Is there really such a thing as an addictive personality? Learn the truth behind the addictive personality myth.
You often hear people talking about their own or someone else’s “addictive personality.” But is there really such thing as an addictive personality? Not according to research, which has never found a common personality trait that all–or even most–addicted individuals have.
What research does show, though, is that addiction is very complex, and a whole range of underlying factors can affect whether you develop an addiction.
What, Exactly, is Addiction?
Addiction is widely considered to be a chronic disease of the brain. According to the disease model, addiction has biological, neurological, genetic, environmental, psychological, sociological, and cultural origins. It can be prevented, treated, and sent into remission for the long-term, although it can quickly recur after using again once you’ve been in recovery for a period of time.
Addiction is characterized by the inability to stop using drugs or alcohol even though your substance abuse causes problems in your life. Heavy substance abuse can lead to compulsive use, driven by intense cravings and changes in thought and behavior patterns that can lead to denial or ambivalence about the effects of the addiction. Abusing substances is a choice initially, but once an addiction sets in, choice is largely taken out of the equation until the addicted individual gets professional help and addresses underlying causes and develops the essential skills needed to cope with cravings, stress, and other relapse triggers.
The question of what causes addiction to drugs is the subject of an enormous body of past and ongoing research. The idea of an addictive personality isn’t based in science or research.
What Does Personality Have to Do With Addiction?
Personality is just one of the many factors that can contribute to the development of an addiction, but there is no single “addictive personality.” Some of the general personality traits that are more commonly associated with addiction include:
Impulsiveness. People who are impulsive have trouble delaying gratification, and they may have a tendency toward risk-taking and sensation-seeking behaviors, which can make them more open to experimenting with drugs or alcohol.
Non-conformity. Non-conformists tend to place little value on the goals and achievements that society deems valuable. Non-conformists may not see heavy substance abuse or illegal drug use as a particularly bad thing. They often have a general tolerance for deviant behaviors.
Social alienation. People who aren’t, by nature, very social or who feel like they don’t really belong may be more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol to fit in or to self-medicate feelings of isolation and loneliness.
It’s important to note that having one or more of these personality traits doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll develop an addiction or even heavily abuse substances. An individual may have other personality traits that counter those that put them at risk.
The idea of an addictive personality is damaging because it can make an individual believe that since the addiction is part of his or her personality, it’s hopeless to try and change. But personality is just one of many, many factors that can contribute to addiction.
What Causes Addiction to Drugs?
Genetic factors account for about half your risk of developing an addiction. But like the addictive personality myth, the myth of an addictive gene can be damaging. A genetic risk factor may involve a number of different genes, which can govern things like how quickly you metabolize drugs or alcohol, your unique personality traits, and a number biological and brain chemical processes.
The risk factors accounting for the remaining 50 percent of your risk are just as varied and unique and include, among many:
Stress. High stress is a common risk factor for addiction, because many people use drugs or alcohol to reduce stress. To make matters more complicated, the stress often has underlying sociological factors, such as poverty or abuse. Learning to cope with and reduce stress is a major focus in treatment.
Trauma. Physicians, first responders, and soldiers may be at a higher risk of substance abuse due to frequently witnessing or being the victim of trauma, and people who are victims of or witnesses to violence, sexual abuse, or other trauma in childhood may be more likely to develop an addiction. For people with a history of trauma, addressing the trauma is central to treating the addiction.
Missing skills. People who lack adequate social skills or coping skills for things like stress and negative emotions may be more likely to develop an addiction. Gaining the missing skills is essential for successful recovery.
Mental illness. Anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses commonly co-occur with addiction. Mental illness can contribute to addiction, or it can result from addiction. Getting help for co-occurring disorders through a high quality dual diagnosis treatment program is the best way to recover from both the addiction and the mental illness for a dramatically higher quality of life.
To further complicate matters, more than one of these risk factors can be present, combining to make overcoming the addiction seem like an insurmountable task. But it’s not.
Addressing all of the underlying causes of an addiction is crucial for long-term successful recovery. A high quality treatment program will take a holistic approach to treatment that addresses a range of unique issues of body, mind, and spirit for whole-person healing. With the right individualized treatment plan, anyone can successfully recover from an addiction.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.