Risk Factors

Last Updated: Wednesday, June 26, 2019

More than one in seven Americans will develop a substance use disorder during their lifetime, according to the latest statistics from Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, 2016. In total, over 20 million Americans are affected by substance abuse and the economic impact to our country is huge. We don’t know exactly why some people become addicted to drugs and others don’t, but a closer look at the numbers points to a few common factors. 


Genetics is just one part of the story since they often interact with environmental factors when it comes to addiction. However, it’s worth noting that between 40 and 70 percent of a person’s risk for developing a substance use disorder is genetic.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, children who are raised in homes where the adults use alcohol or drugs are more likely to try them and become addicted. It’s the same case with children who live or attend school in areas with a high amount of drug use. 

Childhood physical, sexual and emotional abuse, along with neglect and poverty are also connected with increased risk of drug abuse, according to the report. The stress that abuse, neglect and poverty cause act on the same brain circuits as addictive drugs.

Mental Disorders

People with mental disorders have an increased risk of developing a substance use disorder. Of the more than 20 million people over the age of 12 who had a substance use disorder in the last year, over 41 percent also had a mental illness, according to numbers from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Age at First Use

Almost 70 percent of people who try an illicit drug before 13 years old develop an addiction by age 20. In comparison, 27 percent of people who use drugs after 13 develop an addiction.  

The report also lists factors that help to prevent  substance abuse. They include positive family and social connections, emotional health and one’s feeling of control over success and failure.

For more tips on how to keep your child drug free, read Growing Up Drug-Free:  A Parent’s Guide to Prevention.  

Source: Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health (Oct. 2016)



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