Addiction is a complex health issue that can affect anyone, regardless of their personality.
Some people use alcohol or drugs occasionally, enjoying their effects but not seeking them out regularly. Others might try a substance once and crave more almost immediately. And for many, addiction doesn’t involve substances at all, like gambling.
But why do some people develop an addiction to certain substances or activities while others can dabble briefly before moving on?
There’s a longstanding myth that some people simply have an addictive personality — a personality type that increases their risk for addiction.
Experts generally agree that addiction is a brain disorder, not a personality issue.
Many factors can increase your risk for addiction, but there’s no evidence that a specific personality type causes people to develop an addiction to something.
There’s no standard definition of what an addictive personality entails. But people often use the term to refer to a collection of traits and behaviors that some believe are inherent in people at risk for addiction.
Some common ones that have been reported include:
- impulsive, risky, or thrill-seeking behavior
- dishonesty or a pattern of manipulating others
- failure to take responsibility for actions
- low self-esteem
- difficulty with impulse control
- lack of personal goals
- mood swings or irritability
- social isolation or lack of strong friendships
There’s no evidence to suggest that people with the traits mentioned above have a higher risk for addiction.
That’s not to say that certain personality traits aren’t related to addiction. For example, traits associated with borderline and antisocial personality disorders may be linked to higher rates of addiction.
However, the nature of this link is murky. Addiction can cause changes in the brain. As one 2017 research article points out, it’s not always clear whether the trait developed before or after addiction.
At first glance, the concept of an addictive personality might seem like a good tool for preventing addiction.
If we can identify those who have the highest risk, wouldn’t that make it easier to help them before they develop an addiction?
But boiling the complex issue of addiction down to a personality type can be harmful for several reasons:
- It can lead people to falsely believe they aren’t at risk because they don’t have the “right personality” for addiction.
- It may make people who have an addiction think that they’re unable to recover if addiction is “hardwired” into who they are.
- It suggests that people experiencing addiction exhibit traits that are generally considered negative, such as lying and manipulating others.
In reality, anyone can experience addiction — including goal-oriented people who have a large network of friends, plenty of confidence, and a reputation of honesty.
Experts have identified a number of factors likely to increase someone’s risk for addiction.
Growing up with neglectful or uninvolved parents can increase someone’s risk for drug misuse and addiction.
Experiencing abuse or other trauma as a child can also increase someone’s risk for beginning to use substances earlier in life.
Genes may be responsible for about 40 to 60 percent of someone’s risk for addiction.
Age can also play a part. Teenagers, for example, have a higher risk for drug misuse and addiction than adults do.
If you saw people misuse drugs or alcohol when you were growing up, you’re more likely to use drugs or alcohol yourself.
Another environmental factor is early exposure to substances. Easy access to substances at school or in the neighborhood increases your addiction risk.
Mental health concerns
Having mental health issues such as depression or anxiety (including obsessive-compulsive disorder) can increase addiction risk. So can having bipolar or other personality disorders characterized by impulsivity.
Having both a mental health condition and a substance use disorder is known as a dual diagnosis. According to statistics from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 3.3 percent of adults in the United States had a dual diagnosis in 2014.
No single factor or personality trait is known to cause addiction. While you might choose to drink alcohol, try drugs, or gamble, you don’t choose to become addicted.
Generally, addiction causes people to have a strong desire for a substance or behavior. They might find themselves constantly thinking about the substance or behavior, even when they don’t want to.
Someone experiencing addiction might start out by relying on the substance or behavior to cope with challenges or stressful situations. But eventually, they may need to use the substance or do the behavior to get through each day.
Generally, people experiencing addiction have a hard time sticking to any personal goals of not using a substance or engaging in certain behavior. This can lead to feelings of guilt and distress, which only increase the urge to act on the addiction.
Other signs that can indicate addiction include:
- continued use of a substance despite negative health or social effects
- increased tolerance to the substance
- symptoms of withdrawal when not using the substance
- little or no interest in your usual daily activities and hobbies
- feeling out of control
- struggling at school or work
- avoiding family, friends, or social events
If you recognize some of these signs in yourself, there’s help available. Consider calling the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment’s National Treatment Referral Hotline at 800-662-HELP.
Addiction can be hard to talk about. If you’re concerned that someone close to you needs help, here are some pointers that can help:
- Get more information about substance misuse and addiction. This can give you a better idea of what they’re going through and the type of help that might be available. For example, will treatment need to start with detoxification under medical supervision?
- Show support. This can be as simple as telling them you care for them and you’re worried and want them to get help. If you’re able, consider offering to go with them to see a doctor or counselor.
- Stay involved in the treatment process. Ask how they’re doing, or offer to spend time with them if they’re having a tough day. Let them know you’re available if they find themselves in a rough spot.
- Avoid judgement. There’s already a lot of stigma around addiction. It can make some people hesitant to reach out for help. Reassure them that their experience with addiction doesn’t make you think any less of them.
when someone doesn’t want help
Try not to take it personally if your loved one doesn’t want help or isn’t ready to start treatment. If they don’t want it, there’s not much you can do to change their mind. This can be hard to accept, especially if you’re very close to them.
Consider reaching out to a therapist for support. You can also drop by a Nar-Anon or Al-Anon meeting in your area. These meetings offer a chance to connect with others who have a loved one experiencing addiction.
Addiction is a complicated brain condition that can affect anyone, regardless of their personality type.
While certain personality traits might be associated with an increased risk of addiction, it’s unclear if these traits directly influence someone’s risk for addiction.
If you or someone you know is dealing with addiction, try to remember that addiction isn’t a reflection of character. It’s a complex health issue that experts still don’t fully understand.