Key takeaways:

  • It is important to distinguish between a habit and an addiction. We do things out of habit because it is convenient, makes things easier, or because we enjoy it. An addiction is something we do over and over, and it may not make any sense why or it can cause us harm
  • While there is no one central personality type that makes someone more likely to become addicted, there are aspects of an individual's psyche that can increase the chances of an addiction forming
  • Studies have shown that genetics play a significant role in your risk of developing a substance use disorder or addiction, with genetic predisposition accounting for 40-60% of a person’s likelihood of forming an addiction

“Addictive personality” is a term that gets used a lot to describe a societal preconception of the type of person who is likely to be an addict. But does it really exist?

What is an addictive personality?

The idea that a person is more predisposed to forming an addiction, either to a substance or behavior, based on core personality traits is a popular one that most people will have a biased assumption of already.  

The person at the office who always wants to go for drinks after work. A friend who enjoys casinos and other excesses. Someone who smokes marijuana regularly to unwind. We often assume these people have an addiction or are more predisposed to forming substance or behavioral abuse disorders. But this isn’t necessarily true.

While all of the above may be warning signs of addiction, it is perfectly possible for these types of people to engage in these activities without ever forming an addiction. Conversely, it is also possible for someone to form an addiction without displaying any particular personality traits that we may associate with addiction.

It is important to distinguish between a habit and an addiction. We do things out of habit because it is convenient, makes things easier, or because we enjoy it. An addiction is something we do over and over, and it may not make any sense why or it can cause us harm.

The truth is that the modern idea of an addictive personality is modeled on both fact and fiction. The idea of a generic, specific personality type that is predisposed towards addiction simply does not exist. Instead, there are a range of factors that can lead to someone being more predisposed to addiction and they can appear in a wide range of personality types. 

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Factors and traits that influence addiction

While there is no one central personality type that makes someone more likely to become addicted, there are aspects of an individual's psyche that can increase the chances of an addiction forming. An article in Scientific American [1] suggests that certain personality traits (obsessive-compulsive, adventurous, etc.) can lead to addiction but that no one who possesses them will be guaranteed to develop issues with drugs or alcohol. It also suggests that other factors more commonly associated with addiction-forming (genetics, environment, socioeconomic status, history of mental illness, etc.) are often present alongside these certain personality traits.

Factors that can influence addiction:

Genetics

Studies have shown that genetics play a significant role in your risk of developing a substance use disorder or addiction, with genetic predisposition accounting for 40-60% of a person’s likelihood of forming an addiction. Scientists have even found specific genes that play a role in increasing the risk of developing an addiction.

Environment

Living, working, or having grown up in an environment of increased exposure to drug or alcohol addiction increases the risk of developing a substance use disorder. A study by the National Association of Children of Alcoholics indicates that children raised by alcoholic parents are three times as likely to develop alcoholism. In this case, there may be a mix of genetic and environmental factors at play.

Socioeconomics

Socioeconomic risk factors for developing a substance use disorder include low income, low levels of education, and prior use of alcohol in childhood or adolescence. In some cases, the other extreme is true. High income and socioeconomic status can lead to more availability and therefore increased substance abuse.

Personal trauma

People often abuse substances to cope with past mental or physical trauma, which can lead to addiction. Some people also become addicts if they abuse prescription medication used to treat chronic diseases and other illnesses.

Mental health disorders

Adults and teens who suffer from mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric diagnosis are more likely to develop substance abuse addictions and or a behavioral addiction than the rest of the population.

Having risk factors does not mean addiction is unavoidable. Similarly, the absence of risk factors does not protect you entirely from developing an addiction. The areas above are some common factors found in many people who suffer from a form of addiction.

Addictive personality traits

Below are the personality traits most commonly associated with developing a substance or behavioral addiction:

Disconnected

Those who are cautious in social situations to the point where they become disconnected or isolated, especially if they have a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression, can be more likely to develop a form of addiction. [1] 

People suffering from conditions such as depression may attempt to self-medicate to manage feelings of loneliness, either through drugs or alcohol. People with these conditions may even abuse the prescription medication that has been given to help manage their conditions. Many people suffering from isolation can resort to addictive behaviors as a means of coping.

Adventurous

A study reported by Reuters suggests that those who seek out risky situations, ones where the thrill and danger level are linked to a sense of reward, may produce higher than normal levels of dopamine, making them less susceptible to its effects. [2] This means that they may have a higher likelihood of developing tolerances to drugs and alcohol as the brain adjusts to the pleasure release of dopamine faster.  

This means that the potential for addiction to form when experimenting with substance abuse is potentially greater in those with an adventurous disposition. In many cases, those who are adventurous will never be satisfied, always seeking the riskiest behaviors and attention-seeking to bolster their addiction.

Obsessive

Those who display signs of impulse control may be more likely to form addiction, even in those who are rigidly focused. Obsessive-compulsive behavior can often cause habits to form, and this does not exclude habits towards addictive substances. 

While someone who is obsessive about particular behaviors may never touch drugs or alcohol as it conflicts with their existing habits, others may develop obsessions around substances and in particular the feelings they give. Once someone has developed an obsession over a particular substance and its effects, they will often develop a tolerance to it that requires more and more for it to take effect. A common example is someone who collects things like coins, stamps, or video games. There often is a fine line between obsession and addiction which can lead to other compulsions.

Impulsive

Impulsive people with an inability to self-regulate are at higher risk of experimenting with drugs and alcohol and developing addictions. The University of Rochester Medical Center released an article that suggests people who are unable to regulate behavior and the anticipation of reward are at a much higher risk of developing an addiction. [3] An example may be gambling. The rewards are random and happen just enough to prevent people from controlling their impulsive behaviors, leading to often catastrophic financial losses.

Helping those with a high risk of addiction

While there may not be one personality type that is more susceptible to addiction, there are individuals who, through a combination of factors, traits, and impulse control issues, may be more likely to abuse substances and form an addiction. 

For those in this position, there are a range of behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), that are available to locate the source of behaviors and impulses as well as developing coping mechanisms to deal with and overcome them. If a person has developed an addiction to a substance or behavior already, attending an inpatient or outpatient rehab center can help by incorporating these therapies alongside other treatments proven to help with addiction. Contact a treatment center today to find out what options are available.