What environmental factors play a role in addiction?
Yes, genetics do play a role in your risk of developing an addiction but there are environmental factors that contribute to the risk. One could coin this ‘nature versus nurture.
The 6 environmental factors that have a strong influence on how susceptible a person is to addiction are:
Have a co-occurring mental health disorder
According to reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association:
- roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse
- 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness
- of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent abuse alcohol or drugs
The presence of a mental illness and an addiction at the same time is known as dual diagnosis. Both conditions share the same symptoms and it’s often difficult to know which one came first. Substance use disorder does not necessarily directly cause addiction and vice versa but the two are often linked.
Have an adventurous and risk-taking personality
Research shows that thrill-seekers are more vulnerable to developing an addiction. People who love the adrenalin rush of risky adventures often indulge in impulsive behaviour and exhibit little control when experimenting with dangerous activities.
People with higher levels of the hormone dopamine in their brain and lower sensitivity to it tend to be risk-takers and seek out behaviour, activities or substances that boost dopamine in their system. Dopamine plays a role in reinforcing your brain’s craving for pleasure and is the primary neurotransmitter associated with addiction.
Are disconnected and cautious
Disconnected or cautious people have difficulty developing social relationships and may suffer from low self-esteem. Many of these people also suffer from co-occurring mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorder.
Disconnected or cautious people may turn to alcohol or recreational drugs to boost their confidence or to manage painful feelings of loneliness, sadness or hopelessness. As tolerance for the substance builds, they use more of the substance more often and the risk of addiction increases.
Are obsessive and compulsive
Individuals who are diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have a greater tendency to develop an addiction. Obsessive and compulsive behaviour is exhausting and people who struggle with OCD often manage their impulses or feelings by self-medicating with prescription drugs or drinking alcohol to feel more calm and relaxed.
Heavy or prolonged use of their substance of choice changes how their brain works and leads to substance tolerance. This may lead to an addiction.
Individuals who exhibit apathetic behaviour have a higher tendency to develop an addiction. Apathy is when you lack interest or motivation to do anything or don’t care about what’s going on in the world around you. Apathy can be a symptom of a mental illness.
Apathetic people tend to show little to no regard for their well-being and are more prone to use drugs or alcohol to keep themselves occupied or to distract themselves from painful feelings of loneliness, depression or hopelessness.
Have poor impulse control
Individuals who have poor impulse control or who battle to self-regulate themselves are at higher risk of developing an addiction. They tend to have a difficult time doing anything in moderation, including regulating their behaviours, thoughts and feelings. Examples include people with an eating disorder and people with gambling, Internet or porn addiction.