By simple definition, an addictive personality refers to a set of characteristics that a person exhibits which put him or her at increased risk for developing an addiction. If you believe in the concept of addictive personality, then you also believe that there are fundamental biological or genetic differences between the addict and the non-addict. And indeed, much research has shown evidence for this idea.
One addiction isn’t likely to set off warning signs. For example, imagine a middle-aged woman who has never suffered from an addiction, but is given prescription painkillers for an injury or after a surgery. Soon, she becomes dependent on the drug, and begins to experience cravings and withdrawals. Most of this phenomenon can be attributed to the highly addictive nature of these drugs, and not necessarily a lack of willpower or impulsiveness on the behalf of the individual.
But how much does brain chemistry have to do with actual personality traits? In a recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, it was found that persons prone to stimulation-seeking and impulsive behavior may exhibit differences in brain structure. It is also, coincidentally, these same differences which may make them more prone to substance abuse.
Findings revealed that structural areas associated with decision-making and self-control exhibited a thinner cortex. The cortex is the brain’s outer layer, also known as gray matter. Bottom line: brain structure can influence at least one personality trait: impulsiveness and thrill-seeking.
But what about nature vs. nuture? Well, there is certainly some of that, too. Our personalities are partially shaped by our environment, and experiences we encounter when very young can have vast, long-lasting effects. Many neuroscientists believe that the risk for addiction is about 50% environmental.
What is the Scope of Addiction?
For those who have an addictive personality, addiction can extend far beyond substances. It can include gambling, sex, the Internet, and pretty much anything that makes the brain feel good.
The existence of multiple addictions is really what reveals an addictive personality. It’s not uncommon for someone to be dependent on tobacco or marijuana and also alcohol, and at the same time overusing pornography, video games, or the Internet for constant daily pleasure.
Obsessive-compulsive behavior and eating disorders can fall into behavioral addictions, as well, and have been found to be strongly correlated with substance abuse.
Some also fall into seemingly benign addictions, such as excessive coffee intake, exercise, and so on.
Characteristics of the Addictive Personality
There are no set of characteristics that can completely define an addictive personality. However, there are several significant personality traits that have been found to coexist with addiction:
- Impulsivity (impulsive, thrill-seeking behavior)
- Commitment to nonconformity vs. goals./morals commonly valued by society
- Social alienation and tolerance for deviance
- Heightened stress/anxiety
- Poor coping skills
While these traits are widely accepted, by no means do they apply to everyone. In fact, upon reading, in totality they resonate strongly of anti-social behavior. And while this is true for many addictive personalities, there are also many who are far from this.
For example, consider actors and musicians who have fallen into this category by engaging in excessive sex, drug use, and alcohol, all while working long hours under pressure. No one accuses them of being antisocial. Impulsive behavior and stimulation-seeking, however – probably.
Some believe that the addictive personality is rooted in the person’s own believe system, or moreover, how they feel about themselves. Depression, anxiety, and insecurities have all been linked to addictive behavior and substance abuse.
Moreover, those who believe they are helpless, worthless, or have nothing to offer society, may be more inclined to engage in multiple addictions.
Also, addictive personalities often seem to be borne of childhood trauma. A predisposition to addiction does not necessarily make one an addict. When you combine such tendencies, however, with child sexual or physical abuse, you are more likely to end up with someone who is trying to fill the emotional craters left by a negative childhood environment.
In addition, those who suffer such trauma as children frequently have emotional issues, such as depression, anxiety, and low-self esteem – problems which also tend to coexist with addiction.