Differences in age, gender, race and income are all addiction risk factors. While the faces of addiction are diverse, some groups are more at risk than others. 20.8 million Americans aged 12 and up struggled with a drug or alcohol addiction in 2014. With addiction being so prevalent, it’s easy for scientists to figure out which groups are more at risk. Knowing which groups have a higher risk helps us pinpoint who needs the most help.
It’s clear that addiction is on the rise in America despite the many public announcements. Directing awareness and preventative efforts at people who are more susceptible to drugs and alcohol is important. It’s also an effective approach to take in the war with drugs.
Addiction risk factors increase a person’s risk in becoming an addict. There are many addiction risk factors at play. The most prominent and influential factors include age, gender, race and income. Identifying which factors are risk factors is helpful in developing effective awareness programs. It also helps the general public understand which groups are more at risk, and are in need of more help.
Age as It Relates to Addiction
Age is one of the more influential addiction risk factors. The main question on everyone’s mind is whether certain age groups are more likely to be addicts.
This isn’t a yes or no answer. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
Studies do show that some age groups are more vulnerable to addictions than others. Of course, there are other contributing factors at play. However, figuring out how age relates to one’s addiction risk is important in understanding addiction as a whole.
Type of Drug Abused
Age is a factor that can determine which drugs you’re more susceptible in getting addicted to. Lifestyle differences between generations and accessibility of drugs are mostly the factors involved.
Studies have found that younger Americans are more likely to be addicted to opioids. Young males are more likely to engage in risk-seeking behavior. Combine that with their disposable income, and they become the biggest oxycodone fans. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the older generations aren’t at risk. It’s just that more young men use oxycodone than any other age group. Seniors, on the other hand, are more likely to use and to get addicted to hydrocodone.
Increase in Risk of Addiction
The age when someone first starts abusing drugs is linked to their potential in becoming addicts in the future. The earlier a person abuses drugs, the likelier they are to develop an addiction. Teenagers who abuse marijuana before the ages of 17 are 2.1 to 5.2 times more likely to develop a serious drug problem.
Drugs have a more profound impact on developing brains than developed brains. They disrupt the development stages and cause irreparable damage.
They also have a more profound impact when it comes to pleasure. Adolescents get more reward out of doing drugs than seniors. The younger you are, the more pleasurable it is to do drugs. In short, drugs hit young Americans harder and give them a bigger high. This intense high may encourage them to try the drugs again. The more they do drugs, the likelier they are to get addicted.
An interesting fact is that this does not always lead to increased voluntary intake. Although drugs are more pleasurable to young Americans, they’re not as likely as adults to develop addictive behaviors. This is because they are less sensitive to withdrawal effects. This protects them from developing drug-seeking behavior.
The Battle Men and Women Have with Addiction
When it comes to gender, men and women are both equally as likely to get addicted to drugs if they try them. Men, however, are more likely to try all types of substances. This exposes them to more drugs, and makes them more likely to become addicts. As a result, more men have a substance use disorder than women from the same age or demographic.
Men also tend to:
- Start using illicit drugs and other substances at an earlier age
- Abuse drugs more frequently and in larger amounts
- Be more likely to abuse alcohol and tobacco
- Be more likely to binge drink, which involves drinking more than 5 drinks on one occasion
The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 12% of men did illicit drugs. In comparison, only a little over 7.3% of women in the same age groups did any type of drugs.
Drugs Affect Women Differently
The battle that men and women have with addictions and drugs is quite different. This is largely because drugs have a different effect on each gender’s body. Some of it is caused by fluctuations in hormonal levels.
For example, women are more susceptible to cocaine addiction and dependence. The drug affects key regions of their brain in different ways.
In women, cocaine use increases activity at the right nucleus accumbens. This causes the drug to have a more pleasurable effect on women than men. It also causes more intense cravings. Cocaine also inhibits activity at the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in women. This region handles self-control. This causes women to exhibit more drug-seeking behaviors when it comes to cocaine.
In general, most drugs appear to be most effective on women. Each drug’s effect also differs depending on a woman’s menstrual cycle and body type. Women specifically tend to have a higher body fat content. This is important because body fat can trap drugs in the body for longer periods of time.
Risk of Drug Dependence as It Pertains to Race
Another popular question is whether race has any effect on addiction risks.
Many people assume that African-Americans are more likely to get addicted to drugs. After all, they are 10 times more likely to get arrested for drug crimes.
A recent study has found that to be false. There is no correlation between getting arrested for drug crimes and having a higher addiction risk.
While there’s no absolute, certain races are more vulnerable than others. Native Americans, people of mixed heritage, Caucasians and Hispanics have higher addiction risks.
Studies show that Native Americans have a likelier chance of being dependent on alcohol, marijuana and opioids. There’s no scientific explanation why. There are, however, some theories.
The Link Between Trauma and Addiction
Aboriginals all over the world have addiction rates as high as those seen in Native Americans. The most prevalent and prominent theory is that this is due to multi-generational experience of trauma.
The link between trauma and addiction is concrete. Those who experience early trauma are more likely to become addicted to illicit substances. The trauma can come in various forms. Common examples include:
- Coming from a broken family
- Experiencing a natural or man-made disaster
- Getting emotionally, physically or sexually abused
- Losing a family member at a young age
- Witnessing a violent situation
These traumatic experiences are classified as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Children with four or more ACEs are seven times more likely to be at risk of alcoholism than those with no ACEs. In addition, the risk of drug injection is higher in young boys with four or more ACEs than in those with none.
EMDR Therapy and Trauma
Addictions caused by trauma are best treated with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. This therapy dates back to 1989. Developed by Francine Shapiro, it treats anxiety, depression, PTSD and other mental disorders.
Nowadays, more than 100,000 clinicians actively practice EMDR therapy with their patients. More clinicians are seeing the benefits of EMDR Therapy everyday.
The Basics of EMDR Therapy
It’s difficult to explain exactly how EMDR Therapy works. To put it simply, this therapy combines practicing rapid eye movements with recalling past memories. This technique is used to retrain the brain to process trauma in a different way.
The entire therapy involves eight different phases. Each phase is practiced over the span of several therapy sessions.
During each therapy session, patients focus on an object or external stimuli. This object is placed only several inches away from each patient’s eyes. As they focus on the object, the object is moved back and forth quickly. This causes rapid eye movements. Patients are then guided through a mental process where they recall traumatic experiences. These memories, experiences and beliefs are then replaced with new and empowering ones.
Income Differences and Substance Abuse
Income levels tie in with addiction risks in an interesting way. Its effect on addiction differs depending on other factors, like age and ethnicity.
The most vulnerable group with addictions is low-income men. Men with fewer resources at their disposal are 12 times more likely to develop a substance abuse problem. This may include using illicit drugs or heavy drinking.
There are some theories on to why this might be. Many scientists speculate that lower income levels come with additional risk factors like:
- History of homelessness
- History of incarceration
- Lack of emotional support and instrumental support
- Low health literacy
- Poor education
- Poor employment status
Little to no emotional and instrumental support is one of the main contributing factors to a higher risk of addiction. These individuals are more likely to be depressed and to suffer from mental health illnesses.
Depression, Addiction and the Brain
Depression increases the risk of addiction. They both play off of one another, and are often diagnosed together.
Brain chemistry levels change when going through depression. The natural production of certain hormones and neurotransmitters, like endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, drop dramatically. This causes the affected individual to feel sad and hopeless. Life often feels meaningless, and once-pleasurable activities seem boring and dull. These feelings persist as long as the chemistry levels stay relatively low.
Prescription and illicit drugs artificially boost hormone and neurotransmitter levels. This causes the affected individual to feel happy, euphoric and relaxed. Unfortunately, these elevated levels are temporary. Upon coming down from the high, addicts will be back where they started.
This can be very frustrating. As a result, addicts are likely to chase the high by doing more drugs. The brain soon adapts to the artificially elevated neurotransmitter levels. To combat this, higher dosages and amounts are needed. This vicious cycle is terrifying because it can easily lead to overdoses. Many long-term addicts are gambling with their lives. The dosage needed to feel high may only be several micrograms away from an amount that can cause a fatal overdose.
The brain produces less natural hormones and neurotransmitters with long-term drug use. This means that it becomes harder for addicts and those struggling with depression to feel better again without the help of narcotics. Their brain forgets how to produce the levels of neurotransmitters needed.
Protective Factors Worth Mentioning
While many factors can increase addiction risks, there are also protective factors at play. Protective factors are best at shielding children or young adults from addiction. The younger that a person is when they are exposed to protective factors, the less likely they are to dabble in drugs. Protective factors include:
- Academic competence
- Good self control
- Parental monitoring
- Strong anti-drug use policies, especially at schools
- Strong neighborhood attachments
The effect of each of these protective factors will vary from individual to individual. Some children may respond better to a strong parent-child bond than others. Children exposed to fewer protective elements have a higher chance of abusing drugs. These children tend to be equipped with less resources and education. They have less ability to protect themselves from the dangers of drugs.
The powerfulness of each risk and protective factor varies from kid to kid. It depends on each child’s personality and behavior. It also depends on the type of environment they are in. For example, a strong parent-child bond may mean something different to each child. While some children may have a great bond with their parents, they may be more affected by peer pressure. If their schools do not have great anti-drug policies, they might be exposed to more drugs. Their friends at school may then pressure these children into doing drugs.
To lower addictions in children, parents need to change the balance between the amount of protective elements and risk factors the children are exposed to. Ideally, children should be exposed to more protective elements than risk factors throughout their entire childhood.
Early intervention from family, school and the community can completely change a child’s predisposition to becoming an addict. Early intervention can have a direct effect on the addiction risks of all types of drugs.
Knowing Where to Look
Addiction is often described as an equal opportunity disease. It does not discriminate. It can also easily affect anyone — even teachers, judges and mothers. It doesn’t take much to get addicted. In fact, users only need to try heroin once to start craving it. It’s that easy.
Environmental elements and other factors can increase one’s risk to developing a drug addiction or dependence. Certain groups are more susceptible than others. Also, some risk factors play off of one another. By identifying these groups and risk factors, it’s easier for the government and the public to direct help to the people who need it the most. After all, many people don’t seek help for their addiction and suffer silently. Others are high-functioning addicts, and successfully hide their addictions from others with ease.
Learning more about the risk factors involved with addiction can lead to the development of better awareness and prevention programs. More attention can be given to susceptible groups. This can become an effective method for tackling America’s growing drug epidemic.