How to Assess Your Risk for Addiction

May 30, 2023

5 mins

Never Alone Recovery


Assessing your risk for addiction is crucial for making responsible decisions and understanding the potential risks for yourself or a loved one. By gaining awareness of these risk factors, you can take proactive steps to prevent addiction or seek appropriate treatment.

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, knowledge of your risk encourages responsible decision-making. And if you’re someone who does, in fact, use addictive substances like alcohol or tobacco and have concerns, it’s even more important for you to read on. 

Knowing your chances of becoming addiction gives you an effective tool to moderate your behavior or to contextualize a loved one’s risk. However, not everyone experiences risk in the same way or with the same intensity. 

There are a plethora of personal, psychological, genetic, and chemical mechanisms that influence your risk of addiction. When you’re more aware of where this risk comes from, you’re more able to mitigate potential problems. 

Higher Risk When Actively Using

Your chance of addiction increases exponentially as you use a substance more frequently. Because as the body’s growing tolerance requires escalating dosage to achieve the desired effects, you’ll find it becomes harder and harder to stop using the substance over time. 

The economic, behavioral, and physical changes that come with a higher tolerance warn you and your loved ones that you might need to curb your behavior before the problem worsens. 

Drug of Choice Matters 

The type of substances plays a crucial role in one’s likelihood of addiction. Some substances, especially opiates and methamphetamines, have addictive properties so intense that users can start to feel the pull of chemical dependency after only a few uses. It’s for this very reason that government and medical officials maintain tight production, distribution, and prescription standards on controlled substances. 

Yet there are legally-accessible substances, like tobacco and alcohol to the caffeine found in a vending machine or the coffee shop down the street, that have proven to be highly addictive. Caffeine, in particular, is accepted as part of everyday life as withdrawal from caffeine can lead to severe morning headaches and fatigue. 

Alcohol isn't just a widely-accepted social lubricant as its addictive potential is high as well. Even when it's used to cope with problems, relieve stress, elevate mood, or help numb traumatic memories or experiences (more on that later), the misuse of alcohol means you're more likely to become addicted. 

While frowned upon, nicotine addiction remains pervasive. Initiatives to help people stop smoking exist everywhere, including putting impossible-to-miss warnings directly on the packaging of these products, because nicotine addiction is so widespread.  Even cannabis, which has fewer addictive chemical effects, can create behavior changes and psychological dependence with continuous frequent use. 

Considering the Manner of Delivery 

In addition to the substance type, the method of ingestion can play a role in the likelihood of addiction. For instance, smoking and injecting substances delivers chemical payloads directly into the bloodstream and, by extension, the brain. By comparison, substances ingested orally must find their way through the digestive system and liver (which is why alcoholics often suffer damaged livers) to unleash their intoxicating effects. 

Due to the manner in which they’re most often ingested, the substances currently considered to have the highest potential for creating an addiction include: 

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

Elevated Risk from Co-Occurring Diagnoses 

Having a history of mental disorders, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed, can increase your chances of developing an addiction. After all, substance use disorder often co-occurs with other diagnoses like PTSD, depression, anxiety, and a number of other common mental health disorders. In many cases, the addiction occurs as a result of using drugs to self-medicate. 

One thing to keep in mind is that with the development of an untreated addiction in addition to an existing diagnosis, we often see each diagnosis amplifying the other. When you consider the many other factors in the development of an addiction — e.g. use in early life — can cause mental illnesses to develop. All the while, you continue to spiral. 

Addiction & Social Influence 

Whether we realize it or not, when we spend a lot of time with certain people, it’s very common for many people to start picking up the habits and mannerisms of those they’re spending time with. Drug use and addiction work much the same way with the odds of becoming addicted increasing when those around you use drugs to cope with present stress or past struggles.  

Peer Pressure  

Peer pressure refers to the threat of social consequences to coerce conformity. In practice, this means when you spend time with people that smoke, drink, or use drugs, you often feel obligated to follow the same behaviors simply for being present. 

However, not all peer pressure happens on purpose. When everyone else at the party is drinking, the desire to fit in can make you more inclined to join them.  

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 that often share distribution networks with cannabis. The chance of a move to a “harder” substance drops hard when cannabis becomes legal. 

The Earlier You Start, the Harder You Have to Work Later

The earlier you start an addictive substance, the greater your odds of addiction later in life—if you don’t enter adulthood 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 & Addiction Risk 

Addiction, substance use disorder, and mental illness all have a genetic component, which is why it’s commonly said that they “run in the family.” This means it’s possible to inherit an “addictive personality” from a relative, increasing your odds of addiction if you fail to take proper precautions. 

You should also watch out for non-substance addictions like gambling, pornography, and the like.

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 guide to 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. 

At Never Alone Recovery, we empower our communities with information, providing screening tools to have 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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