What Is an Addictive Personality?

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What Is an Addictive Personality?

An addictive personality is a hypothetical set of personality traits that may make a person more susceptible to addiction. While the term is quite popular, the concept itself is controversial and there is a lack of consistent evidence supporting the existence of an addictive personality.

Some personality traits have been linked to different types of addictive behaviors. However, it is important to remember that addiction is a complex brain disorder that is the result of a variety of factors. Genetic factors can play a large part in determining susceptibility to addiction, but other variables including family history, upbringing, environment, socioeconomic status, and drug availability also play a role in a person's risk of addiction.

This article discusses some of the purported traits that are associated with an addictive personality and the effect that certain personality traits may have on addiction. It also covers steps people can take to help prevent risky behaviors from becoming addictions.

Recap

There is no single personality type that is more prone to addiction. Anyone can become addicted to substances like drugs and alcohol or certain behaviors like gambling. While certain traits are sometimes shared by people who develop addictions, these traits are not consistent and not everyone with an addiction has these traits.

Purported Addictive Personality Traits

While definitions of the term vary, the term addictive personality is usually used to suggest that people with certain clusters of personality traits are more likely to develop addictions. The term also suggests that people with this personality type engage in repetitive pleasurable actions and choose them over other important activities.

People who engage in these behaviors supposedly have a higher risk of developing addictions to food, sex, gambling, shopping, alcohol, and other substances.

While there is no clear consensus about what these traits are, they often include traits such as:

  • Impulsivity
  • Insecurity
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Not conforming to social norms
  • Poor coping skills
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Selfishness
  • Social isolation or withdrawal
  • Thrill-seeking or sensation-seeking

Critics emphasize that the label itself is harmful and should be avoided. Not only is the label not supported by research, but it also promotes the idea that people who develop addictions are all the same, which plays a role in stigmatizing and marginalizing people who have addictions.

Maryann Amodea of the Boston University School of Social Work

The term 'addictive personality' needs to be retired permanently from use by the alcohol and drug (AOD) treatment field.

— Maryann Amodea of the Boston University School of Social Work

Impact of the Addictive Personality Concept

Critics of the term addictive personality suggest that the concept of an addictive personality is a harmful myth that contributes to mental health stigma.

The problem is that it takes a very complex, multifaceted issue and reduces it down to a simplistic explanation. Critics of the idea of the addictive personality also suggest that it:

  • Leads people to underestimate their risk: Believing that there is an addictive personality type may cause people to believe that they are not at risk for developing an addiction. People mistakenly assume that because they don't have "addictive traits," that they aren't at risk.
  • Contributes to negative stereotypes about people with addictions: The term can also stigmatize people with addiction and can cause people to think that all people with addictions possess a certain set of negative traits. 
  • Reduces motivation to change: If people believe they have an addictive personality, it may play a role in reducing self-efficacy. People may assume that they are simply prone to addiction and that there is little they can do to prevent or overcome it.

Recap

Critics maintain that the idea of an addictive personality is harmful because it may cause people to underestimate their risk, contribute to stereotypes, and make people feel less empowered when dealing with addictions.

Known Risk Factors for Addiction

While research has not supported the existence of an addictive personality, researchers do know that there are a number of non-personality-related factors that do increase the risk of developing an addiction. Some of these include:

  • Genetics and family history: Studies have shown that addictions have a strong genetic component. Certain traits such as impulsivity and novelty seeking can also be inherited, and lead to an increased risk for addiction. However, having those traits or having a family history of addiction does not necessarily mean that you will develop an addiction.
  • Environmental factors: Certain environmental variables are also tied to an increased risk for addiction including poverty, access to drugs, and trauma. Lifestyle factors such as engaging in habits that contribute to addiction may also increase your risk.
  • Mental health conditions: Having another mental health condition such as depression, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also increase your risk for addiction.

Addictive Behaviors vs. Addictive Traits

Rather than focusing on personality traits when considering addiction risk, it may be more beneficial to observe and examine behaviors. If you tend to have a higher risk for developing addiction due to some of the factors above, engaging in certain habits or behaviors may be more problematic for you.  

Comfort Eating

Comfort eating is a common way to make yourself feel better when you are disappointed, stressed, or overwhelmed. While comfort eating is not harmful in moderation, if it becomes a habit, it can contribute to obesity, food addiction, and binge eating.

Using Alcohol to Socialize

Socializing is one of the top reasons heavy drinkers give to explain their overindulgence in alcohol. A beer or a glass of wine can seem like a quick and easy way to lower inhibitions and have a laugh with friends. But all too easily, alcohol can become the only way to get along with people, leaving you feeling bored or anxious in situations where everyone is sober.

Staying Hyperconnected

Checking your email or Facebook account every hour or more, never letting your cell phone out of reach, surfing the internet every time you have a spare moment: While these activities might seem normal these days, they can lead to problems with internet addiction. Using the internet for sexgambling or shopping can lead to more complex addictions.

Using Sex to Replace Intimacy

It might seem contradictory to suggest that sex could replace intimacy. But people who are addicted to sex tell a different story: Constantly seeking sexual arousal and gratification can actually distance you from your partners, as you lose yourself in the sensations of the sexual experience, rather than being aware of the feelings of the other person.

Buying Things to Feel Better

Overshopping can be caused by a lot of things. But one of the main reasons compulsive shoppers give for running up retail debt is the boost they get when they think the new clothes, the new shoes, and the new gadgets will change who they are and make them better people. But as soon as they are yours, the objects feel worthless.

Self-Medicating With Drugs

Pain, trauma, and difficulty sleeping are some of the psychological problems that people commonly try to treat with drugs. It doesn't help that every one of these problems has at least one medication that claims to cure the problem. But at best, medications provide temporary relief. If you depend on them, you will very likely become addicted to the medication.

Using Marijuana to Relax

Tense? Anxious? You may have found that a joint can help you relax at the end of a stressful day. The problem is that weed has a rebound effect that increases anxiety after it wears off. It can also interfere with your motivation in life or trigger serious psychological problems.

Recap

Some habits or lifestyle choices may increase your risk for addiction, particularly when combined with other risk factors. Being aware of these behaviors and looking for healthier ways to cope may be more helpful than considering personality traits.

Tips for Avoiding Risky Behaviors

If you are concerned about your risk for addiction based on your behaviors or habits, there are things you can do to help you manage the problematic behavior.

  • Practice self-care: Instead of overeating, for instance, nurture yourself through restorative activities, such as meditation, taking a relaxing bath, or getting a good night's sleep.
  • Socialize without alcohol: Instead of using alcohol to connect with others, connect through common interests or activities that you enjoy. When everyone around you is drinking, learn how to say no to alcohol and how to host a party without your guests getting drunk.
  • Build strong relationships: Even if you haven't felt addicted to sex, listening to your partner express their feelings may help strengthen your relationship as much as, or even more than, having sex.
  • Limit your screen time: Try to limit your non-work screen time to two hours per day. And make sure that, at least during sleeping hours, you are unavailable.
  • Work on building yourself up: Instead of bolstering your ego with possessions, work on building self-esteem.
  • Get help for mental health concerns. Accept that while you may never overcome these difficulties entirely, your quality of life will be much improved by letting go of the idea that it can be cured with a pill.
  • Use relaxation techniques to lower stress: The younger you are, the riskier it is to use substances like marijuana. But even for older folks, the idea that using a substance is the best way to relax is, overall, incorrect. Instead, look to healthier methods of stress management and relaxation.

A Word From Verywell

Don't wait to get a handle on your addictive behaviors. It's a myth that you have to hit rock-bottom before you can put your addiction behind you. You may have a personality that craves living large, but it doesn't have to be unhealthy. Talk to a doctor about getting the help you need, and start living life the way you really want to.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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