data from the Swedish National Adoption Study, Kendler et al. tracked down children addicted parents adopted. They found these individuals had a significantly higher risk of developing addiction (8.6%) than those adopted by parents who did not have a history of addiction (4.2%). This finding suggests that genetic susceptibility plays a role in putting someone at risk for addiction.

However, it is important to note that genetic inheritance has possible indirect effects that may increase the risk of developing addiction.

For example, if someone has inherited a hearing impairment, they may be lonely and have difficulty making friends. To cope, they may turn to drugs or alcohol.

This example does not demonstrate a directly inherited addiction, but rather that genes certainly play a role: the effects of living with the inherited disability cause one to become addicted. The indirect effects of genes on addiction show the great influence of genetic susceptibility on addiction.

These indirect effects can also be called direct risk factors. While they directly impact addiction (e.g., the loneliness that comes with a hearing impairment), they are not the actual impact, which would be the genetic disability in the example above.

Evaluation of risks factors for addiction

Let us examine the strengths and weaknesses of the research we have examined.

Strengths

  • Real-life applications: Hawkins et al. (1992) believed that focusing on risk factors is a promising strategy for preventing and treating addiction. We can identify risk factors that make someone vulnerable to addiction and develop strategies to avoid addiction and to reduce vulnerability. Tobler et al.’s (2000) peer pressure programs exemplify this.

Weaknesses

  • Methodological problems: most data used in addiction studies are retrospective and based on self-reports. This factor is a weakness because memories may be altered or difficult to retain because the person was intoxicated or under stress or suffered a trauma that occurred at the time. Also, it is ethically questionable to get someone to remember something that may be stressful and painful or even illegal.

  • Interactions among all risk factors: since no single risk factor causes addiction, combinations of risks are more important than single factors. According to Mayes and Suchman (2006), the interaction of risks can determine the nature and severity of the addiction. Therefore, we cannot assume a causal relationship between individual risk factors and addiction.
  • Preventative genes: in addition to inheriting genes that confer a higher risk of addiction, genes can also be inherited that protect against addiction. Pianezza et al. (1998) showed that some people are better able to break down certain substances and that this is associated with addiction. They found that some people lack a fully functional CYP2A6 enzyme responsible for breaking down nicotine. These people have a lower risk of developing a nicotine addiction. Since the expression of the CYP2A6 enzyme is genetically determined, we can conclude that there are genetic influences on addiction.

  • Cause and effect: it is difficult to assess the causal direction of addiction. For example, some psychologists suggest stress causes addiction, but it remains to be noted that addiction can cause many stressful situations. So does stress cause addiction, or does addiction cause stress? Since we cannot say for sure, there is a problem with the direction of cause and effect when studying the risk factors that influence addiction.

Risk Factors for Addiction - Key takeaways

  • Five main factors make someone more susceptible to addiction: family, peers, stress, genetic susceptibility, and personality.

  • Family influences addiction by providing role models and parenting styles.

  • Stress can lead to addiction when substances are used to relieve stress.

  • Peer groups can lead to addiction because people desire to belong.

  • People can inherit genes that make them more susceptible to addiction.

  • People with antisocial personality disorder and impulsive personalities have a higher risk of becoming addicted.

Frequently Asked Questions about Risk Factors for Addiction

Family, peer groups, stress, personality, and genetic vulnerability.

Five main factors make someone more susceptible to addiction: family, peers, stress, genetic susceptibility, and personality. It is crucial to know they can work together to make someone even more susceptible to addiction.

Psychologists state addiction is a mental illness that a number of characteristics can influence, including stress, personality, peer groups, family, and biological factors.

Three examples of factors influencing the risk for addition are stress, peer pressure, and family.

Risk factors for addiction influence a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction.

Final Risk Factors for Addiction Quiz

Question

What neurotransmitter affects addiction according to the genetic vulnerability theory of addiction?

Show answer

Answer

Dopamine

Show question

Question

How likely were adopted children from parents with addiction to develop an addiction according to Kendler et al. (2012)?

Show answer

Answer

5.6%

Show question

Question

What personality disorder makes people more likely to develop an addiction?

Show answer

Answer

Anti-social personality disorder.

Show question

Question

What did Livingston et al. (2010) find?

Show answer

Answer

Livingston et al. (2010) found that high school graduates who could drink at home were significantly more likely to drink excessively in college. Thus, an early experience of alcohol consumption and its endorsement could lead to excessive consumption.

Show question

Question

How can social learning theory explain family as a risk factor for addiction?

Show answer

Answer

Using Bandura's social learning theory, we can theorise that a child who identifies with an addicted parent might develop an addiction by mimicking the parent's behaviour (their role model).

Show question

Question

Is there such a thing as an addictive personality?

Show answer

Answer

No, just certain traits that make someone more vulnerable to addiction.

Show question

Question

What percentage of drug addicts did the Malaysian national drug agency find were introduced to drugs by their peer group?

Show answer

Answer

55%.

Show question

Question

Describe the self-medication model (Gelkopf et al., 2002). 

Show answer

Answer

The self-medication model suggests that addictive habits may develop as a method of self-soothing treatment.

Show question

Question

Which type of stress disorder has been linked to addiction?

Show answer

Answer

Post-traumatic stress disorder.

Show question

Question

Who suggested that impulsivity has a genetic component?

Show answer

Answer

Ivanov et al. (2008) suggested that impulsivity has a genetic component.

Show question

Question

What factors did O’Connell et al. (2009) suggest contribute to teen drinking?

Show answer

Answer

  • An at-risk teen's attitudes and norms about drinking are influenced by associating with peers who drink alcohol.
  • These experienced peers provide more opportunities for the at-risk individual to drink alcohol.
  • Individual overestimates how much their peers are drinking, so they consume more to keep up with the perceived norm.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Risk Factors for Addiction quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.