• Parents want to know if their children are likely to become addicts, especially if there is a family history of addiction.
• Teens wonder if trying a drug will lead to a life of crime and shame.
So what are the signs of drug abuse?!
Unfortunately, I have to start with the answer you probably don’t want to hear: no single factor can be said to fully predict substance abuse. Instead, the equation can be thought of as an interplay of risk-factors and protective-factors.
Having family members with alcohol- or drug-abuse problem is an example of a risk-factor. The more risk-factors a person has the more likely it is that person will become addicted. Some risk factors interact to make the likelihood of addiction much greater than either factors alone.
Protective-factors are life events or experiences that reduce or moderate the effect of exposure to risk factors. Some examples of protective factors are: parental-monitoring, self-control, positive relationships, academic competence, anti-drug use policies, and neighborhood attachment.
Risk Factors Vs. Protective factors – An implicit battle
There are five categories of risk and protective factors including individual, school, peer, community and family. Examples of protective factors within the individual category include social skills and responsiveness, emotional stability, positive sense of self, problem solving skills, flexibility, and resilience.
Other aspects of the individual category include the gender and ethnicity of a person. Men are generally more likely to become addicted (likely because they are less prone for internalizing issues like depression). American-Indians are genetically more sensitive to the effects of alcohol, while about 20% of the Jewish population may have genetic variations that protect them against alcoholism. Overall, estimates regarding the genetic influence on addiction risk range from 40% to 80%. Much of that genetic risk lies in changes related to the functioning of neurotransmitters that play a part in the development of addiction such as GABA, serotonin, dopamine, NMDA. Those with mental disorders of all types are at an increased risk for developing an addiction.
Some factors, like stress, can be considered part of multiple categories. Individual variability in stress response (via the HPA Axis) would be part of the individual category, while levels of environmental stress can be part of the other four categories.
The home and school life of a child (part of the non-individual categories) can play a large role as either risk-, or protective-factors. If a child sees elders using drugs, they may view drugs as harmless, but children who are well prepared by their parents may better resist peer-pressure to use drugs. As we stated before, the earlier a person begins to use drugs, the more susceptible they are to harmless effects on brain structures and other bodily functions.
Certain methods of using drugs can also be considered risk-factors. Smoking or injecting a drug causes it to be more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, producing an almost instantaneous high when compared with eating or drinking a drug. However, the quick rush of euphoria may soon dissipate and leave the user feeling the “rebound effect” making them crave the high again. This quick, short lasting, cycle is believed to encourage the user to want to the drug again in hopes of reaching that high.
Overall there is no one thing that can predict or protect against addiction. Instead, a combination of factors are always at play and the more aware a person is of these factors the more able they are to protect themselves.
Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer