Can You Have an Addictive Personality?

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The idea of an addictive personality, in which someone's personality makes them more susceptible to addiction, is controversial among addiction experts. Research shows that there is not a clearly defined addictive personality. Some experts say it's an invalid construct and only encourages addiction stigma.

Others say early trauma is more likely to predispose people to addiction. Some research indicates that those at high-risk for addiction do share common traits, including impulsivity and risk-taking.

Read on to learn more about traits and misconceptions of addictive personalities, getting help for addiction, and overcoming stigma.

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Addictive Personality Misconceptions

Researchers who believe the concept of addictive personality is not valid indicate it may be a consequence of addiction and not what actually causes addiction. They indicate that biological and genetic factors are a more likely cause than specific personality traits.

Other researchers believe that the idea of an addictive personality makes logical sense. It explains why some people are more vulnerable to addiction, and why people may become addicted to multiple things (what is known as cross-addiction).

Addiction Isn’t Tied to Personality

The belief that there is a specific type of personality that is more likely to become addicted is not proven by any scientific or evidence-based medicine. Some addiction researchers suggest that an addictive personality is a cognitive and behavioral style that makes a person vulnerable to acquiring addictions.

No Official Definition

There is currently no official diagnosis for addictive personality in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association handbook for diagnosing mental health disorders.

Addiction Comes in Many Forms

When people are addicted, they engage in behaviors they can't stop, or they use substances despite the harm they may cause to their lives.

There are genetic and brain-based reasons for addiction behaviors. One study indicates the predisposition to addiction could be related to a breakdown in cognitive processes, specifically the part of the brain that becomes increasingly fixed or focused on the addiction.

Some research suggests that addiction can fall into behavioral addictions or substance addictions.

Traits of Addiction

While there is not currently a definition for addictive personality, there are key traits and triggers that do exist among people at high risk for addiction. These include:

  • Impulsivity and risk-taking: One of the signs of higher risk for addiction is in those who engage in more impulsive and risk-taking behaviors.
  • Genetic influences: Up to 40% to 60% of a person's vulnerability to becoming addicted is due to genetic factors. There are specific genetic markers that make a person more susceptible to specific addictions, including alcohol dependence, cigarette smoking, heavy opioid use, and cocaine dependency.
  • Epigenetics: Epigenetics is the study of how some genes are activated by behavior and environment, while others are not. When environmental influences interact with a person's genetic vulnerability for addiction during sensitive developmental periods, the risk for addiction may increase.
  • Trauma, PTSD, and adverse childhood events (ACE): People who have experienced trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, or experienced adverse childhood events are at higher risk for addiction.

Addictive Personality Triggers

Studies indicate that some personality disorders, such as borderline and antisocial, have an increased association with addictions.

Addressing Addiction and Getting Help 

Though addiction is a complex disease, it is treatable. The best treatment options are those specific to each person and their needs.

Studies show that addiction treatment is most effective when combined with behavioral therapies, which can include individual, group, and family therapy.

For Yourself

If you have an addiction, acknowledging that you need help is a courageous and important first step. Here are a few ways to get help:

  • Join an addiction program or support group.
  • Find a counselor or therapist trained or certified in addictions.
  • Connect with supportive friends and family.
  • While overcoming addiction, take up a hobby or activity you enjoy. Remember that your life is so much more than your addiction.
  • Stay in treatment. Research indicates that most individuals need at least three months in treatment to reduce or stop drug use.

For Someone Else

Because addiction is so complex, a person with an addiction may not choose to get help, even when it is obvious to everyone around them that help is needed.

If you have a friend, family member, or partner struggling with addiction, it's also important to care for your own emotions and get support.

There are organizations designed to support people close to someone with an addiction, including 12-step programs for friends and family members impacted by addiction.

Overcoming Stigma About Addictive Personality

Although evidence-based medicine has confirmed that addiction is a complex, brain-based disease, a stigma around addiction still exists. This is based on an outdated belief that addiction is due to moral weakness or character flaws.

The problem with stigma is that the person with addiction may internalize strong feelings of shame, which make it difficult—if not impossible—to seek needed treatment.

To overcome stigma, recognize that people with addiction are facing factors outside of their control, including genetic and brain-based vulnerabilities. Finding healthcare providers and mental health providers trained in and comfortable managing addictions may be helpful.

Summary

Having an addictive personality implies that a person has a set of personality traits or characteristics that make them more prone to becoming addicted. Some researchers indicate the concept of an addictive personality does not exist, while other addiction researchers say there are some common traits among those who are at high risk for addiction, including impulsivity and risk-taking.

The stigma around addiction prevents many people from getting help. Though addiction is a complex disease, it is treatable with appropriate individualized treatment, including medication, support programs, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

A Word From Verywell 

Addiction is a complicated illness, not a choice. Though the decision to seek help is often influenced by stigma and shame, treatment is available to help people with addictions.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357. SAMHSA also provides an online treatment center location.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you know if you have an addictive personality?

    Evidence-based research does not indicate there is a specific addictive personality. However, there are personality characteristics that do put people at higher risk for addiction. These include risk-seeking, impulsive behaviors, genetic factors, and family history.

  • Can you have an obsessive personality type?

    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) includes obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). One is an anxiety disorder and one is a personality disorder. In one study, people with OCPD did have higher rates of addiction.

  • Do people with a family history of addiction develop an addiction?

    One study estimated that up to 40% to 60% of a person's vulnerability to addiction is due to genetics. However, just because there is a family history does not mean that addiction is a given. One way of avoiding the risk is to never begin use.

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