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Risk Factors and Causes


Dr. Patel
There are a number of reasons people choose to begin using drugs or alcohol, and a number of risk factors that increase the likelihood that they will become addicted. Dr. Mansfield, can you tell us about some of the risk factors for addictive disorders?

Dr. Mansfield
Certainly, Dr. Patel. Many people use drugs or alcohol because of the pleasurable feelings produced by these substances. Others use drugs or alcohol to avoid, numb, or provide relief from uncomfortable emotions, such as stress, anxiety, sadness, or loneliness. Some people begin using drugs that initially improve their performance, but cause negative consequences over time. Still others simply begin using out of curiosity or peer pressure.

Some people who use a drug once or twice will never do it again, and many people drink alcohol without ever becoming addicted. But others are at great risk of developing an addiction. Risk factors for drug and alcohol misuse and addiction include:

  • A family history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Involvement with friends or social groups who misuse drugs or alcohol
  • Chronic or severe physical pain that is being treated with prescription medications
  • Difficult family situations
  • Work, relationship, or financial problems, and
  • Other mental health conditions

Research suggests that a gambling addiction or disorder is very similar to a substance use disorder, and many risk factors apply to both.

In the case of other maladaptive behaviors, such as addiction to pornography, video games, or technology, research on specific risk factors and causes is limited.