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Environmental Factors: A Root Cause of Addiction

By July 30, 2021August 17th, 2021Recovery

Our Environment & Addiction

Evaluating the quality and health of our environment when we are working to maintain our recovery is essential. Environmental factors of one’s lifestyle are strong indicators of how a person will either thrive or struggle in their day-to-day life when it comes to recovery. When we are surrounded by temptation and hardships, it becomes severely more difficult to move out of active addiction and toward a recovery lifestyle. Let’s walk through the many considered harmful or risky factors if they are part of your immediate environment.

We discuss the below points throughout this post:

What is Considered Environmental?

Social environmental factors refer to socioeconomic, racial and ethnic, and relational conditions that may influence a person’s ability to cope with stress. An example is not having a support system of any kind. If you are dealing with grief or loss of a family member, a relative, friend, even therapist during this time is essential to the person’s ability to process their emotions and cope with the stress.

SES (socioeconomic status) is considered an environmental factor that can put a person at risk for addiction and/or mental illnesses. The APA states that socioeconomic status can encompass both psychological and physical attributes of one’s quality of life as well as the opportunities and privileges afforded to people within society.

Socioeconomic Factors

The social standing within a group, usually based on education, income, and occupation.

  • Environmental barriers to treatment are common. The inability to travel to a treatment center on their own due to lack of transportation or support system to help get them there.
  • Another environmental barrier indicated by research: Attending treatment can sometimes require traveling from one’s own neighborhood to another with a different cultural or socioeconomic orientation which can influence the outcome of treatment (Mennis, J. Stahler, G. J., & Mason, M. J., 2016).
  • Socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity have been associated with avoidable procedures, avoidable hospitalizations, and untreated disease (Fiscella, Franks, Gold, & Clancy, 2008).
  • Negative net worth, zero net worth, and not owning a home in young adulthood are significantly associated with depressive symptoms, independent of the other socioeconomic indicators (Mossakowski, 2008).

Ethnic and Racial Factors

SES impacts the lives of many in the minority category. “Discrimination and marginalization can serve as a hindrance to upward mobility for ethnic and racial minorities seeking to escape poverty” (“Ethnic and Racial Minorities & Socioeconomic Status”, 2021).

  • Neighborhood disorder or disadvantage: Segregation, development policies, restricted land — This type of decision-making still negatively affecting the U.S. today. These areas can cause high levels of trauma because of the way the communities are lead and the high crime rate (Mennis, J. Stahler, G. J., & Mason, M. J., 2016).
  • Research on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) indicates that African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, American Indians, and Native Hawaiians have higher rates of PTSD than Whites, which are not accounted for by SES and their history of psychiatric disorders (Carter, 2007).
  • There are substantial racial differences in insurance coverage. In the pre-retirement years, Hispanics and American Indians are much less likely than Whites, African-Americans, and Asians to have any health insurance (Williams, Mohammed, Leavell, & Collins, 2010).

Physical Environmental Factors

Physical influences contribute to the development of a disorder.

  • Lack of health-related resources such as whole, nutrient-rich foods and they tend to eat more processed and refined foods, their body (and brain) won’t function optimally.
  • Poor lighting can cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and vitamin D deficiency.
  • Lack of self-care or hygiene
  • Lack of proper sleep
  • Dangerous work conditions
  • Extreme weather conditions: Natural disasters, pandemics, and other occurrences can have adverse effects on mental health and the risk of addiction.
  • Daily weather conditions are increasingly reported to influence human health conditions and suicide mortality (Mennis, J. Stahler, G. J., & Mason, M. J., 2016). For those who have lived through a natural or human-caused disaster, the event anniversary may bring up feelings of fear, anxiety, and sadness.
  • Exposure to harsh toxins: A 2003 study found that toxins like lead and solvent can lead to disturbances in behavior — like limiting one’s ability to self-regulate or increasing aggression.
  • Exposure to substance abuse
  • Polluted air
  • Lack of space such as clutter or crowds

Relational Factors

Relational conditions speak to the sense of connection around the person. This can include the connection of healthy relationships with family and friends, nature, or a higher power. How people are connected can be strong indicators of addiction and/or mental health issues.

    • History of family abuse
    • Family discord as a child
    • Access to the substance
    • Lack of social network
    • Lack of family network
    • Social stigma
    • Spiritual of religious abuse
    • Lack of meaningful work or hobbies
    • Early loss of a parent
    • Toxic relationships

As a result, if they encounter a major stressor, they may not have the resources to effectively cope. These contribute to mental illness and addiction problems. These types of factors have the power to affect a person’s biology or neurochemistry. Especially if the environmental factors have been around for a significant amount of time. This increases their chances of developing a disorder such as addiction.

Coping with Our Environment

These are all things that influence decision-making and coping mechanisms because we learn by our environment. Trauma influences are a common contributor to addiction use.

One reason people develop addiction is to use it as a coping mechanism. This is largely due to our childhood environment, how we perceived the world, others’ actions, and our learned behavior to cope with life on life’s terms. If the child’s environment is unhealthy and stressful, they are likely facing adversity in the home.

Clemens Stone said “You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyze your life in terms of its environment.”

Avoiding Risks

We do not have a ton of control over our environment, especially when we are children. When decision-making does arise in adulthood, we need to do everything we can to set ourselves up for success. Taking specific precautions to avoid the risk of addiction can be a great way to beginning setting the stage for long-term recovery.

For example, a friend who is a bad influence would be someone to avoid. Your drug dealer’s place, an environment you should avoid. These scenarios cause us to get triggered which leads to cravings. Cravings increase the risk of addiction.

Identifying and removing triggering events, people, and situations from your daily life will excel your growth in the recovery process. Sometimes, this is harder said than done. This is why having the right tools and strategies in place is crucial. The community reinforcement approach is a great way to create a solid, positive environment around you in your everyday life. Keep yourself in and around a positive environment and you will condition yourself to crave this new lifestyle more.

Environmental factors weigh heavily on the measurement of what is considered a risk of addiction. With factors identified, precautions can be taken to increase a person’s rate of success in recovery.

Often Paired with Genetics

Environmental factors are usually paired with conditions in the genetic factors because we typically grow up near or under our biological parents. Scientists estimate that genes, including the effects environmental factors have on a person’s gene expression, called epigenetics, account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person’s risk of addiction (Bevilacqua & Goldman, 2009).

With genetics stacked against many of us, it is so important that we take control of what we can when it comes to our environment.

An example of this type of environmental factor would be your parent’s alcohol or drug use as you lived under the same roof. Factors such as lifestyle, behavior, attitudes, and the practice of sitting and moving mindful activities are important means of environmental enrichment (Venditti, 2020).

These factors can help measure the risk of addiction among those within the environment. Luckily, there is such a thing as environmental justice research.

Grateful for Environmental Justice

Through Environmental Justice research, environmental factors are measured as risky or not with regards to race, socioeconomic status, physical, and relational. Agency researchers provide the scientific basis needed to fulfill EPA’s commitment to advancing Environmental Justice (EJ), “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

Researchers conduct and support studies that lead to a better understanding of how our quality of life and overall health can arise from unequal environmental conditions and exposures to pollution.

Research continues to focus on developing information, tools, and other resources that empower communities to take action. Environmental Justice Research should pay close attention to the youth and teen audience as they are most adaptable and vulnerable to these environmental factors.

Educating Youth on the Risks of Addiction

Since we do not have control over our environmental decisions when we are young, the environmental effects on substance use are particularly troubling for adolescents.

Researchers are currently studying the behaviors in all stages of the substance use life cycle – the initiation, continued use, and repeated abuse.

This is for several reasons, a few being; given the vulnerability of youth to contextual environmental influence on substance use initiation, and the multiple negative health consequences of early substance use initiation throughout adulthood (Mennis, J. Stahler, G. J., & Mason, M. J., 2016).

This is the best video we have come across on addiction and the neuroscience behind what drives so many of us to fall into the cycle. It is about 20 minutes of educational content, check it out!

As always in the field of addiction, there is much more to be studied and understood about the role it plays in a person’s life. How we can improve upon the prevention, management, and challenges of addiction must be a top priority. NIDA research continues to lead to discoveries about how a person’s environment and everyday surroundings affect drug use.

Impact Our Environment Now Immediately (when larger change is not possible)

  • Taking time to meditate
  • Cleaning your surroundings best you can
  • Get more natural light exposure
  • Engage in your 5 senses to draw in awareness
  • Call a supportive friend
  • Learn something positive & new
  • Create a daily list of gratitude

Awareness & Small Wins are Key

Awareness is the key to beginning a change within an environment. There are so many things out there that make us feel good in our environment, but they are not all the best for our mental or physical health. Learning these things as we move forward in small action steps is vital.

For example, when I turn to a pint of ice cream when I’m feeling down, depressed, or even anxious. We’ve all seen the rom-com movies where someone is dumped and eating a huge tub of ice cream — that’s me for the tiniest of excuses. But this could be one small change I choose to not partake in when I usually would. Our environment tells us, this is how we react so we follow suit. Beginning to bring focus to these deep-rooted routines can help us see where we may want to improve.


It’s important to start small and give yourself time to see progress. Once you find what works best for you and your environment, your mental health will improve and so will your productivity.

With a spiritual approach and the right tools to retrain your brain – You have the power to transform your life and habits significantly. Satori Way is here to help set the stage with what is right for you, join us as a free member, and check out our 5-day course here!


Bevilacqua L, Goldman D. Genes and addictions. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2009;85(4):359-361. doi:10.1038/clpt.2009.6

Carter, R. T. (2007). Racism and psychological and emotional injury: Recognizing and assessing race-based traumatic stress. The Counseling Psychologist, 35(1), 13-105. doi:10.1177/0011000006292033

Ethnic and Racial Minorities & Socioeconomic Status. (2021). Retrieved 18 July 2021, from

Fiscella, K., Franks, P., Gold, M. R., & Clancy, C. M. (2008). Inequality in quality: Addressing socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic disparities in health care. Journal of the American Medical Association, 283, 2579- 2584. doi:10.1001/jama.283.19.2579

Fiscella, K., Franks, P., Gold, M. R., & Clancy, C. M. (2008). Inequality in quality: Addressing socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic disparities in health care. Journal of the American Medical Association, 283, 2579- 2584. doi:10.1001/jama.283.19.2579

Mennis, J. Stahler, G. J., & Mason, M. J. (2016). Risky Substance Use Environments and Addiction: A New Frontier for Environmental Justice Research. International journal of environmental research and public health, 13(6), 607.

Mossakowski, K. N. (2008). Is the duration of poverty and unemployment a risk factor for heavy drinking? Social Science & Medicine, 67, 947-955. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.05.019

Sohn H. (2017). Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Insurance Coverage: Dynamics of Gaining and Losing Coverage over the Life-Course. Population research and policy review36(2), 181–201.

Venditti, Sabrina et al. “Molecules of Silence: Effects of Meditation on Gene Expression and Epigenetics.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 11 1767. 11 Aug. 2020, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01767

Williams, D. R., Mohammed, S. A., Leavell, J., & Collins, C. (2010). Race, socioeconomic status and health: Complexities, ongoing challenges and research opportunities. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1186, 69–101. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05339.x.