Balance, Composure, & Early Exposure: Who is Most Vulnerable to Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is a cycle that constantly spins in the minds and bodies of those afflicted. It can be chronic, it can be heartbreaking, and it can take us by complete surprise. Addiction, however, can also be prevented. By understanding the risk factors and the signs of a substance use disorder, we can identify the preventive measures that will work to keep addiction out of our own lives, and out of the ones we hold closest to us. 

While you may look at your 12-year-old son today and think, addiction won’t affect him, he’s much too young to try drugs, too smart to become addicted, try to understand this: anyone, at any age, can become addicted to drugs. It only takes a few “firsts” to provoke the downward spiral, and the initiation of drug use often takes place much sooner than we anticipate. 

According to recent studies, a teen first experiments with drugs at an average of 14 years old. At this age, the brain is still very much developing. So when substance use is initiated this early on, the brain becomes even more susceptible to absorbing its effects, remembering them, and reminding the user to try drugs again. That is why, perhaps, teenagers who begin using any addictive substance before age 18 are six and a half times more likely to develop a substance use disorder than those who are exposed during adulthood. 

how do people become exposed to substance abuseFor many parents, this reality can be shocking. With a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, and family and teachers caring about their future, why do so many kids today still choose to use drugs? One study investigated just this, finding that high school seniors’ leading reasons for drug use included, 'to relax or relieve tension', 'to feel good or get high', 'to experiment/see what it's like', 'to relieve physical pain', and 'to have a good time with friends'. Yet while initial drug use is voluntary, drug addiction will eventually vanquish a person’s self control. 

We all have certain risk factors that can stir an addiction, and some of us are more prone to the disease than others. Most often, risk factors are environmental. If someone experiments or is exposed to drugs early on, he or she is more vulnerable to developing an addiction. Other risk factors include the availability of substances to a person, his or her economic status, his or her community, poor academic performance, and lack of adult supervision growing up. The influence of a negative home environment, especially in childhood, is often a leading factor in determining why a person starts abusing drugs. A child often reciprocates what he or she has experienced in the home—things that may have been accepted as normal. Parents and family members who abuse alcohol, drugs, or take part in criminal behavior, therefore, increase a child’s risk of developing their own drug dependence in the future. Unfortunately, this situation is not uncommon. 34.4 million children under age 18 live in a household where someone 18 or older is smoking, drinking excessively, misusing prescription drugs, or using illegal drugs.

Even when home life is stable an adolescent can still be at risk for drug exposure and addiction. Peer pressure is one of the most common reasons an individual will try drugs, and this is likely due to its extent on and off school grounds. In 2013, about one in eight youths aged 12 to 17 had been approached by someone selling drugs within a single month period.

Sometimes, the vulnerability to addiction is inherently embedded within us, and the simple exposure to drugs can start a fire before even sparking a flame. Scientists estimate that genetic factors account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction. If you know that addiction runs in your family, it is extremely important to be open about it with your loved ones. This sort of knowledge can prevent an addiction, and a terrible strain of resulting consequences… ones that could’ve otherwise been avoided if preventive measures and abstinence from substances were enacted from the very beginning.

Like other diseases, the imposition of addiction on a person will vary. No single factor can determine who will become addicted to drugs, or how quickly its cycle will take to spark. The impact of early drug exposure, however, can provide us some insight into addiction’s grasp on certain individuals, and show us how to further prevent it. A person’s vulnerability factors, including an unstable environment in adolescence and the genetic susceptibility to addiction, should first be recognized. They should then be balanced. Protective factors, weighed against one’s risk factors, can reduce a person’s stake for developing addiction. At Turnbridge, we believe that by focusing on self-control, positive relationships, personal goals, and the foundation of a support network, one can truly put out the flame of addiction, and live sober. Call us today for more information on how to prevent a drug addiction, or visit our infographic on the addiction cycle here. See where it begins, where it can go, and how you can end it before it even begins.