Talk to Your Kids About the Risks If Addiction Runs in Your Family

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), there is no single predictor about who will or will not experience drug addiction. There are multiple risk factors which influence any given individual. Addiction risk factors include a physiological make-up, direct environment, and age. Experts say that addiction is not merely a matter of nature, nor is it simply the result of nurture, but rather a complex interplay of various factors. When more risk factors are present, the likelihood of addiction rises, though it is never pre-determined.


No one has control over their genetic make-up. We are born with the genes that we inherit from our parents. Biology (having a family history of addiction) is considered a 50 percent risk factor for addiction. Ethnicity and gender can also play a role in the risk for addiction. If your family has members with addiction problems, it is better to be open and honest about this with your children. Hiding the truth will not help them overcome an inherent risk. Instead, explain to children that not everyone who drinks or uses drugs faces the same chances of becoming addicted. Because members of your family do have addictions, it is far more likely that they may become addicted compared to another person whose family has no addiction history.


Environment encompasses an entire range of influences. Family structure is an obvious environmental factor, but so are friends and economic status. Past traumas such as abuse are part of a person’s environment as are peer pressure, parenting skills and other stressors. The hopeful thing about environment is that while a person cannot control their genetic inheritance, environment can be controlled. Concerned parents can model appropriate coping skills when pressures mount. They can help kids learn to identify feelings and be taught how to process them. Much drug use is a matter of escaping from difficult emotions that the person does not know how to work through.

Age and Development

Age and stage of development also drug addiction risk factors. Generally speaking, the younger someone is when they start using drugs, the more likely it becomes that they will form an addiction and need treatment to break it. Furthermore, adolescents are susceptible to addiction because they are at a developmental stage when their brains have not yet matured to the point where they can reason, judge and control impulse behavior in the same manner as an adult. The brain is not done forming those cognitive functions until the mid-twenties. None of these risk factors makes it inescapable that a person will become addicted to drugs. Nonetheless, it is foolish to ignore known risk factors. Talk to your kids about what influences vulnerability to addiction. Do the best job you can in creating a safe, loving and healthy environment. Kids who make it to age 21 without an addiction are far more likely to make it through life without ever becoming addicted.  

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