Do you have an addictive personality?

On occasion, I’ve heard someone say they have an addictive personality. I’m not quite sure what was meant by that. I assume that person feels like they can’t control their behavior.

Historically, what you were addicted to was seen as the cause of the addiction. For example, the cause of an addiction to opioids was viewed as the opioids themselves. The cause of an addiction to gambling was the act of gambling.

According to this view, each addiction may have to be treated differently, as each substance and behavior has its own unique properties. However, it has since become more widely accepted that each addiction is related to other factors that might be present across multiple substances and behaviors.

If this sounds like it should make addiction easier to understand, I wish it were so. There are many more questions than answers. Many studies have been done with contradictory results and results that have not been replicated.

To make it even more complicated, addiction also commonly occurs alongside other issues such as depression and anxiety.

Many factors influence addiction.

Addiction is influenced by both internal and external factors. Internal factors generally refer to personality traits such as:

  • Impulsivity
  • Emotional instability
  • Lower self-discipline
  • Risk taking
  • Nonconformity
  • Social alienation
  • Low stress tolerance

External factors refer to the environment you grew up in and live in. They are:

  • Adult trauma
  • Childhood trauma
  • Family system
  • Exposure to a drug or behavior
  • Chronic stress

Some studies claim certain addictions have some factors in common, but the degree of the common factors can vary.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “No single factor determines whether a person will become addicted to drugs.” And we can apply this same statement to alcohol and behavior.

The Big Five Personality Traits

Just about everything I’ve read on personality, at some point, mentions what’s called the Big Five personality traits. It’s just a way to look at personality and describe it using consistent measures. There’s no right or wrong or bad or good. It’s a spectrum and we all fall somewhere for each trait. The traits are

  1. Openness to Experience – curious or cautious
  2. Conscientiousness – careful or impulsive
  3. Extraversion – introverted or extraverted
  4. Agreeableness – friendly or self-centered
  5. Neuroticism – emotional stability or instability

Research on addiction frequently references these traits and has tried to find some common denominators. This approach has also proven inconclusive.

One study that used the Big Five stated in its conclusion: “The present study suggests that, although different addictions may have certain behavioral tendencies in common, they largely reflect a unique constellation of personality traits and demographic variables.”

Can you inherit addiction?

Researchers have tried to identify the genes responsible for addiction, and they have examined the role of early exposure to trauma. Yet they have failed to isolate a single genetic factor that reliably distinguishes between the 10–20% of people who try alcohol or illegal drugs and get hooked and the majority who do not.

Studies on twins, adoption and families have tried to identify genetic connections to addiction. Can you inherit addiction like you can inherit other genetic features in your family? If so, can your risk be identified so you know your vulnerability?

Trying to answer these questions is very complicated and, again, there are no clear answers. Results have yielded some insights but nothing concrete.

The best we can possibly say is that if there is addiction in your family, you may be predisposed, or more vulnerable, to becoming an addict. Or you may not. And if so, to what extent is unknown.

What does all this mean? For one, no you don’t have an addictive personality because such a thing doesn’t exist. Also, an addiction, or a dependence for that matter, is more about what happened to you than it is about anything else. And your experiences are unique to you.

One thing that is agreed upon by most, and me, is that the idea that there is something called an addictive personality is a myth. Addiction is just too complicated, and the research is too inconclusive.

To Behavioral Addiction Counseling