Do you have an ‘addictive personality?’ Have you ever caught yourself using this as an excuse to spend hours playing the latest trendy mobile game? Or maybe your concerns are of a darker shade. Do you worry that your personality type predisposes you to substance abuse? In this post, we’ll address this concern, looking to science and the latest research to provide clarification on what, exactly, if anything, this phrase actually means.
What is an addictive personality? Does it even exist?
The Addictive Personality
Have you ever heard someone say something like, “Well, so and so just has an addictive personality?”
The term ‘addictive personality’ is a colloquial term. It’s an informal term often used to describe a person who has a set of personality traits that may make them more susceptible to developing an addiction. The addiction may be physical, such as to a drug. Or the person using the phrase may be talking about behaviors, such as gambling.
You may see the term in print, such as in an article about a particular celebrity who can’t seem to stay out of rehab, or you may hear your friend using it to explain why he can’t stop eating chocolate. The phrase is quite common these days. It’s important to know, then, that ‘addictive personality’ is not a medical term.
Although it shows up again and again in pop culture, the term has no medical definition. Nor is there even any agreed-upon concept of what makes up an “addictive personality.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Personalities are extraordinarily complex, and there’s no specific personality type that makes a person likely to be addicted to a given substance or behavior.
There are several factors, some of them genetic, that can lead to addiction
Note: if you’re concerned that you might have an ‘addictive personality,’ your best bet is always to abstain from abusing controlled substances. Abusing drugs, such as depressants—’downers’— or stimulants—’uppers’—can result in the development of tolerance. When tolerance sets in, you’ll need to take more of the drug to get high, which can result in an overdose.
What, then, causes someone to become addicted if it’s not down to personality alone?
Well, numerous experiments have demonstrated that genetics play a role in addiction. For instance, scientists have studied twins who were separated at birth. In most cases, the mother abused drugs during pregnancy. This drug abuse results in certain genes being switched on—or off—during gestation. Later in life, these children are more likely than other children to abuse drugs.
Of all the factors that go into determining whether you’ll become addicted to a substance, genetics makes up around 50 percent. Fortunately, this alone isn’t enough to guarantee that you’ll become an addict. Many other factors, such as the company you keep, your self-image, your family background, and your economic status all play a role.
The most important factor of all, then, is whether or not you make a conscious decision to avoid drugs, alcohol and other problematic substances. Abstinence is always an option.
There’s no medical test to determine whether having certain personality traits makes you more likely to become an addict. Certainly, no online quiz or test can do that, either. That said, exhibiting certain personality traits can make a person more likely to encounter substances that are highly addictive. ‘Downers,’ for instance—depressants—are incredibly addictive. While most depressants are controlled substances, they’re quite common and consequently easier to obtain than other drugs. This means, of course, that they’re frequently abused.
Below are a few personality traits that may make you more likely to experiment with dangerous substances:
A love of excitement. If you’re constantly craving new stimuli, you may be more likely to experiment with drugs. Do you love driving fast? Do you take risks when you don’t really need to? These thrill-seeking experiences cause the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel pleasure. If you frequently engage in thrill-seeking behaviors, it’s likely that you’re chasing after this natural ‘high.’
Believe it or not, moderate to intense exercise also releases feel-good chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. The next time you feel the urge to do something risky, dare yourself to lace up your sneakers and run a few miles.
Impulsivity. This trait is related to a love of excitement. Impulsivity involves making impulsive, on-a-dime decisions. Impulsive people are more likely to make snap decisions without taking long term consequences into account. Impulsivity can lead to experimentation with drugs. This is one reason that alcohol can act as a gateway drug. If you start out by drinking alcohol, which lowers inhibitions, you may be more willing to experiment with harder drugs if they’re offered to you.
There are things you can do to counter this behavioral quirk if you wish. Examples include:
Daily meditation practice
Cognitive Therapy apps on Android and iOS
Consciously delaying gratification, such as putting off dessert by several minutes or intentionally skipping a meal
Inability to quit. If you can’t get off of social media, or if you can’t close that PC game even after several hours, you may have a behavioral tendency toward overindulgence that may make you more likely to experiment with drugs. This may not be the result of a personality trait so much as it’s a habit you’ve allowed yourself to develop over many months or years.
Here again, intentionally putting off gratification or using cognitive-behavioral therapy apps can help a great deal.
Exhibiting these behavioral traits doesn’t mean that you have an ‘addictive personality,’ and it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll become an addict.
Will You Become Addicted?
Many people who think they have ‘addictive personalities’ are leery about taking prescription drugs for fear that they’ll become addicted. Certainly, you should never take prescription drugs lightly, and many of them do carry the risk of dependency. But remember, not everyone who has the above personality traits or even addiction-related genes will develop problems with substance abuse.
For instance, someone who is impulsive and who is sensation-seeking is more likely to engage in risky activities. But that same person may channel this passion for having new experiences into a sky diving habit, or they may become a stunt driver.
Conversely, a person who doesn’t display any of these traits has a chance to become addicted to prescription drugs, especially painkillers such as opioids.
If you’re cornered about having a so-called ‘addictive personality’ and have to take a prescription medication, share your concerns with your doctor or mental health professional, and be sure to follow all instructions. Stop taking the prescription when directed.
What’s more, you can shield yourself by surrounding yourself with positive, sober people. Addicts like addicts. Spending time with people who use and abuse drugs tends to give addicts a feeling of belonging, and it allows them to justify their behaviors. Therefore, if you have concerns about your own sobriety, consider spending less time with people who are actively using.
All that said, there are several other predictors that can indicate whether someone may—may, not will—become an addict if they abuse drugs. Reviewing these predictors can help you determine whether you’re at risk. Just keep in mind that exhibiting these traits or having these conditions does not mean that you will become an addict or that you’re predisposed for what people call an “addictive personality”.
Common traits found in adolescents who abuse drugs and alcohol or exhibit problematic gambling include:
- Prenatal exposure to substance abuse
- Parents who abuse drugs or alcohol
- Child abuse
- Being neglected by parents
- Parental divorce or separation
- An incarcerated family member
- Neighborhood poverty
- Neighborhood crime or violence
- A lack of economic opportunity
- Aggressive behavior in childhood
- Availability of drugs
In addition, there are several other personality traits that may contribute to a tendency to abuse drugs.
- Sensation seeking. These individuals are very spontaneous and seek stimulation from many sources.
- Negative affect. This refers to a person who experiences abnormal frequency of certain unpleasant emotions, such as anger or sadness. Negative affect can contribute to maladaptive behaviors such as aggression and even substance abuse.
- Negative urgency. A person who reacts impulsively to stress is said to have negative urgency. These are people who “fly off the handle.” These folks may turn to drugs or alcohol in order to cope.
- Disagreeableness. This is a blanket term for people who exhibit antisocial behaviors that serve to push people away. Disagreeable folks may be selfish, uncooperative or unfriendly. These individuals are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.
- Neuroticism. A person with high neuroticism often responds to challenges or threats with anger, anxiety or irritability. They tend to catastrophize, assuming the worst will happen.
- Narcissism. People who have an inflated sense of self-importance may be more likely to have a problem with gambling or with substance abuse.
- Aggression. People who exhibit hostility or violent behavior toward others are more likely to struggle with substance abuse.
- Low self-esteem. Individuals with a poor self-image may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to fit in, or else to cope with stress.
Even if you exhibit a few of these traits, all is not lost. Far from it. There are several other factors, protective factors, that can help you avoid problematic behavior. Some of these factors are out of your control, but several others are skills you can learn and build on.
- Positive self-image
- Stable housing throughout childhood
- Stable family relationships
- Social competence
- Parental involvement
- Academic competence
- After-school engagements and electives
- Access to economic opportunities
- Positive peer relationships
As mentioned, engaging in exercises designed to increase self-control, or the ability to delay gratification, can go a long way in protecting you against so-called ‘addictive personality.’
As we’ve seen, actual addiction can be influenced by several factors, including social environment, family makeup, psychology and biology. But you should never feel as if you’re destined to become an addict. Personality, which is the confluence of many different traits, plays a major role. You can influence your own personality to a degree. What’s more, while genetics does play a role, there is no one ‘alcoholism gene’ or ‘drug addiction gene.’ Multiple genes play a role in the development of addiction, and having a few of these genes doesn’t mean you absolutely will develop a substance abuse problem.
Potential Early Warning Signs
Regardless of whether an ‘addictive personality’ is real or not, there are several behaviors that, if engaged in regularly, may indicate a problem.
#1 Frequent Comfort Eating
Everyone engages in comfort eating from time to time. When we’re down, indulging in ice cream, cookies and other snacks is an easy way to get a quick dopamine hit. But if you find that comfort eating is your go-to in a stressful situation, you may be headed for trouble. If it becomes a habit, it can lead to food addiction, obesity and binge eating. The practice can also make you more likely to abuse other substances.
If you find yourself turning to food often, try another outlet, such as exercise.
#2 Using Alcohol to Make Socializing Easier
Many alcoholics say that their habit started as a way to make social interactions go smoother. Alcohol is a depressant, a type of drug that lowers activity in the central nervous system. It can help a person feel more relaxed and less inhibited. But if abused, a person may come to feel as if they need it to be social, and that is when it becomes problematic. Overindulging in alcohol can lead to a vicious downward spiral.
#3 Always on, Always Connected
You know what else gives you a little hit of dopamine? Checking your Reddit, Facebook and Twitter feeds. Any social media platform is designed to keep you engaged. That’s why those little notification bells, icons and envelopes are so brightly colored. If you find you can’t go a few days without checking your notifications, it might be time to take a break from social media. In addition, using your mobile device before bed can interfere with sleep quality. If you use your phone before bed, consider installing an app that acts as a blue light filter.
#4 Problematic Shopping
Some people shop for practicality—they need a new shirt, so they buy a new shirt. But others shop because it’s fun. Nothing wrong with that—unless there is. If you’re shopping to boost your self-esteem, there may be a problem. Shopaholics report that thinking about new clothes, shoes, etc. fills them with giddy excitement. But often, if you look deeper, you’ll find that these behaviors are filling a gap. Many shopaholics feel inadequate if they don’t have the latest gadget or fashion.
When to Seek Help
If you’re already experimenting with drugs and exhibit some of the behaviors above, and if you’re worried about having a so-called ‘addictive personality,’ the time to seek help is…when you think you need help. Don’t wait.
But if you can’t stop taking a drug even if you want to, or if you have the urge to use a drug often, even if you know the drug is causing you harm, seek help immediately.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Do you think about drugs often?
- Have you ever tried to stop taking a drug, but failed?
- Have you ever thought you couldn’t fit in unless you were high or under the influence?
- Do you ever use drugs because you’re mad at other people?
- Have you ever taken a drug without knowing what it was or what it would do to you?
If you answered ‘yes’ to more than one of these, then the question of whether an ‘addictive personality’ is a real phenomenon or not is moot. You may have an addiction, and if you do, you should address it sooner rather than later. The sooner you take proactive steps to address addition, the faster you will recover.
In this concise post, we covered what an ‘addictive personality’ is and some of the personality traits that might make a person more susceptible to developing an addiction. What’s more, we explored some of the warning signs that a person might develop an addiction later in life and discussed some protective factors that might help a person avoid developing a substance abuse disorder.
If you know of someone who might benefit from reading this guide, please consider sharing.
The Hills is an addiction treatment center that focuses on helping patients make progress on the road to recovery. Contact our facility today to find out how we can help you!