Risk Factors for Opioid Use Disorders

There are certain risk factors for opioid use disorder. Understanding these risk factors can be an important part of recovery.

Risk Factors & Causes for Opioid Use Disorders

Estimated watch time: 4 mins 40 secs


Certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing an opioid use disorder. These risk factors can include previous trauma, your pattern of opioid use and genetics. Having added risk does not guarantee you’ll become addicted to opioids, nor do they mean you can’t recover from an addiction.

Understanding how these risk factors play a role in your life can actually strengthen your recovery.

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What Causes Opioid Use Disorders?

In this lesson, we will review risk factors and causes for opioid use disorder.

Let’s be clear, anyone can develop an addiction to opioids and opiates. This is the nature of opioids and how they affect our body.

Let’s look at the risk factors that increase your chances of doing so.

Length and amount of use. Your brain will decrease its own production of endorphins when you use opioids. The longer you use opioids, the greater the deficit of natural endorphins. Therefore, if you were to stop using opioids, your brain and your body would have a strong reaction due to the lack of endorphins within your system.

How you use these substances. Using these drugs outside of the prescribed manner increases your risk for overdose. And the rapid delivery of the medication to your system is a life threatening practice.

Combining opioids with other substances. Benzodiazepines in combination with opioids are at higher risk for needing emergency medical care. The overdose death rate is 10 times higher when these two medications are combined.

Genetics. Some individuals have genetic markers that indicate a higher risk for addictive behavior. You may see this expressed in families that have addiction that crosses generations.

There’s also epigenetic factors which are environmental factors that dictate what genes are activated. These may also inform your risk level for developing an addiction.

Psychological factors. Exposure to trauma, especially as a child, increases your risk for developing a substance dependence.

Additionally, chronic mental illnesses may increase the risk of using substances to self medicate. If you feel really bad, it is not surprising that you’re going to use something that’s going to help you feel really good.

Environmental factors. Using at an earlier age may affect brain development and increase our risk for addictive behaviors. Studies have shown that children who have been prescribed opioids for pain management are at a greater risk of using these medications in an inappropriate fashion as they get older.

Being a woman. Women are actually more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription pain relievers, be given higher doses. and to use them for longer time periods and men. All of these factors would very easily lead to an increased risk for developing an addiction. Women may also become dependent on prescription pain relievers more quickly than men. Studies show that 48000 women died of prescription pain reliever overdoses between 1999 and 2010.

Mitigating risk.

OK, let’s say you meet one or more of these criteria. Something I want you to understand that this does not mean that you automatically have a substance use problem if you use an opioid. This also does not mean that you cannot overcome substance use problem, if you have one. Rather, we’re providing this information to you so that you can have a better understanding of what risks that you may be facing and how to understand yourself better and take better care of yourself in your recovery.

As you determine next steps in your recovery, your primary focus should be a healthy you.

So ask yourself, how are you living in a healthy way? What are the things that you do well? What are the things that you have stopped doing that you would like to do again? What are ways that you can take care of yourself going forward? Do we need extra support from a counselor or a doctor as we mitigate our use of opioids? Do we need to consider changing our environment? Do we need extra support so that we are no longer self medicating?

These are all questions worth asking. In the next lesson we will discuss treatment options.

Thank you for choosing The Recovery Village. If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health or substance abuse and would like to find out more about the programs we offer, please reach out to us directly at 855-387-3291.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.