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What is an addictive personality? Risk factors and myths

The term “addictive personality” refers to someone who has a natural tendency to develop addictions. It is not an official medical diagnosis, and many experts oppose the idea.

It may be tempting to attribute addiction to someone’s personality as a way of understanding why they have it. However, doing this can have downsides.

Viewing addiction as part of someone’s character may lead people to blame them personally for it or believe it is part of who they are. In reality, though, anyone can develop an addiction. Addiction is also treatable.

That said, some traits are more associated with addiction than others. For example, a 2018 study found impulsivity was common among adolescents with addictions. This does not mean they have an addictive personality, but that certain traits may raise the risk of someone trying an addictive substance.

In this article, learn more about the relationship between personality and addiction, the concept of an addictive personality, and the factors that may contribute to one.

The concept of addictive personalities comes from the idea that some people develop addictions due to their character.

According to this model of addiction, some people may find it harder to resist developing addictions than others, and those with addictive personalities are inherently more likely to have an addiction than the rest of the population.

However, the concept is controversial, and many addiction experts argue it is harmful.

No major health organization recognizes addictive personality as a medical diagnosis. Instead, most experts view addiction as an illness. This includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

the National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing disorder, which means it can come and go over long periods. To an observer, it may look like relapses occur due to someone’s personality when in truth, they are apart of the illness.

While health organizations do not endorse the idea of ​​addictive personalities, there is some evidence that certain traits may make addiction more likely.

A 2018 study of 109 mostly male participants found that impulsive behaviors correlated with a higher risk of addiction. Impulsivity may increase a person’s likelihood of taking risks or using substances, thereby elevating their risk of becoming addicted.

A 2019 paper also highlights some other traits and behaviors that researchers have linked to addiction, including sensation seeking, nonconformity, and tolerance of behavior that breaks social rules.

However, the 2019 paper also emphasizes that most researchers oppose the idea of ​​addictive personalities because it is deterministic. In reality, addiction is a complex, multifaceted illness related to many factors.

For example, there is also an association between addiction and temporary emotional states, such as feeling stressed or alienated. People not having the opportunity to learn healthier coping skills for dealing with these emotions may also play a role.

A 2021 study of 94 people with addictions aged 14–32 living in Switzerland, France, and Quebec observed similar trends. Participants often reported alienation, discomfort in social situations, anxiety, or depression.

An insecure attachment style was also common in this group. This occurs when a person does not develop a secure attachment with their main parental figure during childhood, which then affects their relationships and ways of coping with adversity throughout life.

Learn more about attachment theory and attachment disorders.

There is no single factor that can predict whether one person will develop addiction and not another. Instead, a combination of factors raises a person’s risk. These factors are many and varied and include:

  • Epigenetics: Epigenetics is the study of how environment affects genes. Scientists estimate that epigenetics may determine 40–60% of a person’s addiction risk.
  • Social environment: Living with caregivers who use drugs or have favorable attitudes towards substance misuse is associated with similar attitudes and behavior among teens. Similarly, pressure from peers can influence adolescents to try addictive substances.
  • early-use: Early use of addictive substances can influence brain development, making it more likely a person will become addicted to substances during their lifetime.
  • Prescription drug use: Some people develop addictions to substances after taking them for medical reasons. For example, doctors can prescribe opioids for pain relief. These are highly addictive substances, and even after a short time, the body can become dependent on them. Around 1.6 million people in the United States have opioid use disorder.
  • Stress or trauma: Psychological trauma is a mental wound that can occur as a result of any severely stressful event. This could include childhood neglect or abuse, bullying, assault, crime, or humiliation. Any stressful or traumatic event might cause someone to use addiction to try to cope with the memories or feelings associated with it.

Inequity also plays a role. Living in a community with high levels of poverty is a risk factor for addiction, as a lack of access to education, jobs, and healthcare all make people more susceptible.

Forms of oppression, such as racism, compound this by depriving communities of things that protect against addiction and overdose.

A 2020 article notes that while opioid use has become more common across all racial and ethnic groups, white people are much more likely to receive treatment.

It states that from 2012 to 2015, 12.7 million white people received buprenorphine, a medication doctors use to treat addiction, compared with just 363,000 people from other groups.

Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people also have worse mortality rates from addiction. Indigenous adolescents, in particular, have a 500% higher mortality rate from drug overdoses than the rest of the population.

This also affects the LGBTQIA+ community. the CDC notes that rejection by family members due to their sexuality or gender identity can be a risk factor for high-risk substance use among adolescents.

People may worry they are prone to addiction or will develop one in the future. They may have concerns due to anxiety, family history, things they have read online, or previous substance use.

However, addiction is not predetermined. The only indicator a person is prone to addiction is their behavior and how it affects their lives.

to person may have an addiction to a substance or activity if they:

  • use it to escape from or numb their emotions
  • center much of their free time or identity around the behavior
  • have to steadily increase the behavior or dosage of a substance in order to achieve the same effect
  • are willing to tolerate negative consequences, such as damage to relationships or losing their job, in order to continue the behavior
  • engage in the behavior even in situations where it could be dangerous, eg, drinking and driving
  • experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop

Addiction comes in many forms. People can have addictions to substances such as alcohol, nicotine, recreational drugs, and prescription drugs. Gambling, shopping, and sex are examples of potential behavioral addictions.

However, there are behaviors that people can find difficult to stop that are not the result of addiction. Instead, these behaviors may be compulsions.

Some people use the terms “addictive personality” and “compulsive personality” interchangeably or in combination to describe people. However, neither one is a medical diagnosis.

Compulsions are repetitive or ritualistic behaviors that a person carries out to manage anxiety. For example, a person who has persistent thoughts about an intruder might compulsively lock their doors a certain number of times to reassure themselves they are safe.

This is a feature of obsessive-compulsive disorder, a mental health condition. Other mental health conditions that cause compulsions include:

Addiction and compulsion might look similar from the outside. But where an addiction typically gives people some form of reward, such as a rush of pleasure or temporary escape, people perform compulsions to relieve fear.

People can have a compulsive disorder and an addiction at the same time. Both are treatable illnesses.

Anyone who has an addiction, or is worried they might, can speak with a mental health professional who specializes in this area. Only a qualified professional can assess if someone has an addiction, so it is important to seek advice if possible.

The concept of addictive personalities suggests that the reason some people develop addictions and others do not is due to their character. However, many experts disagree with this.

While research has linked some personality traits to a higher risk of addiction, no single trait or risk factor predicts it. Addiction is a complex disorder related to many factors, such as epigenetics, home environment, stress, and mental health. On a broader scale, inequity can also affect the likelihood of addiction.

Recovery from addiction is possible with support and treatment. People who are concerned about their mental health should speak with a professional for advice.

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