Is There Such a Thing as an Addictive Personality?

Is There Such a Thing as an Addictive Personality?

For as long as substance use has existed, people have wondered whether certain character traits can predict whether a person will become an addict. The answer? No. Research has found no universal “addictive personality” common to everyone with a substance use disorder.

Anyone who works in the field of addiction treatment knows that no single set of character traits is common to everyone who has a substance use disorder. In fact, there are countless differences. For example, only half have more than one addiction, and many can control their use of some substances, but not others. Some are gregarious and outgoing, while others are shy and withdrawn. Many are considerate and kind; others exhibit selfishness.

The whole range of personality can be found among the population of addicted individuals worldwide. So where did the idea of an addictive personality come from, and what can we do about it?

The Myth of the Addictive Personality

In her 2016 book Unbroken Brain, author Maia Szlavitz attempts to connect her childhood temperament – anxious, bright and obsessive – to her adult pattern of substance use and addiction. She finds herself confused by the archetype of the addict and how her own personality does not fit into it. Our cultural perception of the addictive personality paints a troubling picture: someone who is deviant, hedonistic and easily tempted. This view is damaging to people who are struggling; it heightens stigma and reduces the likelihood of successful diagnosis.

In an article for Business Insider, Lindsay Dodgson writes, “It’s easy to label an addict as being prone to impulsive behavior, because it provides an explanation for why someone is acting in a less than favorable way. It’s comforting to say someone is wired a certain way, because if you don’t see those traits in yourself, then you can give yourself a free pass.” 

This is the core issue of the myth of the addictive personality.

In reality, some of the individuals who most require treatment are those who seem successful on the surface. While children who are impulsive risk-takers are most at risk of future substance use, overachievers and gifted kids eventually exhibit higher rates of drug use than their peers. Szlavitz points to extreme traits, compulsive behaviors, developmental differences and mental illnesses as causal factors, rather than a specific type of personality. 

Why Do Some People Become Addicted?

Addiction doesn’t develop in a vacuum. Several factors, including one’s upbringing and environment, can influence the likelihood that a person will develop a substance use disorder later in life. These include

Psychological factors. Heightened stress coupled with a lack of coping skills can push someone into using drugs or alcohol. Depression, anxiety and mental health issues can also contribute to a pattern of problematic substance use.

Genetic factors. Research suggests that a genetic predisposition to addiction can be passed down through generations. Adoption and twin studies indicate that genetic factors may account for 50 to 60% of the risk for alcoholism later in life.

Environmental factors. This is perhaps the most significant influence on a person’s risk of addiction. Ongoing stress in childhood, especially abuse and unpredictable parental behavior, strongly correlates with substance use later in life. Isolation, poverty and trauma may contribute to a person’s susceptibility to addiction.

Can You Prevent Addiction?

If you’re concerned about developing a substance use disorder, consider taking preventative steps to protect yourself and your family. With appropriate intervention, addiction can be prevented.

First, find healthy ways to cope with distress. Instead of drinking or using drugs to unwind after a stressful meeting, practice meditation or follow along with a yoga video. You can run a bath, light a candle or make a healthy meal. By redirecting your thoughts and turning to an enjoyable outlet, you can destress and calm down without the use of substances.

Next, work to build a life you’re proud of. If your career path stresses you out, begin looking into alternative positions that may be a better fit. If you’re feeling lonely, make an effort to reach out to friends and family on a regular basis. By cultivating a better life, you won’t be tempted to escape with drugs and alcohol.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. All of us will feel overwhelmed, anxious or depressed at some point in our lives. Instead of drinking or drugging to deal with life’s ups and downs, reach out to a therapist for guidance. You’ll develop a better understanding of your emotions and how to deal with them, while also avoiding the trap of substance use.

Treatment for Addiction in Nashville, Tennessee

You don’t have an addictive personality, and addiction doesn’t have to rule your life. Recovery is possible. Cumberland Heights provides comprehensive, evidence-based treatment for individuals who are addicted to substances like cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, alcohol and more. Our caring staff is standing by to take your call. For more information, please contact us today.

We Are Open. Read updates regarding COVID-19 here and our available Telehealth services here.
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