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Prescription Drug Abuse: Who Gets Addicted and Why?

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Opioid Addiction: Hard to Predict continued...

Even more people might experience pain pills like most people do alcohol. It's something pleasurable in moderation, but they have no urge to overdo it.

But according to Saxon, about 5% to 10% of the population have brains that are already primed for addiction. "They take the drug and say, 'Wow, that's fantastic,'" he says. "They really want to feel that feeling again." Soon, they seek further chances to use the drug, and increase the dose.

Can someone know if their brain is vulnerable to opioid addiction? Unfortunately, "there's no blood test, no scan of the brain that can predict who will become addicted," says Levounis. While certain genes have been associated with the risk for drug addiction, "no one gene is responsible," Saxon says, "and we're a long way off from genetic testing to identify people at risk."

Still, certain factors are known to increase the risk for opioid addiction. Altogether, our genes account for 50% of the susceptibility to addiction. Studies of identical twins, who share the same genes, prove the link. If one identical twin develops a drug addiction, there's about a 50% chance the other twin will, too.

That leaves half of the risk in the "environmental" category. "This includes everything from your social group, your economic status, your family environment, and probably most importantly, stressful events during childhood," says Saxon.

Childhood trauma, like physical or sexual abuse, losing a parent at a young age, or witnessing violent acts create changes in the brain that last into adulthood. For reasons that aren't clear, these people are more prone to prescription drug abuse.

The most obvious environmental factor, though, is simply being around opioid drugs. For example, two teenagers might both be predisposed to opioid addiction. If one goes to a high school where prescription drug abuse is considered "cool," he might be more likely to use and become addicted. If the other teen is never exposed to opioid drugs, he may be more likely to stay clean.

Adults who have already abused other substances like alcohol or cocaine are more likely to fall victim to opioid addiction, as well. Smokers and young people are at higher risk, as well, according to Jamison.

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