How to Assess Your Risk for Addiction

April 27, 2023

6 mins

Never Alone Recovery


Because there are so many factors involved, it's hard to assess one's own risk for addiction. Fortunately, we've put together a guide to assessing your risk for addiction.

Anyone can assess their risk of developing Substance Use Disorder, or SUD. Even if you use nonaddictive substances or have no addictive hobbies or interests, you can use knowledge of your risk to make more responsible decisions. And if you do use addictive substances like alcohol or tobacco and have concerns, read on. 

You might want to know the chances so you can moderate your behavior or have concerns about a loved one’s potential to develop an addiction. Whatever your reason, remember that not everyone experiences each of these risks in the same way or with the same intensity. 

If none of the risks apply to you, that doesn’t mean you have no chance of addiction or can act with abandon. At the same time, if one or more of these factors apply to you, it doesn’t mean you are guaranteed. Instead, these factors mean you are more or less likely to develop SUD without preventative measures. 

Personal, psychological, genetic, and chemical mechanisms can all influence your risk of addiction. If you know about the various risks, then you can better take proactive steps to assess your risk and avoid or address potential problems. 

The Risks Are Higher if You Use Already 

Your chance of addiction rises the more you use a substance. Say you have a chance of addiction every time you use a drug, and some of the factors we discuss later determine those odds. The more you use your substance of choice—that is to say, the more often you roll those dice—the greater your chances of addiction. 

Of course, addiction is more complicated than an on/off switch. But the principle remains the same. For example, a few drinks a few times a week could snowball into alcoholism if you have a higher risk. Drug of choice, method of ingestion, other factors, and even genetics can all influence your odds of addiction. 

Frequent drug use can also build drug tolerance, which means you need more and more of the drug to achieve the same results. The economic, behavioral, and physical changes higher tolerance creates often co-occur with addiction and help warn you and your loved ones that you might need to modulate your behavior before the problem worsens. 

Your Drug of Choice Matters 

The type of substances you use plays a crucial role in your likelihood of addiction. Some substances, such as opiates and methamphetamines, have addictive properties so intense that users can form a dependency after only a few uses. The dangers involved mean government and medical officials maintain tight production, distribution, and prescription standards. 

However, legal substances also have addictive properties. You can buy tobacco or alcohol if above the legal limit, and anyone can get caffeine from a vending machine or the coffee shop down the street. While society accepts caffeine addiction as a part of everyday life, the effects of caffeine addiction and withdrawal disrupt everyday life with severe morning headaches and fatigue. 

While alcohol enjoys as much or greater social acceptance, the Prohibitionists got one thing right—it has potent addictive properties. If you drink often, you could form a heavy psychological dependency on alcohol. You might use it to cope with problems, relieve stress, lift your mood, or help numb traumatic memories or experiences (more on that later). 

While frowned upon, nicotine addiction remains pervasive. Initiatives to help people stop smoking exist everywhere because nicotine affects so many people—and those around them. Those properties lead to hard-to-break compulsive behavior.

How You Take It Matters 

In addition to the substance type, the method of drug ingestion can also play a role in the likelihood of addiction development. Smoked and injected drugs deliver their chemical payload into the brain or blood. Swallowed materials must instead filter through the digestive system and liver (which is why alcoholics often suffer damaged livers). 

Thus, the typical methods for the use of these drugs: 

  • Marijuana 
  • Heroin (injected opiate) 
  • Tobacco 
  • Cocaine 
  • Methamphetamine 
  • Steroids

Mean they can have a higher chance of addiction than: 

  • Swallowed painkillers 
  • Alcohol 
  • Caffeine 

Painkillers, alcohol, and caffeine do not necessarily have a lower overall risk because of their lower chemical risk. Most jurisdictions do not ban these materials. Access to alcohol or caffeine presents much less risk than heroin or methamphetamines. Potential addicts can use and abuse them more often, at lesser expense, and develop an addiction through tolerance and exposure. 

Other Diagnoses May Increase Your Chances 

A personal or family history of mental disorders, diagnosed or undiagnosed, can increase your chances of developing an addiction. Substance use disorder often co-occurs with other diagnoses like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. People unwilling or unable to seek therapy or treatment may use drugs to self-medicate. 

For example, you might have depression and use alcohol to mitigate feelings of hopelessness and boost your ability to interact in a social environment. The highs provide temporary relief, but the combination makes addiction all the more likely. 

Difficult withdrawal symptoms can intensify the impact of mental illness. The psychological dependency combined with an increased tolerance shrinks the interval between uses…which we already know increases the chances of addiction. 

An addiction that originates from other factors, such as use in early life, can also cause mental illnesses to develop. The two feed off each other—mental illness drives you to drugs, and drug withdrawal worsens your mental illness. All the while, you continue to spiral. 

The People Around You Can Influence You 

Whether we realize it or not, the people we spend time around influence us to act like them. Drug use and addiction work the same way as any other influence. The odds of addiction go up when you see others around you use drugs to cope with present stress or past struggles.  

Peer Pressure  

Peer pressure refers to social shame to coerce conformity. In other words, those around you push you to act as they do. When you spend time with groups that smoke, drink, or use drugs, they pressure you to do the same. 

Not all peer pressure happens on purpose. A teenager might pressure a friend to try cigarettes (see the classic line “all the cool kids are doing it”), but you can feel peer pressure even if nobody says anything. If everyone else drinks at a party, then the powerful human instinct to fit in can influence you to join them even if you abstain by yourself.  

Peer pressure can also lead you to try more dangerous substances. Cannabis users in states where it remains illegal have higher odds of a move to “harder” options, which share distribution networks. The chance of a move to a “harder” substance drops hard when cannabis becomes legal. 

If Younger, Then Harder

The earlier you start an addictive substance, the greater your odds of addiction later in life—assuming you're not already addicted. Peer pressure from parents or other influential adults, or easy access to unsecured substances, can play a significant role. 

If you started in adolescence or even pre-adolescence, drug use and reliance occupied a crucial part of your formative years. Your body and mind become accustomed to the presence of your drug of choice as you grow, and you may not know how to function as an adult without it. 

These patterns of early learned behavior present a more significant challenge than those learned later in life, but difficult does not mean impossible. 

Genetics: Family Matters 

Addiction, substance use disorder, and mental illness all have a genetic component—they “run in the family.” You may have inherited an “addictive personality” from a relative, which increases your odds of addiction if you fail to take proper precautions. 

Note that you may not become addicted to a substance. You should also watch out for non-substance addictions like gambling, pornography, 

  • Addiction, SUD, and mental illness in general run in families 
  • Knowledge of family history vital for self-assessment 
  • “Addictive personality” 
  • Can become addicted to drugs or other habits, such as gambling 
  • 200 words 

Addiction Assessment and Prevention 

Consider how one or more of these risk factors apply to you or someone you care about. If you don’t have the answers, such as your family history, do your best to gather as much information as possible. 

This self-assessment represents the first steps toward potential treatment. You may save yourself more heartbreak, trauma, and financial hardship later in life with a change to your current behavior—or walk away confident that you have a lower chance of addiction. 

Either way, we here at Never Alone Recovery hope this information empowers you and your loved ones as the first self-screening tool in your arsenal. 

For more information and opportunities to take the next steps in your self-assessments, join one of our free online support groups or download or in-depth self-screening tool. 

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