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Environmental Risk Factors for Developing an Addiction

Environmental Risk Factors for Developing an Addiction
Written by Seth Fletcher on February 25, 2022
Last update: February 26, 2024
Along with genetics, a person's environment is one of the main risk factors and causes of addiction. This means that the people, things, and situations that somebody is surrounded by on a regular basis are what can lead to addictive behaviour. Whether it's due to peer pressure, watching people use drugs on TV, or living in a community where certain addictive behaviour is common, someone's environment is a major deciding factor in whether or not they develop an addiction. Here are some of the main environmental risk factors to look out for.
Table of contents

1. Family and Home Environment
2. Friend Groups
3. Culture and Media
4. Learned Environments

Family and Home Environment

A person's family can have a strong influence on whether they develop addictions. This includes genetic tendencies toward addictive behaviour, as well as whether there's a family history of certain mental health issues that might lead someone to develop an addiction. It also includes a person's home environment and family interactions, such as parenting styles and various day-to-day circumstances within the home. For example, if a child sees a family member regularly exhibiting a certain addictive behaviour, they are more likely to learn and adapt to this same behaviour as well. In addition, a person's background can impact their likelihood of developing drug or alcohol addictions. For instance, children of divorce or those who have experienced or witnessed abuse may develop addictive behaviour later in life. This is because they may turn to a certain behaviour to cope with the stresses of their family dynamics, and this coping mechanism can become addictive. The good news is that while the family environment can lead a person toward addictive behaviour, it can also sometimes help prevent addiction. When there is a positive and close-knit family life and when people have a happy and healthy environment at home, this can help reduce the tendencies for people to develop addictions. If parents keep open communication with their children, keep track of what they're doing and with whom, and set boundaries for their children and teens, this often helps eliminate certain addictive behaviours. 

Friend Groups

environmental-risk-factors-for-addiction Image via Unsplash by skylakestudio Friends and social interactions can also greatly affect behaviour, and they can lead to addictive behaviour in certain individuals. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), this is especially true in adolescents because their brains aren't fully developed yet. If someone learns a behaviour while their brain is still developing, it's easier for that behaviour to become ingrained and, therefore, repeated. People want to fit in with their friend groups and may take on addictive behaviour, such as doing drugs or drinking alcohol, if their friends are engaging in that same behaviour. Most people want to spend time with others who share their interests, and unfortunately, in the case of addiction, the addictive behaviour is often the common interest within these groups.  Young people are very susceptible to peer pressure and are likely to join in if their friends try to convince them to take part in an addictive behaviour. In fact, studies show that peer pressure may actually be among the most influential factors on addiction in adolescents. This doesn't only include someone's close friends or immediate friend group. It can also be a larger peer group, such as an entire student body at a school or a certain sports team, for example. Many young people try to follow what the majority of people they know are doing.  Similarly, if someone feels left out, excluded, bullied, or like they don't have any friends, they may also turn to addictive behaviours to try to make themselves feel better and not quite as lonely.

Culture and Media

Almost everybody today watches TV and movies, and these programs can have a considerable influence on those watching them. People often get so caught up in their favourite characters and celebrities that they end up wanting to be like them. Considering how much sex, drugs, alcohol, and other addictive behaviour is portrayed (and often glorified) in the media, it's very common for viewers, especially younger ones, to try to copy what they're watching and take on similar behaviours. They may learn and be influenced by addictive behaviour in TV and films even while still very young. Because of what they see in the media, many people may even be encouraged to develop unhealthy or critical outlooks of the world or themselves. This, in turn, can also lead to addictive behaviour as they try to cope with stress or feeling inadequate.  Social media only makes this problem worse. Many people feel pressure to post things on social media that they think make them look good or cool, and they're constantly trying to impress people. They might look at other people's posts where those people are doing something fun or exciting and feel that they or their experiences don't measure up. That can result in feelings of anxiety or self-doubt that may lead someone to turn to addictive behaviour to try to console themselves.

Learned Environments

Addictive behaviours are often associated with certain places or circumstances. In other words, a particular location or activity may trigger a certain addiction. For example, if you go to a bar for happy hour drinks with friends after work regularly, you might eventually feel like you need to drink more every time you set foot in that bar. Or if you have ever done drugs in a particular location, returning to that location might give you a sudden urge to do drugs again.  This doesn't apply only to drugs and alcohol, either. Other environments can sometimes trigger other addictive behaviours — for example, going to a particular store might bring about some people's shopping addictions. Or walking through a casino can be enough to trigger the desire to gamble in some people. These are just some of the many environmental factors that could influence a person to develop an addiction. Other risk factors include trauma, mental illness, or the general stresses of school, work, or life. But regardless of what might be causing you or someone you love to develop an addictive behaviour, there are things that you can do to lessen the addiction. Treatment centres such as the Canadian Centre for Addictions (CCFA) are here to help. Call us and set up an appointment today. We want to help you on your road to recovery.
Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

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