Caffeine, exercise, sugar, technology — people can be addicted to all kinds of things, but what does it really mean to have “an addictive personality?”
What is addiction?
Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain circuitry as it relates to reward, motivation and memory. Dysfunction in these circuits can cause a person to pathologically pursue a “reward” or “relief” by substance use and other behaviors.
Addiction is characterized by:
- An inability to abstain from an activity over time
- A lack of behavioral control
- A refusal to recognize problems with behaviors or relationships, and
- Dysfunctional emotional responses.
Without treatment, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or death.
What are the hallmarks of an addictive personality?
There is no one personality type that predisposes a person to addiction, and there is no scientific diagnosis of an addictive personality. Traits that contribute to addiction in some people exist in others who never struggle with the disease. The one similarity among all addictions is that people who suffer from them spend excessive time on something not necessarily because they enjoy it but because they feel they have to do it (compulsion).
- Related to people who have addictions of their own (genetics)
- Experiencing other mental health disorders (depression, anxiety, personality disorders)
- Adventurous and risk-taking
- Disconnected and cautious
- Obsessive and compulsive
- Unable to self-regulate
Many of these traits are visible starting in childhood.
Children who develop addictions tend to be outliers in one way or another.
They could be antisocial and unfeeling, or they could be highly sensitive and risk-averse. Extremes of personality increase risk. People with higher IQs, for example, have higher rates of illegal drug use. The same curiosity, focus, and ability to learn new things quickly can make people vulnerable to discovering — and getting locked into — bad habits.
Of all of the personality traits that predispose a person to addiction, an inability to regulate behavior and delay gratification is the strongest predictor.
What factors contribute to someone having an addictive personality?
- At least half of a person’s susceptibility to addiction can be linked to genetics.
- Addictions arise from our experiences (environment) but also from our interpretations of those experiences, and how our parents and friends respond to and label our behavior. So the way people react to you will inform your assessment of whether your behavior is acceptable or not.
- Resiliencies acquired from parents, mentors or life experiences can lessen the effect of genetic predisposition to addiction.
- Culture also plays a role in how addiction manifests itself. If the behavior associated with a particular addiction is seen as acceptable, addicts fit in. If it is unacceptable, addiction is hidden or used as an act of rebellion. Think of smoking or drinking alcohol, for example.
Can having an addictive personality be a good thing?
Not if it is a true addiction. When a person says they are “addicted” to reading, running, drinking water or some other typically positive activity, their need to continue doing it may be healthy. However, addiction, by definition, is a state in which you are unable to regulate your activities, which means you could run so much that you hurt your body or lose an unhealthy amount of weight.
Developing a habit, hobby or desire to do something consistently is good; being unable to control the impulse to do it when it negatively affects your life is what you need to look out for.
If you think you or a loved one may be suffering from addiction, consider calling the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This service provides 24-hour free and confidential treatment referral and information about mental and/or substance use disorders, prevention and recovery in English and Spanish.