Addiction: Risk Factors

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Risk Factors in the Development of Addiction


  • Stressful life experiences (e.g combat stress, dissatisfaction, sexual abuse and physical illness) can make an individual more vulnerable to developing an addiction/relapse into addictive behaviour. 
  • Self medication model suggests addictive habits may develop as a self-medicating treatment for stress (e.g alcohol, or perceived stress relief e.g nicotine)
  • Recent research investigated link between stress and addiction.
  • Addiction associated with raised levels of dopamine and researchers found that high levels of stress also increased the reactivity of dopamine receptors in the VTA (ventral tegmental area) of the brain.
  • This shows stress and addiction may be linked through dopamine system.
  • Turner et al (2002) - found that many problem gamblers had endured unpleasant life experiences the year before their addiction started.
  • Wills et al (2002) - surveyed 1,364 teenagers and found a significant correlation between high life stress and addictive smoking.
  • However - many people experience life stresses but only a few develop addictions so we cannot say that stress causes addiction.
  • Other factors e.g peers or personality may be important.


  • Peer influences found to be one of the strongest predictors of drug use during adolescence, providing drugs, modeling drug-using behaviours adn shaping attitudes about drugs. 
  • Social Learning Theory (Bandura 1977) - addictive behaviour is learned through observation of valued role models being rewarded for their smoking (vicarious reinforcement) and of those they have most contact with - thier peers.
  • Social Identity Theory (Abrams and Hogg 1990) - assumes that people identify themselves as members of particular groups (e.g smokers) and increase self-esteem by adopting the norms and behaviours of the group to which they belong. In peer groups where status as 'smoker' or 'non-smoker' is central to the social identity of the group, individuals are likely to be similar to each other in their smoking habits.
  • Bricker et al (2006) - offered support for Social Learning Theory. Studied influence of peers and parents on teenage smoking on 6006 ppts from USA in a longitudinal


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