Whether someone becomes a drug addict or an alcoholic could be decided in the womb, new research suggests.

Although people often begin misusing substances as teenagers, a report by the US government claims that the key factors which dictate whether someone is likely to become an addict are present before they are even born. A study by the National Institutes of Health argues that biological, psychological, social and environmental factors play a part in whether someone abuses substances.

And these factors often date back to the first eight years of a child’s life as well as their time in the womb.

If a child suffers from problems with their development or attachment issues they are more likely to become addicts later in life. And stressful experiences like the breakdown of a parental relationship or moving house can also increase a person’s risk of abusing drugs or alcohol.

The report has claimed that early intervention to help children cope with difficult situations could help them avoid becoming addicts when they reach adulthood.

Early intervention could help children avoid substance misuse

Dr Nora Volkow, director of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, said: “Thanks to more than three decades of research into what makes a young child able to cope with life’s inevitable stresses, we now have unique opportunities to intervene very early in life to prevent substance use disorders. We now know that early intervention can set the stage for more positive self-regulation as children prepare for their school years.”

The study is called Principles of Substance Abuse Prevention for Early Childhood. It claims that experiences during the first eight years of life have a profound effect on a child’s development, attitude and behaviour as their brain is still developing rapidly.

The report also says that some people are more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs from birth die to the genes they have inherited from their parents. Parenting, environment, nutrition and social relationships also play a role in whether someone becomes an addict or not.

The report states: “Providing a stable home environment, adequate nutrition, physical and cognitive stimulation, warm supportive parenting, and good classroom management in the early years of a child’s life (prenatal through age 8) can lead the child to develop strong self-regulation.”

Once someone has become an addict, drug and alcohol testing can help monitor their substance misuse and recovery. These type of tests are sometimes carried out by loved ones and in other cases they are undertaken as part of an official treatment program or by employers, courts or organisations including the probation service.