Social factors are significant in a person’s life and contribute to addiction. Some of the most notable risk factors include maladaptive peer relationships, unstable family environments and the presence of drug-using friends.
On the other hand, protective factors such as strong religious beliefs, school connectedness and grit can discourage drug use.
Environments can contribute to addiction in a number of ways. These include peer pressure, a person’s environment and a person’s social and cultural influences.
Peer pressure is a major contributor to drug abuse. People who spend a lot of time with people who are involved in risky behaviors like drug use, especially at a young age, can be influenced to do the same. Adolescents are particularly susceptible to peer pressure, as they are often looking for social acceptance and willing to take part in behaviors that are against their better judgment just to fit in. It is important for adolescents to spend time with friends who don’t engage in risky behaviors like drug use.
The physical environment can also influence a person’s chance of developing an addiction. For example, if a person lives in an area with high crime rates, they are more likely to be exposed to drugs and alcohol on a regular basis. People who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods are also at a higher risk for substance misuse because they lack access to things like adequate food and basic levels of safety.
Lastly, a person’s environment can be influenced by their family’s history of drug abuse and addiction. Studies on twin pairs have shown that living with an addict increases the chances of abusing substances in one’s own life. In general, heritability was moderate to substantial for initiation and problem use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs.
Other environmental influences can include a person’s culture and religion. For example, some cultures may be more accepting of male drinking than female drinking, which could contribute to different rates of alcohol abuse between genders. Other cultures might have beliefs that encourage a person to feel shame if they break certain rules, which can also lead to a person turning to drugs for self-medication. These cultural and religious triggers can be very powerful, as they are often learned at a very young age and become embedded in our identities as we grow up. This is a key reason why it is so important to educate people about these environmental influences on addiction.
Adolescents are particularly susceptible to peer pressure because they are in a stage of development where they are separating more from their parents’ influence and striving for independence. Their social circles usually contain similarly minded peers, which can create a sense of uniformity and conformity that can increase vulnerability to peer pressure. They are also seeking approval, which can make them more willing to take risks in order to fit in with their friends.
Positive peer pressure can also exist, however, and it often comes from family members and loved ones who encourage the individual to seek help for addiction. Many addicted individuals see this kind of support as meddling or an effort to control them, but the truth is that it can be powerful in helping an addict realize their need for treatment.
While there is a long-running debate about whether nature or nurture is the root cause of addiction, researchers have started to realize that both are at play. The environment in which you grow up and the people you associate with can influence your risk for developing an addiction to alcohol or drugs. These social factors can be in the form of peer pressure from friends or the influence of the media. They can also include stressful life changes that trigger the use of substances to cope.
Family conflicts, stress and divorce can have a strong impact on a person’s behavior, especially when they are young. Having a stable home environment is essential for healthy development and can help prevent future addictions. Children who are exposed to parental alcohol and drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases or domestic violence are at greater risk for substance abuse later in life.
The culture and religion in which you grow up can also have a strong effect on your risk for addiction. This can include the geographic area in which you live, beliefs related to shame and teachings regarding drug usage.
Early Childhood Experiences
When a child is raised in a positive, stable environment, they are better able to cope with life’s challenges. Unfortunately, not all children are lucky enough to have this experience. Negative childhood experiences, such as abuse, neglect, poverty and family dysfunction can negatively impact a person’s health, wellbeing and social connectedness in adulthood.
This is why it is so important to provide a loving and supportive environment for children from birth. These factors are considered a key to healthy development and should be the priority for all parents.
One of the most influential studies that was done on childhood trauma was the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. This study looked at nearly 17,000 adults and asked about their childhood experiences. The ACE score was created to measure how many adverse experiences someone had in their lifetime. Those with the highest number of ACEs were found to have poorer health outcomes.
A person’s ACE score can include things like physical and emotional abuse; neglect; living with a parent who was addicted to drugs or alcohol; parental incarceration; depression or other mental illnesses in the family; racism; involvement with the foster care system; and other forms of family dysfunction. This is a complex issue, as a person may experience multiple ACEs at the same time.
In a study on the link between ACEs and SUDs, Dr. Daniel Sumrok, director of the Center for Addiction Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, said that “it is safe to say that 92 percent of my patients with a history of trauma and addiction have 3 or more ACEs.” This is why it is so important to recognize signs of addiction, such as early warning signals, so you can seek treatment.
Here are some questions for you to consider to continue your healing journey:
- How can I create a supportive network of friends and family who encourage my recovery and discourage substance use, especially during vulnerable times of peer pressure?
- What steps can I take to address the environmental influences that contribute to my addiction, such as finding a safer living environment and distancing myself from situations or locations where drugs are readily available?
- How can I address the impact of my early childhood experiences, such as trauma, neglect, or family dysfunction, and seek professional help to heal from these experiences as part of my recovery journey?