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Environmental Factors and their Role in Addiction

Research has long shown that a person’s environment significantly influences their risk for addiction and relapse. Although environment has a great impact on those of all ages, young people are particularly vulnerable. A study published in the Archives of Psychiatry found, “For nicotine, alcohol, and cannabis, familial environmental factors were critical in influencing use in early adolescence.”

Authors of The Genetic and Environmental Bases of Addiction in the journal Neuroanthropology agree, saying, “The use of drugs and alcohol is most certainly a learned behavior, as demonstrated by the cultural emphasis on learning ‘how’ to drink…the environment in which a person acquires the knowledge of how to use must be important to the formation of an addiction.”

A person’s environment can include many settings, including home, work, school, neighborhoods, recreation areas, and social events. If your environment is one in which drugs or alcohol are available and widely accepted, it can have a strong effect on your potential for abuse and addiction.

Environmental factors can strongly influence addiction

It is a simple reality: if you associate on a regular basis with those who excessively use drugs or alcohol, you are more likely to adopt that behavior. Children whose early home environment included exposure to substance use have a higher risk of developing substance use issues later in life.

Home environment

A stressful environment has a strong impact on behavior, especially for children, and especially for those who have experienced trauma. Children raised in homes where traumatic events such as domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, criminal behavior, mental illness, neglect, divorce, or substance use took place are at higher risk of addiction. A study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors found that “opiate users were 2.7 times more likely to have a history of childhood sexual and/or physical abuse than non-opiate users.”

Siblings and spouses of drug users are also at greater risk of abuse. A study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that healthy individuals who had a spouse or sibling who used drugs had an increased risk of also becoming a drug user.

Researchers at the University of Texas discovered that trauma can cause actual changes in the brain. They studied teens who had been abused and traumatized as children and found “disruptions in certain neural networks…associated with increased chances of substance use disorders, depression or both.” Their findings were published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Parenting style or inadequate parenting also has a strong influence on risk factors for addiction. Children raised by parents who are overly authoritative, showing little affection but making high demands, or by overly permissive parents who provide little structure and discipline are more easily influenced by peer pressure to drink or use drugs.

Research published in Alcohol Health and Research World reported: “inadequate parenting and other parent-child interaction patterns that promote aggressive, antisocial behavior in children, increase the offspring’s risk of an alcoholism subtype associated with antisocial personality disorder.”

Living in an environment that treats alcohol or drug use as normal behavior or as an acceptable coping mechanism makes it more likely the child will choose similar behavior in their life.

Friends and associates

A sense of belonging is important to us all. As a result, the behavior of those in our social group can shape our own behavior. If the people we most often spend time with regularly use alcohol or drugs, we are much more likely to follow suit.

If our friends center their activities around the use of drugs or alcohol, if they encourage addictive behavior through drinking or other games, if they have no interest in any activity that doesn’t include substance use, and if they mock any who seek to abstain, this is a toxic environment for anyone seeking to change their addictive behavior.

If you decide to stop drinking or using drugs, you will most likely need to change your social environment. Just as being around those who use drugs or alcohol influences our behavior to do the same, spending time with new, sober friends will assist and strengthen your recovery from substance use. Support and respect from sober friends is often the key to long-term abstinence.

Culture, social, and media acceptance

We are bombarded by media portrayal of substance use, especially alcohol, as being not only accepted behavior but desirable. Music videos, movies, TV shows, and celebrities often glamorize the use of alcohol, marijuana, and other addictive substances, making them seem acceptable.

Social media adds to the allure when individuals post comments and pictures about what a great time they are having drinking and socializing. When Michigan State University researchers asked study participants to view and respond to alcohol-related Facebook posts, they found “if people actually feel so engaged with that message and want to do something about it — like, share or comment — that it makes the likelihood of them thinking about drinking even greater.”

College is often associated with parties, drinking and drug use, and this behavior is widely condoned on campus. Bars located near campuses often offer enticements to college students through drink specials, drinking games, and special celebrations.

According to, a website dedicated to promoting physician and community action on alcohol and health, “studies have shown [that] drink price specials, kegs, and other sources of low-priced alcohol encourage binge drinking and intoxication.” Spending time in environments that accept and encourage substance use is a huge trigger for our own addictive behavior.

Just as with home, work, or school, your neighborhood can influence your own drug or alcohol use. If you live in a neighborhood where drugs are being sold and are seen as culturally acceptable, you may become desensitized to their inherent risks. And drug-infested neighborhoods can be stressful places to live, possibly influencing residents to use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.

If you’ve made the courageous decision to commit to recovery from a substance use disorder, expert help is available. Long-term recovery may necessitate avoiding certain people, places, situations, or other environmental factors that have triggered addictive behavior in the past, but recovery can lead to a more fulfilling and safer life.

Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Substance Abuse, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact our admissions department at 813-882-3003, 800-397-3006 or