Some research indicates that certain markers and behaviors observed in early development may be earmarks for future addictive patterns.

Children will exhibit some of these behaviors as early as 3 years old.

Possible Early Signs of Addiction

Being a risk taker.

Risk-taking behavior often first appears in early childhood. It may be an early sign of future substance abuse. This is the kid who climbs higher, runs faster, and engages in other physical feats that other children their age would shy away from.

Instead of being afraid of any perceived danger, these daredevils almost welcome it. They may skateboard on steeper slopes, ride their bikes up higher hills, race faster than the other kids, and be more daring in all aspects of physical ability. Risky behaviors can be addictive; the adrenaline rush achieved can lead to a “high” people want to experience over and over, which makes this a serious risk factor for future addictive behaviors.

Substance experimenting in puberty.

Children’s experimentation with alcohol and drugs between ages 9 and 12 may indicate future addiction. Parents must recognize that their child may go beyond the initial experimentation into real addiction. Some researchers have shown positive results with introducing behavior modification practices for young adolescent users who show high potential for future addiction.

Genetic factors.

Does addiction run in the family? Having a parent with an addiction problem can indicate a genetic component toward addiction.

Childhood trauma.

A jarring event during childhood may indicate an addictive tendency later on life. A death of a close loved one or being subject to physical or mental abuse can lead to inappropriate coping mechanisms which can lead to a substance use problem.

Addiction crosses all ethnicities and is present in all socioeconomic circles. It is a disease, not a weakness due to lack of self-control or will. Environmental as well as genetic factors have been shown to contribute to addictive behavior. Being aware of early childhood markers can help people understand the root of addiction and hopefully aid parents in dealing with children who show a predisposition to addictions.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Common Risk and Protective Factors for Alcohol and Drug Use. Retrieved online from:

Iacono, W.G., Malone, S.M., & McGue, M. (2008). Behavioral Disinhibition and the Development of Early-Onset Addiction: Common and Specific Influences. Retrieved online from: (PDF)