Environmental Risk Factors for Developing an Addiction

Substance use disorder is a complex disease often caused by a combination of factors. While nature vs. nurture remains an ongoing debate in addiction research, experts are beginning to believe that the situation is far more complicated. For instance, research suggests that external factors might have the same impact on addiction development as genetic predisposition.

Environments that might impact substance use disorders can include peer pressure from friends or family members and the influence of social media. Stressful life changes might also cause people to turn to substances to cope. Learn about the role of environmental risk factors in addiction and how to get help if you or a loved one is struggling.

What Environmental Factors Increase the Risk of Addiction?

There are many external factors that influence substance abuse and can lead to substance use disorder, from home life and friend groups to culture and social media influences. A breakdown of these factors is as follows:

1. Family and Home Life

Early childhood experiences can lead addictive behavior. Family interactions and parental styles play a significant role, causing a person to either develop healthy outlets in a happy home or maladaptive hobbies in the face of adversity. Levels of parental supervision can also be instrumental in developing specific coping strategies. When a child grows up in a home with too little or too much supervision, it may increase the risk of partaking in risky behavior, such as alcohol use or dangerous driving.

Risky environments might include family conflicts, stress and divorce. When a person grows up unable to healthily deal with the stressors of chaotic home life, they may turn to substances to cope. They may also be influenced by family members who misuse substances and normalize these unhealthy behaviors.

2. Friend Groups

It can be challenging to avoid using substances when a person’s social interactions rely heavily on these activities. Everyone wants to feel a sense of belonging and when a person’s friend group and community is comprised of those who use substances, they may fall victim to peer pressure.

Younger people, whose brains are still developing, are especially vulnerable as they’re more likely to repeat the behaviors they learn early on, no matter how risky. Additionally, a person who feels like an outcast at school or is socially isolated and bullied may turn to substances to feel less lonely or depressed.

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3. Trauma and Life Stressors

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often a co-occurring disorder of addiction, meaning PTSD can contribute to the development of substance use disorder, while addiction can exacerbate symptoms of PTSD. For instance, when a person is a victim of emotional, physical or sexual abuse, they may develop symptoms of trauma associated with PTSD and use alcohol or drugs to self-treat themselves.

Experiencing discrimination, oppression, poverty and serving in the military are all situations that can cause trauma or chronic stress. When trauma takes over a person’s life, they’ll often experience severe anxiety when exposed to triggering situations and may misuse substances to cope with the emotional turmoil. While a person may feel as if alcohol or opioids curb their psychological pain, the effects can do the reverse and lead to addiction.

4. Culture and Media

Culture and religion can trigger addictive behaviors, including the geographic area in which you grow up, beliefs prevalent in your culture, teachings related to shame and the exclusion or partaking in religious activities. For example, some cultures allow men to drink while women are prohibited from the same behavior.

Cultural norms can influence problematic behaviors, especially when widely adopted by an entire community and when a person is exposed to them in early childhood. Often, people will develop an addiction in rebellion against certain cultural norms and upbringing.

Social media consumption also puts people at risk of seeing substance-related marketing and advertisements. For instance, when alcohol products are heavily marketed on social media platforms, it can be difficult for younger adults to avoid exposure even with age restrictions in place. Just seeing certain behaviors displayed in the media, whether in movies, television shows or online forums, can directly or indirectly put younger viewers at risk of partaking in these activities or developing unhealthy perspectives of themselves and the world.

How to Recognize if You Have an Addiction

It can sometimes be challenging to recognize when you have a substance use problem. Some may feel as if they have a handle on their addiction and can quit whenever they want. Others might not understand their substance use’s impact on those around them. While several factors can cause substance use disorder, professional treatment can help you return to a healthier, happier life.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, you might use the CAGE method or ask the following questions to determine whether it’s time to seek help:

  • Have you unsuccessfully tried to cut down on your alcohol or drug use?
  • Have you ever felt anger or annoyance when faced with questions about your alcohol or drug use?
  • Have you ever felt guilt surrounding your substance use?
  • Have you ever used substances as an “eye-opener” or to help with waking up in the morning?

Answering “yes” to two or more of these questions might indicate a substance use problem, though doctors will more thoroughly evaluate you and diagnose you with substance use disorder.

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How to Transform Your Environment to Aid Recovery From Substance Abuse

When you make the courageous decision to work toward sobriety, there are several ways you can transform your environment to make it more conducive for recovery:

  • Attend psychotherapy: To combat the influences of family dynamics or early childhood experiences, therapy can be beneficial. In therapy, you’ll identify possible causes of your addiction and healthy ways to cope with stressors moving forward.
  • Set social media time limits: Avoiding social media entirely can be challenging, but setting time limits or establishing set days to use it can help you avoid content that makes you feel insecure or unhappy.
  • Reach out to like-minded people: While cultural and social norms can significantly impact your habits or become triggering, speaking with like-minded individuals in your community can help you feel less alone and avoid the activities that make you uncomfortable.

Get Addiction Help at GreeneStone in Ontario

A person’s environment plays a significant role in developing addiction, from family dynamics and peer pressure to culture and social media. Fortunately, several treatment methods can help you determine the underlying cause of your substance misuse and break the cycle of addiction.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, the experts at GreeneStone Centre for Recovery can help. Our personalized, holistic approach can help you identify the causes of your addiction so you can start feeling better and get your life back on track.

To learn more about our treatment plans, contact us today.

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