drug addiction factors

Does Addiction Have Behavioral Tells in Children?

Since the mid-twentieth century, when psychoanalysis began to take off, we have been trying to figure out ways to predict behavioral health problems before they occur. For instance, psychiatrist J.M. Macdonald developed a set of three factors in 1963 known as the Macdonald triad that he claimed to indicate whether a child could become a murderer. However, the problem with predicting future behavioral problems is that it can be difficult to tell whether it’s the result of a deep psychological issue that points to something down the road or the response to current issues.

For instance, many critics of the Macdonald triad say that it is more likely a sign that the child is going through abuse or trauma rather than it is a psychological precursor to murder. Because of this, it’s important not to jump to extreme conclusions when it comes attempting to predict future behaviors.

However, if parents can see early warning signs that could potentially lead to addiction, maybe they can be proactive in helping children avoid substance abuse.

Factors that Contribute to Addiction

Set rules for predicting future behavioral problems is controversial, mostly because trying to pin down people and personalities with a rigid structure is like trying to herd cats. There hasn’t been a set of behavioral tells put forward for future addictive behaviors like the Macdonald triad does for homicide. However, there are several factors that seem to contribute to addiction that can be observed before a substance abuse problem begins.

Sometimes, the first indicator that a child may one day have a problem with addiction requires you to look at his or her surroundings rather than directly at the child. There are many factors that have shown a correlation with addiction in sociological studies, including genetics, environment, family life, and peer groups. Recognizing these risk factors is less like the Macdonald triad and more like looking at risk factors for disease. For instance, heart disease has many risk factors like family history, dietary habits, and age that can be used to improve your preventative tactics.


We are only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to understanding genes and how they relate to addiction. However, scientists are beginning to find strong links between genetics and a person’s susceptibility to addiction. Through gene mapping, researchers have even found genes that affect how you process alcohol and other nervous systems suppressants that work on GABA neurotransmitters (inhibitory neurotransmitters that regulate excitability).

Genes can also affect personality traits, your natural tolerance to substances, and how you process stress, all of which can lead to addiction in certain circumstances. However, even if you have a higher susceptibility for addiction, it doesn’t mean that addiction is inevitable. Still, if you have a family history of addiction, it’s important to take precautions to avoid substance abuse.


Environmental factors are another significant force that can either push you toward addiction or help prevent it. A major example is the availability of drugs around you. If a child’s walk to school is through an open-air drug market, they may be more likely to experiment with drug use. Yet, if a child is driven to school or lives in a neighborhood with low drug availability, they are less likely to abuse drugs. Environmental factors can be broken into smaller categories including:

  • Family. Children that grow up in a high-stress household are at greater risks for developing addiction. Families that experience excessive conflict between parents and siblings can cause children to seek unhealthy outlets eventually. Families that frequently move can also cause a lack of stability that can lead to using drugs, especially to kids who see drugs as a way to bond with others. Of course, parents and guardians who use drugs also create a family environment with a higher risk factor for addiction.
  • Peer groups. Whether you are at school or work, the friends you keep and the people you are around will have a big impact on your life. For one, making friends can be difficult for kids who see their peers every day in school. When you are accepted by a group you might be more inclined to go along with the activities that group is engaging in. If a child has friends who do drugs, it will be very difficult for them to avoid being exposed to drugs.
  • Community. The community is an often overlooked part of a healthy lifestyle. Belonging to a community is an important way to feel like you belong to a larger group and avoid isolation. Communities with high drug availability are an obvious risk factor, but communities with little to no opportunities for engagement (i.e. after-school programs, parks, churches, clubs) can create an isolating effect.


Stress is a risk factor for a number of different diseases and it plays a significant role in addiction. One study reports that 64 percent of people addicted to narcotics experienced family adversities early in life. Another study reported that chronic stress could affect your reward center and learning systems in your brain, increasing your vulnerability to addiction. When difficult situations arise, with no healthy way to process stress, children are more likely to turn to unhealthy outlets.

Stressful situations are inevitable, and it’s unrealistic and probably unhealthy to shelter a child from all stress causing situations. Rather, a child’s ability to deal with stress is a key factor. Evangelical pastor, Charles R. Swindoll is quoted saying, “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” If a child has the tools and support to process stressful situations in a healthy way, stress can be avoided as a risk factor for addiction.

What If You See These Signs?

If you notice that you or your child meets a lot of the risk factors for addiction, it’s important to realize that addiction is still not inevitable. You may not be able to improve your genetic factors, but you can improve social and environmental factors. Learn ways to support your child, help them deal with stress, and avoid isolation.

If you think that they may already be using drugs, there are treatments available. If you want to learn more about different treatment options, call a representative at the Drug Treatment Center Finder today at 855-619-8070.