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Traits of an Addictive Personality


As the alcohol and drug abuse problems in our country continue to grow and worsen, many more people are asking questions about how people become victims of substance use disorder and addictive behavior. Are there certain personality types that are more prone to developing an addictive personality? Any specific genetic predispositions that can lead to this? And how can we mitigate this addiction risk?

In the past, many people have assumed (incorrectly) that certain common factors like race, social class, and a generic addictive personality were the big red flags as to whether someone would develop a drug or alcohol addiction.

After many years of research, scientists are discovering that in addition to environmental factors and genetic factors there are certain universal personality traits that can indicate whether someone is more likely to become addicted to substances, and often these traits are developed and exhibited as early as childhood. Also note that not all of these addictive personality traits will be present in every addict, but having one or a combination of any of these traits may make a person more susceptible to addictive substances.

Suffering From Other Mental Health Issues

Having an addictive personality is not an actual psychiatric diagnosis. However, individuals struggling with pre-existing mental health conditions are at a higher risk of developing addictions. Some of the conditions included are:

  • Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mood disorders
  • Anxiety or panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder

One reason these particular mental health disorders can lead to addiction is that they are the types of disorders that lead to personal isolation, therefore making the individual more likely to self-medicate, rather than reach out to others for help, increasing the risk for addiction to drugs and alcohol.

The stigma around addiction doesn’t help either and can actively harm attempts to reach out for help. It should be noted that, for those with addictive behavior, moving forward often involves a change in who you are and the people present around you. A history of addiction should not define who you are, nor can a certain personality type determine whether you will develop a drug addiction, but it helps to know whether you are susceptible.

If you are aware of having a mental disorder, it is pertinent you take stock of the risks and be on the lookout for any signs of addiction creeping in.

Impulsive Behavior and More Willingness To Take Risks

People who like to live life “close to the edge” and take risks have been found to be at a higher risk to develop an addiction. Scientists believe that an individual with little impulse control may have to do with their dopamine levels and, more specifically, their brain’s sensitivity to it. This means that because a risk-taker’s brain has a higher level of dopamine (from the rush of taking risks), they end up having a lower sensitivity to its effects. This in turn creates the need to have more intense experiences (or drug doses) in order to feel the pleasure-effect that opioids and alcohol cause. This can then lead to the development of addiction.

Being Overly Cautious and Lonely

While this personality trait is a 180-degree turnaround from the previously mentioned trait, this doesn’t take away from its role in addiction and addiction-like behavior. In fact, some studies suggest that individuals who abstained from any and all substance experimentation during their youth and early adulthood face a higher risk of addiction later on. One argument is that there is less of an opportunity to learn how to regulate and this can result in these individuals experiencing difficulty with impulse control. However, there are a few different reasons that these individuals may have exercised such a level of caution.

First, some young people who flat out refuse to partake in any type of addictive substances do so out of the fear and anxiety of making any type of mistake. This high-stakes, Type A personality can lead to anxiety and compulsive behaviors like poor impulse control later in life that can trigger substance abuse.

In the second instance, some youth/young adults aren’t given the opportunity to partake in these substances simply because of social alienation and aren’t included in the social situations where drugs and alcohol are offered. Loneliness is also a huge trigger of substance abuse.

An Inability to Self-Regulate

As mentioned before, what ties all of these traits together is the fact that these traits are linked to the inability to self-regulate thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. In a nutshell, an individual who struggles with regulating their behavior, specifically when linked to receiving some type of reward, will be much more likely to develop an addiction. This narrows down to their brain’s dopamine levels and its sensitivity to the chemical, or the lack thereof, messing with the overall balance of dopamine in their brain. The addiction can form because individuals who fixate on the reward tend to experience less satisfaction from actually getting the reward, which in turn leads the individual to push harder in the hopes that the reward response will be more pleasurable that time around.

How Can You Help?

It comes down to self-awareness of your own addictive traits and monitoring those you think may struggle. There are many different types of behavioral therapies that can give you tools to moderate the addictive response. If you suspect that a family member or friend is struggling with an addiction, behavioral therapies can be incorporated into treatment programs with trusted mental health professionals so that they can take back their sobriety and control over their addictive traits.

There are always options for people with addiction to find solace. At New Choices, our compassionate and qualified staff can work together with you or your loved one to find the best path forward.