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Drug Abuse and Dependence - What Increases Your Risk

Not everyone who uses a drug develops a drug problem. Certain things make abuse and dependence more likely. These are called risk factors.

Genetic and health risk factors

  • Genes. People with drug problems often have a family history of drug use. Genes may influence whether you use drugs and whether you move from drug use to drug abuse and dependence.1
  • Gender. More men than women use drugs. But the rate of abusing prescription drugs is similar in men and women.2
  • Your mental health. If you have a mental health problem, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or an anxiety disorder, you are more likely to use drugs. Treating mental health problems makes drug use less likely. And if you're using drugs, treating mental health problems makes recovery more likely.

Social risk factors

  • Early use. The earlier you began to use drugs, the more likely you are to abuse them or become dependent. This may be because early drug use changes the developing brain.
  • How you use. If you smoke a drug or inject it into a vein, you are more likely to become dependent. These methods give you a fast and intense "high," but you lose the high quickly and then feel low. This may make you use the drug more often.3
  • The drug you use and how strong the drug is. Some drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, are so strong that dependence is possible no matter how you use them.
  • Environment. If you live in an area where drugs are easy to get and where drug use is common, you are more likely to use drugs.
  • Family and friends. You are more likely to use drugs if your family members or friends use them.
  • Problems with others. You may be more likely to use drugs when you are having problems in your family or with friends.
  • Not having purpose or satisfaction in your life. If you have no activities that give you a sense of purpose, you may be more likely to use drugs.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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