How many times have you heard someone tell you that you have an addictive personality?
The person warns you to exercise caution in whatever activity you’re about to engage in: a new video game, a new exercise, a new partner, drugs, or alcohol.
“You had better be careful with that! You have an addictive personality, ya know.”
“Watch out, you’ll get hooked! You have an addictive personality.”
Perhaps you’ve never heard these words, but you’ve said them. However, is an “addictive personality” a real thing? What makes a person susceptible to addiction?
Not An Accepted Disorder
What people may call an addictive personality disorder has never been accepted as a true disorder by medical professionals.
We tend to call someone out for having an addictive personality when they do the following:
- Become passionate or seemingly obsessed with new things or substances they try and like
- Feel down or bummed when they can’t do that activity or eat/drink that substance frequently
- Choose the activity or substance over what we consider to be more important or fulfilling
In reality, if someone were truly addicted to a substance or activity, their brain chemistry would change, and the person would exhibit the following symptoms of addiction:
- A struggle with moderation that turns into compulsive behavior (behavior that the person cannot easily control). One drink becomes fifteen. One hour on the Xbox becomes ten, etc.
- Noticeable mood swings when a favored activity or substance isn’t available. When the person can’t drink or play another round of Call of Duty, they become visibly and starkly altered. They may start to show physical withdrawal symptoms.
- Their need for the activity or substance leads them to behave in manipulative, selfish ways. They may lie, cheat, or steal to engage in the activity or substance.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”
Addiction Is Not a Character Flaw
Telling someone they have an addictive personality may cause them to feel they have some sort of character defect or a personality flaw–this couldn’t be further from the truth. Values, character traits, and beliefs have nothing to do with addiction. Anyone can develop a substance use disorder, regardless of gender, race, class, religion, morality, or personality.
When we point to someone’s personality as the source of their addiction, we belittle the person and avoid the important work it takes to get sober.
If you’re worried that yourself or a loved one might be developing an addiction, look for patterns of addictive behavior. Psychology Today outlines ten patterns, six of which we summarize below:
- Inability to quit something negative even when it causes negative consequences. If the person tries but cannot quit smoking, drinking, playing video games, etc., even when it is clear that the activity is damaging their lives, this is a serious red flag that an addiction is present.
- Contextual relapses. If a person wants to quit a substance or activity but is easily led back into use when in certain environments or with certain people, their addiction has a strong hold.
- Inability to maintain long-term sobriety. Some people can quit their addictive substance successfully for a short while, but if they find themselves continually falling back into old habits, it’s time to seek specialized treatment and support.
- A strong need to engage in the activity even when you know it will make you feel worse. A person is addicted when they know the substance or activity will harm them and yet they do it anyway.
- Cross addiction. Sometimes a person will quit drinking only to become addicted to another substance or activity. This pattern of substitute addiction means that the underlying causes of addiction have not been addressed.
- Genetic history. A familial history of alcoholism, drug abuse, or any kind of addictive behavioral issues puts a person at a greater risk for addiction.
We Can Help
If you see any of these patterns of behavior in yourself or a loved one, it’s time to get help. Know that addiction is not about your personality; it’s a chemical alteration of the brain’s reward circuit that makes it very difficult for you to stop the behavior. Often it is driven by underlying anxiety, depression, or trauma. You are not alone. Call us today to talk about our compassionate, nonjudgmental treatment for addiction. We would love to help you begin your journey to recovery.