Risk Factors for Addiction

  • Personality
  • The concept of an “addictive personality” is appealing because it can explain why some people become addicted when others don’t, despite them both having the same experiences. It can also explain why some people become addicted to a range of things, such as gambling, food, exercise, work or relationships.
  • Eysenck (1967) proposed a biologically based theory of personality based on three dimensions:

Extraversion. Extroverts need external stimulation to reduce their boredom due to being chronically under-aroused.

Neuroticism. People who are high in neuroticism are more likely to experience negative effects such as depression or anxiety, which makes them more vulnerable to developing an addiction.

Psychoticism. Psychotic people are more likely to be hostile and act impulsively. They react with little forethought.

Francis (1996) found a link between addiction and high scores on both neuroticism and psychoticism, supporting Eysenck’s theory.


Belin et al (2008) used rats to demonstrate the link between addiction and impulsiveness. They put rats in a device where they could self-administer doses of cocaine. One group were sensation seekers, one were high in impulsiveness. The impulsive group became addicted.

One issue with the theory is that the research is correlational only. The research shows that certain traits are common along addicts but it doesn’t mean they predict addictive behaviour, they just correlate, they don’t demonstrate a causal relationship.


Everyday stress could contribute to why someone may develop an addiction. When people have daily hassles, they feel that they have to self-medicate. E.g. smoke, drink, do drugs, gamble, etc. Such stressors contribute to initiation, maintenance and relapse. (NIDA, 1999)

People exposed to traumatic, severe stress are more vulnerable. (E.g. children who have suffered from loss, abuse, etc.) PTSD is also linked with addiction. People engage in a behaviour to block the stress and then have to keep repeating the same behaviour over and over to prevent the stressful feeling from returning, causing an addiction. (Vicious circle.)


It’s possible that smoking doesn’t reduce stress as desired but actually increases it. Being stressed may be a risk factor for smoking but its unlikely that smoking will have the desired effect. However, there may be aspects of smoking that reduce stress. As a smoker, craving your next cigarette can be stressful; therefore when you have the cigarette, stress is relieved. This may give the impression that smoking alleviates stress as perceived by some.

Stress may create vulnerability in some people but not in others. Cloniger (1987) suggested that there are different kinds of alcoholics. Types 1 are the kind that drinks to reduce tension. This type is more likely to be female and prone to depression and anxiety. Type 2 drink to relieve boredom and are likely to be risk takers Therefore stress may affect some, likely type one, but not all.


Peer pressure can be a reason for why adolescents start taking drugs or start smoking. Research has shown that smokers tend to befriend smokers and non-smokers befriend non-smokers. (Eiser et al, 1991)

The SLT can explain the development of smoking. (Bandura, 1977) Behaviours are learner through observation and modelling of the behaviour. Young people are most likely to imitate the behaviour of those with whom they have to most social contact. Once initiated, personal experiences will influence the continuation.

The Social identity theory is another possible theory. (Abrams and Hogg, 1990)

This assumes that individuals adopt the norms and behaviour of their group. In peer groups where being a smoker is central to the social identity of the group, individual are likely to take it up.


There is supporting evidence for the social learning theory. Duncan et al (1995) found that exposure to peer models increases the likelihood that teenagers will begin smoking. Eiser et al (1989) also support the claim that perceived rewards such as social status and popularity are influential in why adolescents start smoking and why they continue. This therefore indicates that SLT is a strong theory and can illustrate why young people start smoking.

However, there is a lack of evidence for the social identity theory. Although there is evidence to support the claim that adolescents are motivated to begin smoking due to stereotypes (Michell 1977), there is little known about the extent to which these groups influence their members to smoke. Nor do we know whether adolescents actually follow their social group if it conflicts with their own concerns and opinions.


The influence of peers on smoking and drug taking habits appears to lessen during later adolescence. Instead the role of close friends and close romantic relationships seems to become more important in influencing attitudes and behaviours. This is especially prevalent with those that are health related. (Brown et al, 1997)

Therefore, the social crowd has more of an impact during early adolescence and is when an individual is most vulnerable to peer pressure, which later moves to the best friend and/ or romantic partners role.