Substance use disorders are complex and unpredictable. If two people have similar risk factors for addiction, one may have a serious problem while the other doesn’t and the reason for the difference may not be apparent. While there probably isn’t anyone with zero risk for developing a substance use disorder, there are certain people with greater risk than others.

Young adults have the highest risk of substance use disorders.

By far, the group with the highest risk of developing a substance use disorder are people between the ages of 18 and 25. This is a turbulent age when people suddenly have more freedom and more responsibility, but haven’t quite developed the judgment to manage it all effectively. Human brains aren’t fully developed until about the age of 25, and the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for self-control, emotional regulation, and foresight, is the last part of the brain to develop. Meanwhile, young adults have to deal with the challenges of living on their own, dating, starting new jobs, going to college, and so on. The result is often high rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and reckless behavior, all of which can lead to substance use disorders. The good news is that if you haven’t developed a substance use issue by your mid twenties, your risk declines significantly.

Middle-aged people have the highest risk of depression.

Despite the pressures of youth, depression risk is actually higher among middle-aged people, especially women. Middle-aged women are thought to be at higher risk of depression because hormonal changes related to childbirth, menstruation, and menopause, as well as possible problems with infertility. Middle-aged women also frequently feel stressed by the demands of raising children while working, then having to adapt to the children leaving home. Although middle-aged men don’t suffer from depression at the same rate as middle-aged women, they are more likely to die by suicide. Setbacks for people in middle age are often more devastating because the stakes are greater. Losing a job or getting a divorce typically have greater consequences for someone at 45 than at 25. Middle age is when the possibilities for life are dramatically reduced, and if you don’t like where you are, your situation might feel pretty hopeless. This can lead to depression, which is a major risk factor for substance use, especially alcohol. Despite headlines about frat boys dying of alcohol poisoning, middle-aged men are actually at much higher risk. It’s also not uncommon for a substance use disorder that began as a young adult to continue to worsen into middle age.

Older people face more pain and grief.

Traditionally, older people have been safest from developing substance use disorders, and that may still be true to some extent. However, older people do have their own challenges. Substance use, especially drinking, is common after the death of a spouse, for example. Loneliness is a major problem among older people and it can lead to depression and worse health outcomes. Older people are also more likely to be prescribed opioid painkillers for medical procedures or chronic pain. Excessive use of opioids can easily result in dependence and addiction. The good news is that in the absence of other risk factors, many older people can taper off their opioid use without the need for full addiction treatment.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.