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Whirlpools of Risk: Understanding Risk Factors

Updated: Feb 20, 2023

ADDICTION || Whirlpools of Risk || Episode 2

Addiction Policy Forum - 02:33

Not everyone who uses alcohol or drugs develops a substance use disorder (SUD)—why is that?

People have different risk factors that make them more vulnerable to developing SUDs. These can be environmental—such as poverty or exposure to trauma—or individual—such as genetics or the age of first use.

The escalation from first use of a substance to developing a SUD follows a pathway that begins with initiation and progresses to regular use—to problem and risky use—to SUD and addiction.

But not everyone goes down the full path. Drug and alcohol use can escalate to a disorder rapidly or slowly based on a person’s risk factors, as well as the risk of the substances they are using.

Over 70% of heroin users will develop a heroin use disorder. 56% of tobacco users. 9% of alcohol users. 11% of marijuana users. 51% of methamphetamine users.

When multiple substances are used at the same time, the risks get even higher.

Understanding personal risk factors as well as the risk of specific substances is critical to empowering people to prevent drug and alcohol use from progressing toward SUD and addiction.


“ADDICTION” is an animated video series that turns the science on substance use disorder (SUD) and addiction into stories that stick.

Want to learn more? Need help? Worried about a loved one? Visit the ARC or call 1-833-301-HELP (4357) for free, compassionate, and confidential support.

Animated by Patrick Smith Produced by the Addiction Policy Forum Written by Maureen Boyle, PhD, Jessica Hulsey Nickel, and Lisbet Hope Portman.

All rights reserved. @2018 The Addiction Policy Forum.


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