NurseAsk Nurse Lisa

Substance Use Disorder: At-risk Populations

Some people have a higher risk of misusing and becoming addicted to drugs. Knowing your risk factors can help you to be proactive in avoiding drug use and situations that may make drug use more likely.


A certain amount of risk-taking is a normal part of adolescent development. The desire to try new things and become more independent is healthy, but it may also increase teens’ tendencies to experiment with drugs. The parts of the brain that control judgment and decision-making do not fully develop until people are in their mid-20s; this limits a teen’s ability to accurately assess the risk of drug experimentation and makes young people more vulnerable to peer pressure.

Mental Disorders

Having other mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make a person more susceptible to drug addiction. This is because these disorders may sometimes lead to the use of drugs, alcohol or other substances to deal with the situation.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events occurring before age 18. ACEs include all types of abuse and neglect as well as parental mental illness, substance use, divorce, incarceration, and domestic violence. A landmark study in the 1990s found a link between the number of ACEs a person experienced negative outcomes in adulthood, including substance misuse, partaking in risky behaviors and poor physical and mental health.

Lack of Family Involvement

When parents aren’t involved in their children’s lives, or the child lacks supervision, risk of drug misuse and addiction goes up. This is because it is easier for a child to acquire and abuse drugs and it promotes difficult family situations and a lack of family connection, all of which may encourage drug use.

Taking a Highly Addictive Drug

Some drugs are more addictive than others. For instance, cocaine is known as a highly addictive drug. Prescription pain killers also create faster tolerance and dependency. Even so, taking drugs that are thought to be “less addictive” can still put you on a path to drug addiction.

Get Help

For general resources about relationships, sex, wellness and more, please do a search on the Get Answers page.

Are you in immediate danger?

Call 911 or your local police. If not in an immediate threat, please view resources on the Get Care page.