Traits of an Addictive Personality – Addiction is a disorder that involves changes to the brain’s reward center, resulting in corresponding changes in behaviors, motivation, and cognition. Researchers posit that a combination of genetics, environment, and family history may all contribute to a person’s risk of engaging in substance abuse or developing an addiction throughout life.
These factors may manifest in an individual’s personality in various ways, indicating an increased risk for addiction to drugs or alcohol. These personality characteristics are sometimes referred to as an addictive personality, a psychological term that has been hotly debated by medical and addiction professionals.
The Generic Addictive Personality: Fact or Fiction?
Many researchers in the field of addiction today would warn against adopting the idea of a single, generic personality that is particularly susceptible to addiction. Moreover, no one personality type is associated with the development of addiction.
In fact, some seemingly dissimilar characteristics can cause different people to develop a drug or alcohol addiction, depending on other key factors. Although there are several types of traits that can be identified in people who experience substance use disorders, they do not all exist in every individual who becomes addicted.
Addictive Personality Traits
The most common addictive personality traits include the following:
People who encounter addiction or substance abuse problems often exhibit poor impulse control. They are more apt to make impromptu decisions with little or no regard for consequences, especially over the long-term. They often are not concerned that the use of a substance may result in adverse consequences, or that abuse of the substance will lead to chronic health problems.
While impulsive people may be engaged in their environment and interested in experimenting with new activities, these traits can have a downside as well. The impulsive may seek adventure, but this could also include hard-core party atmospheres or the mental and emotional escape provided by drugs and alcohol.
Moreover, studies have found that people who are prone to taking risks and have little impulse control are more likely to try drugs. Some researchers believe that this fact may have to do with the person’s dopamine levels.
Individuals with high levels of dopamine in the brain may have a reduced sensitivity to its effects, resulting in the need for more intense experiences to feel the pleasure that dopamine produces. This effect can directly play into a person’s experience using drugs and alcohol, which affect the dopamine system.
In this way, a personality heavily geared toward risk-taking and adventure-seeking can have an increased likelihood of experimenting with and, over time, developing an addiction to these substances.
The Obsessive/Compulsive Trait
Addiction is frequently related to a lack of impulse control, but this is not exclusively the inability to resist urges. In fact, people who are too stringent with the regulation of impulses may also to turn to substances as a manifestation of an obsessive-compulsive behavior pattern. Indeed, addiction often becomes a compulsion to use based on a habit that developed over time rather than as a single impulse to experience something new.
For this reason, people with intense focus and highly-structured, habitual behaviors may be as likely to develop addiction as those who are much less able to control impulses. The compulsion to use psychoactive drugs and alcohol is a primary symptom of the disorder, but it can exist both entirely separate from and in combination with a lack of impulse control.
High Levels of Stress
Many people who use substances do so because they experience higher levels of stress than others. In many instances, this stress may be self-imposed, such as when a person chooses a high-pressure profession or excessively worries about the future.
People who struggle with mood disorders, such as anxiety or bipolar disorder, are inclined to experience high levels of stress as a result of brain chemistry imbalances. Without a medical diagnosis and appropriate treatment, individuals may resort to self-medication with alcohol or drugs.
Experimenting with or abusing psychoactive substances can adversely affect brain chemistry. Nevertheless, people who experience depression, low self-esteem, or a great deal of personal stress may attempt to self-medicate against these feelings.
For example, they may drink too much at a party or use stimulants such as Adderall to complete tasks that require alertness or a lot of energy. They want to feel positive about themselves, but the substance use frequently goes too far, leading to induced or exacerbated mood disorders, which then contributes to a perpetuation of the original poor self-image.
Lack of Long-Term Goals
Although the stereotype of an addictive personality is often characterized by someone who is indolent, carefree, or seeking continuous stimulation, these are not the only possible traits. A person who is very ambitious and competitive may also have an addictive personality, which may reveal itself as the person tends to shy away from setting specific goals for the future.
Moreover, even if a person is focused on their job, their family, or other pursuits, they may not have a good idea of what they truly want out of life. This problem can be magnified by the consumption of psychoactive substances, leading the person to question whether they have any real future.
Social Alienation and Isolation
Social isolation may be the result of abusing drugs, intense focus on work or school, or a negative self-image and being hesitant to socialize. Alienation from peers or family, however, is a sign that the person may be abusing drugs or at risk of developing an addiction to drugs.
For example, an individual may feel like they need a substance (commonly alcohol) to make social situations more comfortable. Or, they may feel like they need to use stimulants to concentrate on work, causing them to feel “strung out” and avoid family and friends.
One feature that all of these traits have in common is the person’s lack of ability to regulate behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that could enable a capacity to moderate the use of substances. Studies have recently suggested that the inability to regulate behavior under the anticipation of receiving a reward is strongly related to the development of addiction.
However, this is not the entire extent of the problem. People who seek the idea of reward this strongly often do not experience as much satisfaction from having received the reward as others.
This diminished sense of pleasure drives the person to push harder to obtain or achieve more in the hopes that the reward response might be more intense. Again, this is linked to the person’s levels dopamine and sensitivity to it, and other neurochemicals as well.
Treatment for Substance Abuse and Addiction
Various forms of psychotherapy can help individuals struggling with substance abuse and addiction disorder learn to how to manage their behaviors better. Likewise, this can help them to develop the self-regulation skills needed to moderate the addictive response to stimuli.
For those who have already experienced substance use problems, treatment programs can include these therapies with other evidence-based treatments such as counseling and group support. Through the use of a comprehensive approach may help the person safely discontinue drug alcohol abuse and gain control over the many traits described above.
Seeking out professional care can provide the individual with tools they need to understand and manage these various traits, thereby making recovery possible. Call us today to find out how we can help!