5 Risk Factors That Make People More Prone to Addiction - PAX Recovery

5 Reasons Why Some People Are More Prone to Drug and Alcohol Addiction

risk factors that make people prone to addiction

Addiction is a complex and progressive disease that psychologists and doctors alike are still continuing to learn about each and every day. However, something we do know is that drug and alcohol addiction are afflictions that affect people of all ages, races, backgrounds, and socio-economic statuses. That being said, some people are more prone to addiction than others. In fact, there are five specific factors that generally make individuals more susceptible to drug or alcohol abuse.

Five factors that are thought to make people more prone to addiction are:

  • Adult children of alcoholics and addicts.
  • Experiencing trauma, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and/or having PTSD.
  • The presence of mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, or eating disorders.
  • Chronic stress may lead people to abuse drugs or alcohol
  • A variety of environmental factors, such as spending time with people who use drugs or experiencing peer pressure.

Although virtually anyone can abuse drugs and alcohol and eventually become addicted, individuals who are exposed to any of the above-listed risk factors are more likely to develop a substance use disorder.

Whether you are questioning if you have a substance abuse problem or have a loved one suffering from addiction, understanding why people become addicts and what causes addiction can help improve your understanding of the condition.

Children of Addicts and Alcoholics

Children of addicts and alcoholics may be exposed to a variety of events and experiences that are a direct result of their parent’s addiction. For example, children of addicts may experience chaos and instability in the home, physical or emotional neglect, abuse, chronic loneliness, and excessive fear. Children may also be exposed to drug or alcohol use at a young age, which increases the likelihood that they will experiment with substances themselves at a young age. This destructive home environment hinders children from developing healthy coping skills and social behaviors, ultimately making them more prone to drug or alcohol abuse later in life.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that children of parents who abuse drugs are between 45 and 79 percent more likely to abuse drugs themselves compared to their counterparts. Similarly, children of alcoholics are between 50 and 60 percent more likely to suffer from alcohol use disorders later in life. In addition, there is extensive evidence that there are genetic links related to alcoholism and addiction, further suggesting the link between children who are born to parents of addicts and alcoholics.[1]

Trauma, PTSD, and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Trauma can be any event that makes a person fear for their emotional or physical security. Traumatic events, including but not limited to, physical abuse, sexual abuse, car accidents, natural disasters, chronic illness, violence, domestic violence, death of a loved one, or terror attacks, can affect the way a person interprets and responds to events in the future.

In addition, many people who experience trauma develop PTSD, a condition characterized by unpleasant symptoms including flashbacks and anxiety, that are triggered by things that remind the person of the event. In many cases, people will abuse drugs or alcohol to numb the memories of trauma or the symptoms associated with PTSD. In fact, more than 70% of patients receiving treatment for substance abuse report a history of trauma and up to 59% of young people with PTSD develop drug or alcohol abuse problems later in life.[2]

Similarly, people who have endured ACEs, such as childhood abuse or neglect, are also more prone to addiction. These individuals may make attempts to self-medication symptoms associated with biological stress and generational trauma. Overall, ACEs significantly increased the likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse later in life.[3]

Comorbid Mental Health Conditions

There is ample evidence that people who struggle with mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more, are more prone to drug and alcohol addiction. To explain, individuals with mental illness experience difficult symptoms that make day to day life challenging. For example, someone with an anxiety disorder may abuse their medications or drink alcohol to help them socialize or relax. On the other hand, someone with depression may abuse drugs or alcohol to feel happiness or excitement. However, abusing drugs and alcohol as a means of coping with mental illness is particularly dangerous.

Ultimately, drug and alcohol abuse only worsens symptoms of existing mental illness, leaving individuals feeling worse than before. However, due to the complex nature of addiction, some individuals may keep using despite the worsening side effects, leading to a continuous and vicious cycle of addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that nearly half of the people who experience mental illness also experience a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. Similarly, more than 60% of adolescents in addiction treatment programs also suffer from another comorbid mental health condition.[4] Whether it is an eating disorder, personality disorder, or mood condition, mental health greatly increases the chances of a person becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Chronic Stress

Stress is a normal and healthy reaction that the body has when it feels under pressure. Stress helps keep people motivated and productive. However, stress becomes unhealthy when it lasts for an extended period of time. Stress can affect your mood, sleep, digestion, and overall health. In order to combat the negative effects of chronic stress, many people find themselves turning to alcohol or drugs to get through the day.

This is often seen in people who work high-stress jobs, such as doctors, lawyers, and CEOS. Despite the misconception that addiction is more likely to affect people who have a lower level of education and income, many people with high IQ scores and successful careers end up abusing substances to deal with the stress that comes from work.

At the same time, people who experience adversities, such as loss of a family member, conflict, divorce, or bankruptcy may also experience chronic stress and turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Whatever the case may be, chronic stress makes people significantly more vulnerable to developing a drug or alcohol addiction.[5]

Environment and Peer Pressure

Lastly, the environment one lives in plays a major role in whether or not the person will experiment and become addicted to drugs and alcohol. For example, children who are raised in homes where drug use or other types of conflict are rampant may find themselves using drugs or alcohol to cope.

Similarly, young adults are in a vulnerable stage of development where they care a lot about what their friends think of them. Unfortunately, this often leads to peer pressure including the pressure to experiment with alcohol and drugs. This is particularly dangerous because the younger a person starts using drugs alcohol, the more prone to developing addiction they are later in life.[4]

On the other hand, people who experience chronic loneliness, live in a neighborhood where drug use is rampant, or have been exposed to any kind of unhealthy or toxic environment may be more susceptible to addiction. After all, it can be hard to keep yourself healthy when you are constantly exposed to an unhealthy environment.

Do You Need Help For Addiction?

Anyone can develop an addiction if they abuse drugs or alcohol long enough, but some people are more sensitive to the desirable effects of substance abuse due to the above-listed factors. That being said, not everyone who experiences the risk factors that make them more prone to addiction will actually develop an addiction. Everyone is different and deals with the experiences in their lives in different ways. In the end, the reason behind your addiction isn’t what defines you. What matters is whether or not you decide to get help and fight for a better life.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, don’t hesitate any longer. Contact one of our dedicated addiction treatment specialists in Indiana today to get started on the way to a better life.


  1. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa76/aa76.htm
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051362/
  3. https://mnprc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/aces-behavioral-health-problems.pdf
  4. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders/part-1-connection-between-substance-use-disorders-mental-illness
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2732004/

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.