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What is an Addictive Personality?

The term ‘addictive personality’ is sometimes used to describe a person who has a high risk of developing an addiction. According to the theory, certain personality traits are associated with addiction and people with these traits have a higher risk than people without them.

Addictive personality is usually associated with substance use of drugs or alcohol, but someone with this type of personality could develop any type of addiction, including gambling, sex, food, or exercise. Anything that causes an endorphin release in their brain could lead to an addiction.

Understanding whether you or a loved one has addictive tendencies, and the traits most often associated with substance addiction, helps you make better choices and avoid developing an addiction.

Is it a Myth?

Many addiction specialists and health professionals believe that addictive personalities are a myth. In part, this is because addiction is a complex issue that affects all kinds of people. 

It’s just as possible for someone with a so-called addictive personality to avoid addiction as it is for someone without the addictive personality traits to become addicted to a substance. It all depends on their experiences and choices.

Furthermore, addiction is a brain disorder that has nothing to do with personality. Someone with a laid-back, easygoing personality has as great a risk of developing an addiction as someone with a high-strung personality. There is no evidence that a specific personality has a higher risk of addiction than another.

Despite no scientific evidence or support for the theory of an addictive personality, understanding the various things that increase a person’s risk of addiction can make it easier to avoid a substance use disorder.

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What are the Signs of an Addictive Personality (Common Traits)?

The personality traits most often associated with a high risk of addiction include:

  • Willingness to take risks
  • Adventurous
  • Obsessive and/or compulsive behaviors
  • Disconnected
  • Apathetic
  • Inability to self-regulate

Additionally, overall mental health plays a role in addiction. Someone with a mental health disorder has a higher risk of addiction than someone without any co-occurring disorders. 

Mental health disorders most often associated with addiction include:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder

What Causes an Addictive Personality?

In addition to the traits listed above, a variety of other traits tend to have a higher prevalence among addicted individuals. For example, people with addiction:

  • Might be impulsive. They are sometimes described as erratic or spontaneous.
  • Seek out situations that fulfill an emotional need for new or varied experiences.
  • Have negative effects. This means they turn to alcohol or other substances to manage negative emotions, such as stress, anger, or sadness.
  • Have negative urgency. This means they have a difficult time managing stress in a healthy manner.
  • Are neurotic or have a high level of neuroticism. Challenges cause them to express sadness, anger, anxiety, and irritability.
  • Are disagreeable. Addicts tend to be selfish, less friendly, and uncooperative.
  • Are more aggressive. They tend to act out in violent and hostile manners toward others.

Again, it’s important to note that anyone with the genetic makeup and experiences that increases the risk of substance use disorder can develop an addiction. The above-listed traits seem to occur more frequently among people with addiction, which led to the misconception of an addictive personality. 

What are Some Examples of Addictive Behaviors?

The most commonly abused substances include alcohol and drugs. This includes illicit and prescription drugs. Commonly abused substances include:

  • Alcohol 
  • Central nervous system depressants
  • Cocaine
  • Food
  • GHB
  • Hallucinogens
  • Heroin
  • Inhalants
  • Ketamine
  • LSD
  • Marijuana (cannabis)
  • MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly)
  • Methamphetamine
  • Over-the-counter medicines, such as dextromethorphan (DXM) and loperamide
  • PCP
  • Prescription opioids
  • Prescription stimulants
  • Sleeping pills
  • Steroids (anabolic)
  • Synthetic cannabinoids
  • Synthetic cathinones (bath salts)
  • Tobacco/nicotine

In addition to drugs and alcohol addiction, non-substance-related addictions include gambling, sex, and shopping. 

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How to Know if You Have an Addictive Personality

Recognizing that you have an addictive personality can help you avoid alcohol abuse and other addictions. Keep in mind, people with certain personality traits are not guaranteed to develop an addiction. Many biological and environmental factors play a role in someone’s risk of addiction.

However, even if you are unaware of your genetic risks and/or you have few environmental risks, you might still be concerned about your risk of addiction. If you are worried you could develop an addiction, there are things you can do to reduce your risk. 

Educate yourself about addiction, learn coping skills that help you manage stress in your life, and spend time with positive, supportive people.

Many people with addiction understand how important it is to avoid addiction triggers. Even if you are not sure of your risk or you know you do not have an addiction but you are concerned, you can avoid things with a high likelihood of triggering negative coping skills. 

How to Deal with an Addictive Personality

If you believe you have an addictive personality, it helps to develop protective factors that lessen your risk of developing an addiction. Protective factors include:

  • Self-control
  • Positive self-image
  • Social competence
  • Stable family relationships
  • Positive peer relationships
  • Resiliency
  • Stable economic environment
  • Positive community relationships

Not everyone has complete control of all of these factors. However, the more you work on improving these things, the lower your risk of developing an addiction. 

How to Help Someone with a High Addiction Risk

If you know someone you consider to have an addictive personality or who has a high risk of addiction, you can help them by:

  • Approaching them about their substance use or other behavior in a caring manner that is firm and respects your boundaries.
  • Expressing concern about their behavior and explaining how their choices are negatively impacting you and others in their lives.
  • Presenting facts about how their choices have affected you and how it might be negatively impacting their lives.
  • Explaining to them that they have an illness or are at risk of developing an illness if they are not careful and that you understand their actions are not due to a character flaw.
  • Engaging other people in their lives who care about them to express concerns similar to yours.
  • Offering professional help and agreeing to support them in finding the right treatment options.
  • Allowing them to accept responsibility for their behavior.
  • Offering hope and sharing with them how life is better when they do not succumb to an addiction.
  • Recommending self-help groups as an early intervention strategy. Some people aren’t ready for formal inpatient or outpatient treatment but benefit from attending 12-step or other self-help meetings.

Can You Overcome an Addictive Personality? 

Yes. If you have a high risk of addiction, you can avoid substances that pose a risk of physical dependence, such as alcohol and drugs. Likewise, you can carefully monitor your behavior and intake. 

Recognizing your specific risk is an important part of making the best choices for your situation and your health.

If you aren’t successful and you do develop an addiction, many addiction treatment options are available. For many, it’s helpful to seek treatment sooner rather than later when there is a high risk of addiction.

Substance abuse treatment options include:

  • Inpatient care that offers round-the-clock medical supervision in a medical or residential setting.
  • Outpatient care that provides less-intense treatment and allows patients to return home and participate in their regular lives during treatment.
  • 12-step programs that offer peer support in a safe, substance-free environment.
  • Relapse prevention programs that help people make healthy life choices and better manage life’s challenges.

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Resources

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(1) Griffiths, Mark D., Ph.D. “The Myth of the Addictive Personality.” Psychology Today, 2018.

(2) Szalavitz, Maia. “The Addictive Personality Isn’t What You Think It Is.” Scientific American, 5 Apr. 2016.

(3) Mayo Clinic. “Am I Vulnerable to Opioid Addiction?” Mayo Clinic, 2018.

(4) National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drug Misuse and Addiction.” Drugabuse.gov, 2018.

(5) Kelly, John F., Ph.D., ABPP “8 Ways to Help When Loving Someone with an Addiction.” Psychology Today.

(6) “National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).” Drugabuse.gov, 2018.

(7) National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Commonly Used Drugs Charts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 26 June 2020.

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