What are your risks for addiction?

What puts you at risk of addiction? There's no one answer to that question. There's no single factor that can predict who is likely to succumb to addiction.

Instead, there are a lot of factors that interact, working together and magnifying one another, to place one person at a high risk of addiction, and another at a lower risk.

The highest risk for addiction is believed to be genetic, but just because you are part of a family with a history of addiction, that doesn't mean that you're going to become addicted. This doesn't have to be your destiny.

Conversely, if you come from a family without a history of addiction, that doesn't mean that you're home free. Drinking has never been a part of my life, or any of my three older brothers, and our parents and grandparents didn't drink, yet my younger brother wasted a large part of his life drinking, and died young less than a year ago.

With or without a family history of addiction, no one is safe from the possibility of addiction. Some people even develop addictions late in life after a triggering event, such as the loss of a job or a loved one.

Risk factors predispose an individual to an addiction, but they don't predict it.

Once a person starts using, new risks emerge. The particular substance you use, or the behavior you engage in, can have a significant effect on your brain, resulting in addiction. Once you start using mind-altering substances or engage in mind-altering behaviors, your brain is modified in various ways. When you continue using, the alterations in the function and structure of your brain may be such that it continues to malfunction even after you have quit using.

This is why addiction is often considered to be a brain disease.

Addictions progress through a series of changes to the brain that involve memory connections in various circuits of the brain that result in difficulties in thinking clearly or in the processing of emotions, resulting in the addictive behavior being the main motivational priority in the addicted person's life.

Someone who has low genetic susceptibility to addiction may be able to get out of the loop before addiction takes root, and may be able to experiment with addictive substances without becoming addicted. This isn't the case with someone with high emotional or genetic risk factors, whose brain may quickly yield to the addiction.

Addictions often begin with the simple pursuit of a good time, but they end with the cycle of cravings, compulsions, and an endless quest for that original high that never comes again.

The risk factors for addiction may be sorted into two different categories: predispositions and brain changes. Predispositions involve the risks of becoming addicted, while changes to the brain affect the individual's ability to break the cycle of addiction. The latter accounts for the fact that there is no simple addiction cure. Recovery involves abstinence, combined with cognitive, emotional, and behavioral strategies designed to build up an individual's self-regulation skills.

A genetic predisposition for addiction means that biological material or genes have been passed on from a set of parents to their child which increases the likelihood that the child will develop and addiction, if or when the child is exposed to an addictive substance or behavior.

Regardless of genetic predisposition, a person who never takes a drink of an alcoholic beverage is not going to be addicted to alcohol. By knowing your risk factors, you can avoid addiction.

If you're never exposed to the addictive substance, or if you are fortunate enough to grow up in an environment devoid of trauma and tumult, your risk for addiction is probably low.

If the genetics account for fifty percent of an individual's risk for addiction, the individual with a family history of addiction is not necessarily sentenced to addiction. Other factors will likely be necessary to tilt the scale toward addiction.

Another risk factor may include an unstable family life, which too often comes with a family history of addiction. Others include a weak network of friends, feelings of loneliness, and a tendency for compulsive behavior.

Of course, your risk for addiction cannot be measured perfectly, but four markers include a family history of addiction, your level of tolerance to the addicting substance, your tendencies toward high anxiety, and engaging in sensation-seeking behaviors.

If you have a high genetic risk for one addiction, the chances are very good that you could be at risk for several of them. Turning to drugs as a way to reduce your dependency on alcohol, or vice versa, is probably not a good idea. Separate expressions of addiction often reinforce one another, resulting in addictive behaviors that are greater than the sum of its parts.

Since each of us is an individual, the risk factors for addiction are not an exact science, although the basic idea is valid.

If one of your parents was addicted to alcohol, you have a much higher risk of addiction, once you start drinking, than if you had no family history of addiction. Building that out, the greater number of addicted relatives you have, the greater your own risk. Additionally, the biologically closer the addicted relatives are, and the more severe the addiction, the greater your risk.

When a close family member, such as a biological parent, is actively addicted during your formative years, the more likely you are to have additional risk factors, such as an unstable family life.

Some people like to brag about their high tolerance to addictive substances, such as alcohol, but high tolerance is a significant danger sign, particularly when the levels of tolerance increase over time.

However, even individuals with low risk factors can become a victim of addiction if they use addictive substances on a regular basis, for whatever reason.

No one is safe from addiction. It could happen to anyone.

Note: Some of the information used for this article was derived from Creative Recovery: A Complete Addiction Treatment Program That Uses Your Natural Creativity, by Eric Maisel, PhD, and Susan Raeburn, PhD.