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Risk Factors Revealed: Insights into Substance Use Disorder

There are many risk factors for substance use, according to modern research. That's why it is still so difficult to predict who is at risk for substance use disorder.

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a serious problem influenced by many things, like where people live, how they feel, and even their genes. Knowing about these things is important to help prevent problems and help people who are already struggling.

Risk factors don't guarantee that a person will turn to substances. However, they make it more likely that a person who uses substances will develop a disorder.

Common Risk Factors For Substance Use Disorder

Many people from all walks of life live with substance use disorder. Some find recovery, while others may struggle for years to finally get sober. What makes people vulnerable to substance use disorder? Are there other factors at play? Let's look at some of the risk factors.

Poverty and Hard Times

Being poor or not having much money are also risk factors for addiction. When people don't have enough money for essential things like food or housing, they might turn to substances to try to feel better. Substances can provide what feels like needed relief from the chronic stress caused by poverty.

Having money problems can add stress and make it seem like drugs or alcohol are the only way out, according to research. People often end up in a cycle of addiction as they end up spending more money on substance use. Sudden financial losses, such as the death of a provider in the family, may cause people to cope by using substances. Many sad situations can serve as risk factors among the working poor.

Psychological Factors: Feeling Hurt and Needing Help

People who have survived violence, abuse, or childhood trauma are also risk factors for substance abuse.  Trauma is a risk factor for mental health disorders, too. When people experience symptoms like deep depression, high anxiety, and despair, they might use substances to try to feel better. But this can make things worse in the long run, especially among people who already have other risk factors, such as a history of addiction in their families.

People who have experienced childhood trauma, sexual or physical abuse, or other life-altering trauma often have symptoms of PTSD and self-medicate their symptoms of loneliness, anxiety, or depression.

People with co-occurring mental health disorders are also more likely to try to self-soothe their symptoms with substance use. Nearly 1 in 3 adults had either a substance use disorder or mental illness in 2023 that they needed help coping with. Mental health disorders can be a risk factor in substance use disorder.

If a person you love is struggling with substance use, when they get treatment, they are usually screened for co-occurring disorders. They must receive help for both to have the best outcomes possible.

Biological Vulnerabilities: In Our Genes and Our Brain

Sometimes, the way our bodies work can make us more likely to have problems with substances. If someone in our family has had trouble with drugs or alcohol, we might be more likely to have issues, too. While no scientist has found the "addiction gene," there is evidence that ancient genetic imprints may play a part in addiction.

Our brains also play a big part. Some people's brains work differently, making it harder to say no to substances.

Gender Differences: Boys and Girls, Men and Women

Men and women often have different experiences with drugs and alcohol. They both have risk factors that can draw them toward substance use.

Women are more likely to be victims of a violent crime if they are addicted, yet many women in domestic violence situations are also using substances to cope.

Substance use among men is typically higher and more accepted among peers. Men may feel pressure to drink after work or take other drugs to be social and let loose on the weekend.

Both genders are equally able to develop a substance use disorder.

Friends and Peer Pressure

The people we spend time with can significantly impact whether we use drugs or not. If our friends use substances, we might have to do it too. Being insecure and feeling inadequate can be a risk factor for succumbing to peer pressure, which can include using drugs.

Peer pressure makes people want to fit in and be liked. But it's important to remember that we can make choices, even if our friends or loved ones are doing something else.

Everyone Can Struggle, and Everyone Can Recover

Addiction can happen to anyone, and so can recovery. It doesn't matter who we are or where we come from. What's important is knowing that there's always a chance to get better, no matter how hard things seem.

Essential things to know about Substance Use Disorder:

  • Anyone can have problems with drugs or alcohol, no matter their age, gender, or background.
  • Getting better is possible with the right help and support.
  • Learning to deal with problems and finding healthy coping methods are essential for improving.
  • There are many ways to recover. Consider joining support groups and getting professional help.
  • Recovery is a journey, and it's okay if it takes time. What's important is taking the first step, believing things can improve, and working on yourself.

Getting Help for Substance Use Disorder

Many different things influence substance use disorders, but knowing risk factors can help us understand why people might have trouble with drugs or alcohol.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use, we're here to help. We offer a safe, compassionate environment to begin the path of healing and reclaiming your life.

Understanding the various factors contributing to substance use disorders is crucial for recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling, we're here.

To learn more about our programs, contact us at (949) 279-1376 or Mexico (612) 153-5726 today.



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Hi! I’m Melissa Stailey, a freelance writer that loves to cook. I live and work in Washington, DC.