Many young people try drugs or alcohol at some stage in their adolescence but for most they never develop problems. The thought that someone you care about and love might develop a drug problem can be distressing.

Understanding more about how drug problems develop can be helpful for parents trying to prevent problems occurring or to get help early if they do.

Drug and alcohol problems aren’t the result of an individual failing  or a single disorder. In fact, even though it is the behaviour of individuals that defines a problem, it is actually a heap of different factors that can all have an influence over whether or not a young person develops a drug or alcohol problem.

For example, if a young person is introduced to alcohol and other drugs in a family where drug use is normal or lives in a neighbourhood where drug use is an accepted part of everyday life then these do not necessarily cause a drug problem  but they are considered “risk factors”. Risk factors are circumstances or factors that increase the chances of problems developing. Risk factors can occur at an individual, peer, family, school and wider community level. They include experiences of abuse or neglect, conflict within the family, homelessness, family violence, being excluded or dropping out of school and the high availability of drugs in a neighbourhood.

Risk factors can occur at an individual, peer, family, school and wider community level

In addition to risk factors there are ‘protective factors’. If present in a young person’s life, these increase a young person’s likelihood of not developing problems with drugs or alcohol.  Protective factors also occur at different levels of a young person’s life and include strong and supportive relationships with families, positive friendship networks, fitting in at school or work and stable housing.

Check out these examples of the risk and protective factors that experts agree have an impact on whether or not young people will develop problems with drugs or alcohol.

These factors don’t cause or prevent problems on their own and every individual will have a unique combination of experiences and factors for them. But generally, when risk factors out number protective factors, a young person is more vulnerable to developing a problem. Worried about a young persons future as a result of their drug use? Take a look at our video

Was this helpful? Talk to YoDAA if you are worried about a young person you care about.