The term ‘addictive personality’ is one that most of us are familiar with. We use it in day-to-day conversations about the vices we stay away from like coffee or chocolate: “Oh, I’m not even going to start on that — I have an addictive personality.”
And in other (more serious) instances, we use the term when we don’t want to experiment with things like alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, gambling and so on.
But is the concept of an addictive personality fact or fiction?
As a health issue, addiction is complex and varied so it’s strange to pin down a single type of “personality” as one that is intrinsically drawn or prone to it. This is why the idea of an addictive personality is considered too “one-type-fits-all” for something as complicated as addiction.
Maia Szalavitz, Author of Unbroken Brain: A revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, says that the idea of an addictive personality is a myth.
“The ‘addictive personality’ is seen as a bad one: weak, unreliable, selfish and out of control. The temperament from which it springs is seen as defective and unable to resist temptation,” she writes.
“Despite decades of attempts, no single addictive personality common to everyone with addictions has ever been found… research finds no universal character traits that are common to all addicted people.”
Guess that’s that on that!
But in the same breath, there are still certain traits that leave people at a higher risk of developing an addiction — and that’s the real conversation.
Let’s take a look at what these are:
Several studies have found a significant link between the genetic make-up of a person and their risk for developing some sort of addiction. Essentially if have a close family member who struggles with, or has struggled with, issues of addiction — you are at a higher risk than the average person to have similar issues.
2/ Mental health
Mental health disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder and so on have also been linked to a higher risk for developing an addiction. But it’s important to remember that this does not mean that every person with a mental health issue will have an addiction issue.
Prof. Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioural addiction, writes: “Just because some person has some of the personality traits associated with addiction does not mean they are, or will become, an addict. Practitioners consider specific personality traits to be warning signs, and that’s all they are.”
3/ Lack of impulse control
People who struggle to control their impulses are also at a high risk of becoming addicted to something. This is because they are more likely to make decisions without necessarily worrying, or even caring, about the consequences. But according to the American Addiction Centre, people who are too firm with their impulses also experience a high risk for addiction. “People with intense focus and habitual behaviours may be as likely to develop addiction as those who are unable to control their impulse.”
4/ Lack of self-regulation
A drug addiction study that was done at the University of Rochester Medical Centre found that the failure to control behaviour based on the expected reward from said behaviour is linked to the development of an addiction.
“The vast majority of people, when faced with something they want, will assess how achievable the goal is and adjust their actions and expectations in order to maximise their potential to achieve it,” senior author of the study, Prof. John Foxe, said.
“However, it appears that the integrity of this system of assessment and self-regulation is impaired in substance abusers and this may contribute to the risk-taking behaviours and poor decision-making commonly associated with this population.”