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  • Writer's pictureMartin Polanco

The Myth of the Addictive Personality

Originally posted November 15, 2016

From drinking a pot of coffee and smoking three packs of cigarettes a day to excessive alcohol consumption and drug use, there’s always been the notion that some people are more prone to addiction than others. Many people claim they have an addictive personality, whether they’re drinking too much or gambling all their money away. The thing is, there’s actually no such thing as an “addictive personality” as addiction doesn’t stem from the perosonality traits they exhibit.

The Components of Addiction

To understand that there is indeed no such thing as an addictive personality, it’s important to understand the mechanisms of addiction itself. It’s not one’s personality that deems them an addict, but certain components that include:

  • Obsession over a substance or activity that causes a demise of other relationships, responsibilities, and activities

  • Mental and/or physical withdrawal symptoms when the substance or activity isn’t attainable

  • Increased tolerance to a substance that makes it impossible to feel the same effects without the need to use more

It’s these that would render something to be an addiction, which all have nothing to do with one’s personality. While many people exhibit personality traits that predispose them to addiction (including anxiety, negativity, and those who are unhappy), there isn’t a personality, per say, that fits into the model of addiction.

Take, for example, the millions of people that have anxiety. While some people that have anxiety do in fact become addicted to drugs or alcohol, having anxiety doesn’t predispose someone to become an addict. The same is true for those who tend to have negative or neurotic personalities. Just because they’re negative or neurotic doesn’t mean they will turn into an addict.

What does turn a person into an addict is an accumulation of several different factors…none of which have to do with a certain personality type. Addiction lies in the core of the brain. It operates off of our core survival mechanisms. Anyone can become addicted, however, those with a combination of mental, emotional, or physical factors will have pain they are internally seeking to address, which leads them to look for an escape. Anyone can become an addict, however, certain circumstances can guide one to search for an escape which leads to addiction.

When someone becomes truly addicted to a substance there are also certain neurological components that must be considered. Serotonin and dopamine levels are severely affected by substance abuse, and it’s when the brain is unable to reach normal levels of these “feel good” chemicals without drugs or alcohol that addiction starts to steal your ability to be normal without drugs.

Habitual Behaviors Don’t Constitute for Addiction

Think of the person that watches too much television or has a habit of making a visit to the local coffee shop three times a day to get their favorite coffee. Or how about the one that goes shopping a few times a week? While these behaviors might be habitual, in no way whatsoever should they be considered addictive.

Habitual behaviors people tend to fall into only become an addiction when they meet the criteria of truly being an addict. If there is no withdrawal from the behavior and it isn’t causing serious physical or psychological problems, it’s simply what’s considered problematic behavior.

Why People Assume the Addictive Personality is a Real Thing

The term “addictive personality” didn’t even become a thing until the 1980s when a book was published by the National Research Council that included a chapter that listed different “personality traits” that might be more prone to addiction. There was never one personality type that was stated to indeed by an “addictive” one. In fact, the author of the chapter concluded the chapter by saying, “there is no single unique personality entity that is a necessary and sufficient condition for substance abuse.”

While there are undoubtedly many personality factors that might lead one to exemplify addictive behaviors, one’s personality alone doesn’t qualify one to automatically become an addict. Take for instance someone who smokes cigarettes. It’s not their personality that makes them reach for a pack of cigarettes every day. Instead, it’s external or biological factors that lead one down the path to eventual addiction.

The same thing goes for someone addicted to something as bad as heroin. It isn’t their personality that makes them become a heroin addict. There are many different personalities that become addicted to heroin…even if they’ve never been addicted to another substance before in their life. In this case, it’s the power this drug has over the body and mind that leads to addiction, not the personality of the person who is using.

Anyone can become an addict. There isn’t a specific personality (or parts of personality) that constitute for one actually becoming an addict. People can develop personality disorders without becoming addicted, and people that become addicted don’t always have to have a personality disorder.

To say that there are people that have addictive personalities is myth. While many people do indeed exhibit habitual behaviors, these are just that–habitual behaviors. They aren’t addicted to these behaviors, they simply choose not to control or change them. Addiction is much more than behavior…and in no way is it driven by a certain personality type.

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