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Who Is Most At Risk of Drug Addiction?

Addiction is a very complicated illness. It can develop under almost any circumstances, has no actual cure, and requires an entirely new perspective on life to overcome it. But if you want to better understand this disease, then learning who is most at risk of drug addiction is a great place to start.

Susceptibility ≠ Inevitability

Like so many other diseases, addiction has many possible risk factors, from peer groups to genes. It can develop from a wide variety of contributing factors and circumstances, often forming patterns that loosely follow demographic lines. But when it comes to demographic groups that are at higher risk for addiction, there’s an important qualifier to keep in mind.

The fact that some are statistically more susceptible to addiction than others sometimes implies inevitability. As a result, many people conflate susceptibility with inevitability, assuming that the risk will always be realized and lead to full-blown addiction. Much like how certain genetic indicators for diabetes doesn’t guarantee that someone will develop diabetes, being part of a demographic with a rate of addiction that’s higher than the general population doesn’t make the development of addiction a guarantee.

Which Demographic Groups Have a Higher Risk for Addiction?

According to recent estimates, approximately one in ten Americans has some type of addiction. Moreover, as many as one in seven will experience addiction at some point in their lives. And that figure can get even more alarming when we’re talking about high-risk groups.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the demographic groups that are at the highest risk for addiction.


Yes, you’re reading this correctly — men are the first high-risk group on our list. As research has shown, men are roughly twice as likely to misuse mind-altering substances than women. There have been a few theories to explain this, but the general consensus is that men are more likely to bow to peer pressure. 

Conversely, women are less likely to misuse mind-altering substances; however, once they start misusing alcohol and drugs, women escalate their substance abuse faster than men. In other words, men are more likely to begin abusing addictive substances while women’s substance abuse progresses and turns into addiction faster.

So why are men at higher risk for addiction? There are a number of theories, most of which come down to how men socialize and express themselves. Most men are discouraged from expressing their emotions as they grow up, or else they perceive the expression of emotion to be something that made them more feminine.

People with Mental Illnesses

Over the years, we learned that a lot of people who suffer from addiction also have co-occurring — or comorbid — mental or emotional disorders. There are several reasons why this can happen, such as overlapping genetic vulnerabilities, similar areas of the brain being affected, or even certain environmental influences.

More often than not, it’s an untreated mental illness that substantially increases a person’s risk of developing an addiction. In an effort to address his or her symptoms, the person turns to alcohol or drugs in an effort to “self-medicate”. In other words, substance abuse originates, at least under these circumstances, from desperation to alleviate the symptoms of a mental disorder.

Young couple walks with baby
Photo: Jakob Owens

Families with a History of Addiction

When addiction occurs in a family unit, other members of the family become far more likely to develop addictions too. The most obvious catalyst for this would be genetics, implying that the substance-abusing parent passed certain genes along to his or her children. But the other possibility is that simply being exposed to substance abuse in the family unit makes others more likely to develop substance abuse problems. However, the most likely scenario is that it’s a combination of the two.

Whether or not addiction is passed along via genes, growing up around substance abuse has the effect of normalizing it. Then as the children grow up, they’re exponentially more likely to misuse mind-altering substances as well.


Another demographic group that’s shown to be particularly susceptible to substance abuse and addiction is the LGBTQ community. If you’re not familiar with this community, LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer. In other words, this community is comprised of people who are labeled as “sexual minorities” by the mostly-heterosexual public.

If you dig a little deeper, it makes quite a bit of sense that the LGBTQ community would be a higher risk for addiction. Although attitudes toward homosexuality have mellowed quite a bit in recent years, people in the LGBTQ community are still frequently subjected to ridicule and sometimes even physical violence. Aggression can even come from conservative loved ones who have a heteronormative worldview. It can leave members of the LGBTQ community to cope with constant rejection and ridicule on their own.

Ethnic Groups

While the LGBTQ community is more likely to turn to substance abuse to cope with frequent mistreatment, many ethnic groups experience much the same thing. Basically, being made to feel less than others simply because of one’s ethnic background creates lingering feelings that can be very difficult to reconcile. Desperate for relief from these feelings, substance abuse becomes a convenient solution.

How Can You Mitigate the Risk?

A lot of the risk factor(s) we associate with certain demographics can be mitigated with certain resources and coping strategies. As you may have noticed, some of the demographic groups who are at higher risk for addiction often turn to alcohol and drugs in an effort to escape societal abuse. Therefore, one way to mitigate the risk would be to surround yourself with supportive, empathetic people. Joining a support group is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people who can be your supporters.

Then there’s the importance of having some healthy coping strategies at your disposal. When you have healthy, productive, and effective ways to cope, you won’t feel so compelled to use alcohol and drugs to escape. Even something as simple as meditating can do a lot to calm your mind and alleviate negative emotions.

Want to Learn More? Silicon Beach Treatment Center is Here For You

Even though certain demographic groups have an elevated risk of addiction, anybody can become addicted to alcohol and drugs. However, nobody has to continue suffering in the throes of addiction.

At Silicon Beach Treatment Center, our world-class holistic addiction treatment programs can help you to regain your health and independence. For more information about our programs, contact Silicon Beach today.

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