11 Surprising Things That Make You More Vulnerable to Addictions

Risk for Addiction

Science now knows that addiction is not a moral failing, but rather a chronic brain disorder that can affect anyone. The dopamine surge and activation of the brain’s reward centers that results from an addictive substance or behavior can, with continued use, create cravings, the loss of control, and the compulsion to continue use despite consequences. These are all part of the addiction cycle. One way to avoid the cycle of addiction is to be aware of what makes you vulnerable to it. Here are 11 things that increase your risk of addiction.


Head injury can make you more vulnerable to addiction – especially if the injury compromises areas of the brain responsible for reward, judgment, and impulse control. Click To Tweet

11 Factors That Raise the Risk for Addiction

1. Getting poor sleep.

Sleep deprivation interferes with connections between your brain’s prefrontal cortex (involved in planning, judgment, and impulse control) and its limbic system (emotional centers) and reward network, according to research, which results in a greater likelihood of irrational behavior and poor judgment. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, poor sleep downregulates dopamine receptors, which makes people more impulsive and vulnerable to seeking the excitement drugs offer.

2. Being under the age of 25.

In adolescents and young adulthood, the brain is still developing and maturing. The brain’s prefrontal cortex (PFC)—responsible for planning, judgment, and impulse control—is not fully developed until approximately age 25. The brain matures by becoming more interconnected and more specialized. However, in young people, connections are weak among the PFC itself, as well as between the PFC and areas involved in the brain’s reward system. All of this means that young people are particularly vulnerable to drug and alcohol addiction and behavioral addictions (also called process addictions) as their ability to evaluate risk, weigh consequences, control impulses, and make smart decisions is not developed.

3. Head injuries.

When you understand that addiction starts in the brain, it makes sense that head injury can make you more vulnerable to addiction—especially if the injury compromises areas of the brain responsible for reward, judgment, and impulse control. Some research indicates that head injuries sustained in early life can damage the reward pathway networks that are characteristically underdeveloped during childhood and adolescence. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can interrupt the ongoing maturation of these areas and predispose one to substance use disorder later in life. Another concern is that head injuries are associated with a higher incidence of mood disorders, which may make one more susceptible to addiction as a means of coping.

4. Having ADD/ADHD.

Untreated ADD/ADHD makes a number of adverse long-term conditions more likely, including a greater prevalence of substance use disorder, research has found.  In fact, one meta-analysis shows that every fifth patient suffering from substance addiction could be diagnosed with co-existing ADD/ADHD. This common condition is often associated with low activity in the PFC. The condition’s hallmark symptoms of impulsivity and poor judgment may, to some degree, explain the higher prevalence of addiction. Additionally, individuals with ADD/ADHD may turn to drugs to self-medicate. There also may be a genetic link between ADD/ADHD and the vulnerability to addiction.

5. Coronary artery surgery.

Opioid use for pain management post-coronary surgery puts individuals at higher risk for addiction. Heart surgery is also known to negatively impact brain function, which also may increase the chances of addiction. Nearly 10% of cardiac surgery patients developed new “persistent opioid use,” according to one 2020 study that involved more than 36,000 cardiac patients. Interestingly, the patients who underwent coronary artery surgery were among the most susceptible to substance use issues. A 2018 Canadian study also indicated this vulnerability in patients who underwent coronary artery surgery, finding 21.7% of patients who used opioids reported ongoing opioid use 3 months post-op.

6. Caffeine.

Caffeine is the most consumed psychoactive drug in the world. It’s advised that caffeine consumption be limited to avoid addiction. Yet consumers love coffee, tea, and energy drinks with caffeine for their stimulating effect. Caffeine promotes alertness, concentration, and optimism. However, as with all addictive substances, more and more is needed to produce the same effect. Over time, caffeine may not provide the same level of mood and cognitive boost. As a result, some people may seek out more dangerous stimulating drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine. Young people are known to combine caffeine-laden energy drinks with stimulant drugs such as MDMA (ecstasy), research has noted.

7. Frontal lobe dementia.

People who suffer from frontal lobe dementia are at greater risk of behavioral problems such as aggression, changes in personality, irritability, apathy, lack of empathy, depression, and addiction, research has found. That’s because a characteristic of frontal lobe dementia is behavioral disinhibition, which can manifest in substance use, studies report.  In fact, researchers are now exploring how frontal lobe dementia may be linked to late-onset alcohol use disorder.

8. Medications.

When you take medications, such as opioids for pain, depressants for anxiety or sleeplessness, or stimulants for attention problems, you are at greater risk for addiction.  Medical experts advise that if these medications are not taken as directed, they can activate the brain’s reward centers, which leads to physical dependence. In fact, the Mayo Clinic warns that taking opioid medications for even “more than a few days increases your risk of long-term use, which increases your risk of addiction.”

9. Low blood sugar.

Your brain needs a steady supply of glucose to run optimally. Low blood sugar levels are associated with lower brain activity, including lower activity in the PFC. An underperforming PFC makes you vulnerable to poor decisions, lack of self-control, and impulsiveness. Indeed, research shows that self-control failures are more likely to occur when blood sugar levels are low. Self-control failure of course is a major feature of all addictions. It is well understood by medical experts that people with alcohol abuse problems tend to suffer from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) too. In fact, one recent study made balancing blood sugar part of a treatment program for recovering alcoholics.

10. Sugar-Filled Treats.

Sugar-filled treats may seem benign if enjoyed on occasion, but in terms of the reward centers of the brain and addiction potential, the sweet white granules may be as addicting as another white powder—cocaine. Research using animal models indicates that the effects of heavy sugar consumption produce neurochemical changes in the brain that also occur with addictive drugs. When an individual consumes a sugary treat, the brain produces a large surge of dopamine—not unlike the dopamine surge triggered by heroin and cocaine, which can lead to intense sugar cravings. Researchers think that the feel-good dopamine boost might be because our bodies have adapted over time to seek out foods (such as sweets) that are high in calories to ensure survival.

11. High-carb foods.

Ultra-processed refined carbohydrates found in snack foods—such as chips, crackers, pizza, cookies, baked goods, and soft drinks—play on the same reward centers of the mind that sugar and cocaine do and are highly addictive. Indeed, a 2018 study found that high-glycemic index, carbohydrate-rich foods are addictive and lead to obesity. When researchers at Yale University set out to track the addictive-like qualities of certain foods with the development of the Yale Food Addiction Scale, many questions about eating behavior involved the consumption of high-carbohydrate foods because they are among the most addictive.

Knowing the factors that increase vulnerability to addiction and eliminating them, when possible, can help you avoid becoming caught in the grips of addiction. If you’re in recovery, avoiding these risk factors is one of the keys to lasting healing.

Addiction and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. i started to use cannabis when i was 18 and found it made me feel comfortable with myself and more able to cope with others
    just recently i found out that i had a tbi at 2yrs (I am now 73) which twisted my skull bones and impeded my pituitary so that my reproductive system never worked well and i ended up with ovarian cancer at 48
    all my life i was plagued with odd illnesses and postural problems and too much activity in my mind
    i met a private dentist ( i am in the uk) who then tried to balance my temporomandibular joint (jaw joint) dysfunction and everything became more and more apparent – have spent 15yrs researching this problem that also seems to be involved in gender orientation
    i was given an article entitled 'Temporomandibular dysfunction and systemic distress' by justin glaister in private dentistry 2010 where the author states that a dysfunction can cause problems with muscular, skeletal, endocrine and nervous systems
    and i have encountered those problems all my life and felt inadequate cos i find it difficult to live 'in the moment' because i cannot process at the time of any situation
    looking at the problems that can be encountered is it not obvious that so many 'diseases' are directly caused by the jaw disfunction
    read the article – it will blow your mind as to the potential of disease control!!!!!

    Comment by penny waters — June 30, 2023 @ 4:51 AM

  2. Wow, i avoided most of the above, except the concussions, and the carbs. Sugar, caffeine are not in my diet at all. The Willpower somehow I currently lack. I find myself unable to stop snacking at night. Chips & dips – salt is my addiction . Help!!

    Comment by Skidooit — June 30, 2023 @ 5:03 AM

  3. I had a TBI at the age of 35. At the time I was over my eating disorder. I have begun binging and purging all over again

    Comment by Susan — June 30, 2023 @ 10:06 AM

  4. My question isn’t about addiction but saw you stated that the brain needs a steady supply of glucose . Was wonder what your thoughts are on the keto diet where brain runs on ketons rather then glucose?

    Comment by Jill — July 2, 2023 @ 7:44 AM

  5. I have a question Is Lorazepam and Buspirone bad for brain 🧠?

    Comment by Aren — August 24, 2023 @ 9:29 AM

  6. love this post!

    Comment by Doug Morris — August 24, 2023 @ 1:48 PM

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