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Addictions Anonymous, 8: Risk Factors

 article about risk factors

This article belongs to Addictions Anonymous column.


Just as I ask addicts to consider all the different addictions, I urge them to think in a very general way about potential risk factors, situations that may help set the stage for the development of an addiction. These risk factors, like triggers, make up another important group of conditions that lead to addiction. Once I have described all the important general conditions in the chain, we can put them altogether later in a simple formula that describes all addictions.

 article about risk factors
Below is a very long list of life events that seem to be risk factors for some individuals. The mere presence in life of a difficult or unusual event does not by itself cause an addiction or any other life problem, but it can put the individual at risk for addiction or mental illness. Many experts have focused on a single class of events such as trauma or genetics, and have built their theories around that one limited class of events. However, there are no simple explanations for addiction, no single causes that can operate without other conditions being present. Most of us have experienced many of the events on the following list in some degree, but few of these events become important to us. For example, most people find themselves near an accident, flood or large fire at some time in life. We all experience unusual and impressive events from time to time. What we remember and what we make of our experiences is far more important than the experience itself.

Once we take a detailed look at possible risk factors we can try to assess what impact they may have had on life and why the same event will have very different effects of different people.

The following list of risk factors was composed using a number of other lists in the psychological literature. We added quite a few of our own and we reworded each in building a comprehensive inventory. You are invited to place a check in the blank before any item if it applies to you, but please remember that you should check only those items that, for whatever reasons, are most significant in your memory and experience. Try to look, in other words, for actual life-shaping events about which you had or still have serious concerns.

Events before age 18 101_____Death of a parent or guardian

102_____Death of a brother or sister

103_____Death of a close relative

104_____Having a major physical illness before age 18

105_____Divorce of parents/guardians

106_____Adults in the home unfaithful to each other

107_____Bitter arguments between adults in the home

108_____Alcohol and or drug abusing adults in the home

109_____Major failure in school

110_____Social rejection due to physical or intellectual problems

111_____Beatings or extreme punishment by adults in the home

112_____Torture or severe mistreatment by others than parents

113_____Severe racial, ethnic or religious prejudice

114_____Serious malnutrition or starvation

115_____Severe restrictions in freedom of body movement

116_____Abandoned by parents or guardians

117_____Adults in the home with other addictions such as over-eating, gambling, etc.

118_____Adults in the home with severe emotional problems

119_____Frequent geographical moves

120_____Sexual abuse or molestation of self by others in the home

121_____Incest, sexual molestation of others in the home



Other events either of childhood or adulthood excluding military service:

201_____Continuing financial problems and/or poverty

202_____Separation from or loss of a close personal friend

203_____Rape or sexual assaults

204_____A flood with serious risk or actual harm to self

205_____A storm with serious risk or actual harm to self

206_____A earthquake with serious risk or harm to self

207_____A fire with serious risk or harm to self

208_____An accident with serious risk or harm to self

209_____An explosion with serious risk or harm to self

210_____Serious and determined suicide attempt(s)

211_____Torture or prolonged abuse, mistreatment, etc.

212_____Seeing the death or serious injury of another person

213_____A severe sports injury to you

214_____Death or serious injury of another that you caused

215_____Broken engagement

216_____Time spent in jail or prison, other legal problems

217____Chronic pain



Adult Family Life

301_____Death of a spouse or life partner

302_____Death of a child of yours

303_____Miscarriage or still birth

304_____Forced or unwanted abortion

305_____Disabling illness/accident of spouse or life partner

306_____Having a retarded or permanently disabled child

307_____Prolonged responsibility as a care-giver to a disabled person

308_____Spouse or life partner unfaithful

309_____Divorce or involuntary separation

310_____Unwanted or unexpected pregnancy

311_____Constant arguments and fights

312_____Spouse or life partner abusing alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.

313_____Physical and/or emotional abuse by spouse or life partner

314_____Continuing misbehavior of your child

315_____Frequent forced relocations and moves

316_____A child of yours leaving home

317_____Severe and prolonged overcrowding at home

Events on the job or at home

401_____Fired or demoted from you customary position at work

402_____Unexpected long lay-off

403_____Involuntary job transfer

404_____Extremely poor or hazardous working conditions

405_____Failure to obtain a long awaited promotion

406_____Stressful, prolonged competition on the job

407_____Prolonged unemployment

408_____Severe conflict with a boss or co-worker

409_____Too much time away from home because of job demands

410_____Forced or unwanted retirement

411_____Frequent unwanted changes in assignments or tasks

412_____Overwhelming job demands or responsibilities

413_____Extreme stress caused by promotion or personal ambition

414_____Racial, sexual, and/or religious conflict or discrimination on the job

415_____Forced by the job to deal with abusive, hostile or irrational people

416_____Loss of a license or the right to practice your profession

417_____Work requiring constant contact with seriously injured, mutilated, dying or institutionalized people

Military service

501_____Inducted into service against your will

502_____Assigned to a job incompatible with your preference or experience

503_____Constant conflict with authority

504_____Time spent in the brig or stockade

505_____Severe injuries unrelated to combat in service

506_____Combat related injuries or wounds

507_____Inabililty to return home during a family crisis

508_____Demotion or reassignment against your will

509_____Loss of close friends in combat or because of accident

510_____Exposure to the enemy in hostile territory

511_____Direct combat with an armed enemy

512_____Saw or took part in the killing of civilians

513_____Exposed to shelling, bombing, torpedoing, etc.

514_____Forced to kill individuals in combat

515_____Taken and held as a prisoner of war

516_____Exposed to chemicals, gas, radiation or other toxic agents

517_____Dishonorable discharge or force separation from service

Health problems

601_____Prolonged painful dental problems

602_____Cancer

603_____Lung disease

604_____Blood disease

605_____Kidney disease

606_____Stroke, heart failure, severe cardiac prolems

607_____Major surgery or painful medical treatment

608_____Loss of a limb, sight, hearing, etc.

609_____Paralysis

610_____Mental illness requiring hospitalization or continuing treatment

611_____Serious burns

612_____Gunshot wound

613_____Multiple bone fractures

614_____Head injury

615_____Glandular disease

616_____Painful/disabling effects of aging

617_____Continuing joint disease with pain and/or disability

618_____Severe skin disorder

619_____Other significant health problems

Legal Problems

701_____Long and/or difficult divorce litigation

702_____Serious legal charges placed against you

703_____Lawsuit filed against you

704_____Court appearance for serious legal violations

705_____Long jail or prison term of over three months

706_____Being brutalized while in prison by guards or inmates

707_____Controlled probation

Spiritual life

801_____Forced to change or abandon your religion

802_____Excommunicated from church

803_____Persecuted for religious belief or background

804_____Loss of faith

805_____Religious conflict at home

If I missed something important to you in the lists above, please write it in your journal or on a piece of paper.

If you are in doubt about the importance of any given factor in your life, this might be a good subject to discuss with a qualified counselor, group sponsor or trusted friend. Your confidant probably should not be someone with whom you shared the experience or who is a family member.

In summary: up to this point I have discussed two of the important conditions that set the stage for addiction: triggers and risk factors. The next article will consider another broad range of human behaviors that include attitudes, beliefs and values. These, too, seem to influence addiction and recovery from addiction in very important ways.

A suggestion: Start a personal journal by entering your triggers, and then enter the risk factors you checked above. Continue to record in your journal as we go on describing how addictions develop.


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