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Why are some people more prone to addiction?

Addiction is a very complicated subject and it’s something that scientists and psychologists are still trying to understand. What can be said is this: addiction does not discriminate – it can affect people of all ages, intelligence levels and backgrounds.

Despite the difficulty in ascribing exactly what makes some people more prone to addiction than others, countless studies have found that a combination of factors can play a part. Family background, environment, genetics, stress and personality traits can all make someone more likely to try drugs or alcohol in the first place, which makes them more likely to go on to develop an addiction.

Although nobody can completely eliminate the possibility of becoming an addict, The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has highlighted some of the most common risk factors that make some more susceptible to it than others.

Children of addicts

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the risk of addiction increases for those who have parents who are alcoholics or drug addicts. It has been found that the children of addicts are 45% to 79% more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol compared to the general population.

It’s unknown whether this is because addiction is rooted in genetics, if it’s inherited, or if it’s because being exposed to drug taking and alcohol abuse increases the likelihood of experimentation with these substances.

Mental illness

Those who live with bipolar disorder, depression and other mental health conditions are more likely to partake in substance abuse, which puts them at a higher risk of developing an addiction.

It has been suggested that many people who suffer from mental health conditions attempt to self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol in an effort to numb the symptoms associated with their condition. However, this can lead to a continuous vicious cycle because drugs and alcohol can actually exacerbate symptoms and leave people feeling more anxious, depressed, demotivated or irritable.

People with higher IQs

There’s a common misconception that addiction is more likely to affect those who are less educated and who come from a poorer background, but many addicts are highly-paid and have successful careers. Many professionals, from bankers and doctors to lawyers and CEOs, have fallen victim to substance abuse and it’s thought that the stress, isolation and failed relationships that are so often associated with these occupations can play a significant part in this.

Some studies also believe that children who have higher IQs are more likely to use psychoactive drugs such as marijuana, heroin and cocaine in their later years. One theory for this is that smarter people can intellectualise their drug use – which is different from rationalisation and denial. However, without definitive proof of causation this is a theory that remains based upon conjecture.

Sensitivity to effects

Research has suggested that people who are more sensitive to stimulants and the effects of alcohol and drugs are at a higher risk of developing an addiction. A study carried out in 2012 also found that those with ‘negative emotionality’ have higher rates of drug abuse. This is a personality trait that dictates how frequently or intensely people experience dark emotions such as anger, stress or sadness.

One theory is that people who suffer from ‘negative emotionality’ are more likely to turn to drugs and/or alcohol for relief, escapism or comfort. Professor of Behavioural Science at the University of Kentucky in the USA, Thomas Kelly commented:

“Prior research has consistently demonstrated a strong relationship between personality dimensions of sensation seeking and impulsivity and the initiation of drug and alcohol use, and emerging literature relates urgency, or emotion-based rash action, to heavy and problematic drug and alcohol use.”

Commenting on the study carried out in 2012, he continued:

“Negative emotionality is a distinct personality dimension from urgency. This study … extends the previous literature in demonstrating that the development of heavy alcohol use is associated with sensitivity to d-amphetamine in combination with negative emotionality, suggesting it is important to examine risk factors and their interaction within the context of the stage of drug use.”

It’s estimated that two million people in the UK alone are currently fighting an addiction. If you or someone you know is suffering with an addiction to alcohol, please feel free to visit our Alcohol Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments that are available.

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