Using the Partnership to End Addiction’s Online Risk Assessment Tool to Assess and Combat Children’s Risk of Developing Addiction

As a society, we’re well versed in the factors that can increase our risk for diseases like cancer and diabetes. But what about risk factors for addiction?

mother sitting with daughter on a couch taking an online assessment on a laptop

Addiction, like diabetes and cancer, is a disease. And as a disease, it is caused by a combination of many different factors: behavioral, psychological, environmental, biological, and genetic. Depending on a child’s combination of risk factors, some may be more likely to progress from initial use to problem use to a substance use disorder. The teen brain undergoes massive changes, only ending in one’s mid-20s, and substance use can thus adversely impact development, especially for children with risk factors.

For a parent or caregiver, the idea of their loved one developing a substance use disorder is terrifying. But being aware of these risk factors and using available tools, such as those from the Partnership to End Addiction can help parents reduce their child’s risk and get them necessary support.

Risk Factors for Addiction

There are several prominent risk factors that can make some individuals more vulnerable to developing a substance use disorder.

Genetic risk factors and a family history of addiction are of real concern, accounting for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop addiction. Environmental concerns, such as current substance use in the family or among friends, as well as exposure to trauma, also increase a child’s likelihood of developing a substance use disorder.

Mental health concerns, such as depression or ADHD, can also increase a child’s risk of substance use. Co-occurring disorders are very prominent among youth, as 30% – 45% of adolescents and young adults with mental health disorders have a co-occurring substance use disorder, and 65% or more of youth with substance use disorders also have a mental health disorder. Youth with behavior and impulse control issues who may frequently take risks and flaunt rules are also at higher risk of developing a substance use disorder.

Finally, a key risk factor for substance use is one’s age of initiation. Research shows that the earlier substance use is initiated, the more at risk they are of developing a substance use disorder. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) to late adolescence – between the ages of 12 and 17 – are a critical period for youth when it comes to their risk of developing a substance use disorder. This means that preventing substance use in young people is essential.

It is important to note that these risk factors do not automatically determine that one will develop a substance use disorder. Rather, being aware of them can help gauge whether there is potential for an issue. This is where the Partnership’s online risk assessment tool can come in handy.

Online Risk Assessment Tool

To help parents and caregivers understand if their child is at risk of developing a substance use disorder, Partnership to End Addiction and Kaiser Permanente have developed an online substance use risk assessment tool. This tool provides parents with the essential ability to screen their own children and act if necessary.

The tool consists of 19 questions and takes between 5-6 minutes to complete. The questions asked throughout the tool concern risks related to mental health, well-being, personality, family history, and environment. Each question contains information on why it is a relevant ask, and parents can skip any question they would prefer not to answer. Parents are also advised that this is not a diagnostic tool and should get a professional evaluation if they believe their child has a substance use disorder.

The first questions in the tool are statements posed to parents that they are tasked to agree or disagree with, such as “As a parent, I have trouble enforcing rules for my teenage child.” To answer, they are provided with a scale of responses: “don’t know”; “disagree strongly”; “disagree somewhat”; “agree somewhat”; and “agree strongly.”

After these statements, parents are asked factual questions regarding their child’s environment, mental health, family history, and more, such as “At least one of my teenage child’s parents or current caregivers has seen a healthcare provider about a mental health problem.” They can then respond “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know.”

The tool then asks whether parents are aware if their teenage child uses substances: tobacco/nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, and/or drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine and non-prescribed prescription drugs. They can respond with “don’t know”; “never”; “used to”; “at times (monthly use)”; or “often (weekly use or more).” Finally, parents are asked how old they believe their child started using substances if they suspect their child is using substances. Age categories range from 11 or younger; 12-14; 15-17; and 18 or older.

Once the parent has filled out the risk assessment tool, they are directed to their results. The results page informs them on how many risk factors they’ve identified and lists each one with relevant information and feedback on how to lessen their loved one’s likelihood of developing problems with substance use if they do have an increased risk. Parents are directed to relevant articles and resources on the Partnership website.

Playbooks for Parents of Teens and Tweens

Understanding a child’s potential risk factors is crucial, but the next step is knowing what to do about them. The Partnership has developed a playbook for parents of teens and one for tweens, respectively, to protect their child’s wellbeing, handle challenges they may face, and preempt future problems.

These playbooks offer information and resources on how to deal with challenges such as mental health problems, behavioral issues, stress from social media, peers, difficult family circumstances, and substance use. The playbook for parents of teens focuses on the protective factors that can combat the risk factors in their child’s life. The playbook for parents of tweens is intended for parents of children aged 7-12 and centers on the importance of early intervention to minimize the impact of environmental, behavioral, and mental risk factors.

It can be overwhelming for parents to know exactly how to support their child, and scary to know that there are factors out of their control that can impact their child’s health. But these tools can help parents identify and resolve problems early.

Mithra Salmassi is Research and Outreach Coordinator of Service Equity and Inclusion at Partnership to End Addiction. For more information or to access support services, visit the Partnership to End Addiction’s website. To connect with a specialist, text CONNECT to 55753.


Greene, J. (2022, February 1). Online quiz can help parents assess if their teen has a substance use problem. Kaiser Permanente.

Partnership to End Addiction. (2022, October 13). Is addiction a disease? Partnership to End Addiction.

Partnership to End Addiction. Is your child at risk? A substance use risk assessment. Partnership to End Addiction.

Partnership to End Addiction. (2022, January). Playbook for Parents of Teens. Partnership to End Addiction.

Partnership to End Addiction. (2022, January). Playbook for Parents of Pre-Teens. Partnership to End Addiction.

Partnership to End Addiction. (2022, September). Risk Factors for Addiction. Partnership to End Addiction.

Partnership to End Addiction. Substance Use + Mental Health guide. Partnership to End Addiction.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2014, July 17). The TEDS Report: Age of Substance Use Initiation among Treatment Admissions Aged 18 to 30. Rockville, MD.

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