When asked to describe an addict, people often list a set of traits. You may think of all addicts as people who have poor impulse control, a lot of stress, few long-term goals, poor self-worth, and a lack of social responsibility. This stereotype has become so pervasive that there is a name for it: the addictive personality.
Is a certain personality really associated with addiction? Is addiction something you simply cannot avoid if you're unlucky enough to have been born with certain traits? The answer is complicated. Keep reading to learn about the myth of addictive personalities and what experts really do know about the relationship between personality and addictive tendencies.
Is the Addictive Personality Real?
Although the term addictive personality is widely used, most modern researchers disagree with the assertion that there is a single personality that makes one prone to addiction. Rather, a range of personality traits make addiction more likely. Some of these traits are complete opposites of one another, which breaks down the stereotypes associated with addiction.
What Personality Traits Are Associated With Addiction?
Keep in mind that some people with these traits will never become an addict, and some addicts don't display any of these traits. This is not a game of absolutes but one of relative risk.
Adventurous people - those who you might see sky diving or climbing mountains - are more likely to experiment with addictive substances. These people often seek a release of dopamine in the brain. (Dopamine is a neutrotransmitter that leads to euphoria.)
Experimentation can lead to addiction as the adventurous person's body becomes less sensitive to dopamine and needs larger doses to experience the sought-after rush.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the quiet, cautious people. They may turn to addictive substances to manage feelings of anxiety and loneliness, rather than talk about or seek treatment for these troubles.
People with obsessive personalities often seek extreme control over their impulses. They may become overly aware of their obsession with control to the extent that they seek an escape from it. Addictive substances can provide them with that escape, but eventually, use of the substance becomes a new impulse.
Why Doesn't Everyone With These Traits Become an Addict?
Plenty of people who are adventurous, cautious, or obsessive never become addicts. Experts believe this is because the addiction is affected by lifestyle and circumstances, too. People with these personality traits may only develop an addiction after major social problems or in certain social groups. If someone with these traits never falls into the right circumstances, they may never become an addict.
It's also possible that more people with these traits are addicted - but only to substances or behaviors that society has deemed less harmful. For instance, they might be addicted to food, Internet use, exercise, or work. Although these addictions can certainly cause harm, they do not raise the same concerns as addiction to alcohol and drugs.
Can You Change Your Personality Traits to Treat Addiction?
If you are adventurous, cautious, or obsessive, you may wonder if you can change your personality to treat an addiction. Your personality develops from childhood, and as you age, it becomes harder to change. Although some people are able to purposely change their personality in adulthood, doing so appears to be challenging.
A better way to manage addiction is to seek greater awareness of your own personality traits and how they affect your actions. Try journaling about your thoughts and behaviors. Over time, you will start to see a pattern in how your thoughts influence your behaviors.
Also try mindfulness practices like yoga, which make you more aware of your own thoughts and emotions, thereby increasing your control over your thoughts and emotions.
Although modern psychology dismisses the idea of a single, addictive personality, certain traits may make addiction more likely. If you struggle with addiction that you believe is related to certain personality traits, you don't have to fight alone. Contact Oak Arbor to learn more about our addiction recovery programs.