Drug use is common in the United States–very common.
According to a report from CBS News last September, nearly 10 percent of Americans aged 12 and older were illicit drug users in 2013, and almost 20 million said they used marijuana. Additionally, 16.6 million adults in the United States aged 18 and older had an alcohol-related dependence issues.
With statistics like these that seemingly jump from the page and the constant stream of news stories that dominate news networks and social media, one would think that America is a nation of drug addicts seeking their next fix. It is true….drug and alcohol addiction is a major and legitimate concern that requires our attention.
It is also true that not everyone who uses drugs and alcohol will have issues or become addicted to those substances.
The Line Between Recreational Use and Addiction
There is no doubt what drug use and addiction can do to a person, from the physical health risks and psychological toll it takes on the addict and their family to the dangers of overdose and death. However, most people who use drugs and alcohol will either remain unscathed through a short period of experimentation or learn to accommodate their use into their lifestyle, adjusting their so it doesn’t interfere with daily obligations with work, family or school.
If often begs the question…how can some people avoid the pitfalls of addiction and “use responsibly” and function normally?
Why Don’t Most People Become Addicts?
The main reason why people don’t get trapped in the cycle of substance dependence and abuse is due to the fact they don’t have pre-existing vulnerabilities or risk factors that increase their risk.
For example, people that don’t have a family history or multi-generational history of drug and alcohol use will have a low risk of developing addictive behaviors. People that have excellent social support–from family, relatives, peers and other important people in their lives–are also less likely to develop a drug and alcohol problem.
Age of first use can also play a role. Teens who start using drugs before the age of 14 are at much higher risk of addiction than those who wait until their late teens or twenties.
Probably the most telling factor on why some people don’t develop drug addictions is their environment. Addiction is seen the most in the poorest communities and addicts are usually working-class, have less education, have little or no history of employment and have greater instances of mental illness.
The last point was explained perfectly by writer Paul Hayes in an article published earlier this year on the IFL Science website:
Most drug users are intelligent resourceful people with good life skills, supportive networks and loving families. These assets enable them to manage the risks associated with their drug use, avoiding the most dangerous drugs and managing their frequency and scale of use to reduce harm and maximise pleasure. Crucially they will have access to support from family and friends should they begin to develop problems, and a realistic prospect of a job, a house and a stake in society to focus and sustain their motivation to get back on track.
In contrast the most vulnerable individuals in our poorest communities lack life skills and have networks that entrench their problems rather than offering solutions. Their decision making will tend to prioritise immediate benefit rather than long-term consequences. The multiplicity of overlapping challenges they face gives them little incentive to avoid high risk behaviours.
The Bigger Picture…
The reality is there is no sure fire way to tell if someone is going to be an addict or not. Yes, certain people may exhibit the risk factors and live in an environment which will increase the likelihood they will develop an addiction, but the development of a substance abuse problem is a perfect storm of social, environmental and biological factors.
It is often said that some people are “born to be addicts”; the truth is that addiction can affect ANYONE, no matter their age, race, sex, or socioeconomic background.