The concept of an addictive personality is widely known – but how accurate is it? It turns out the idea of an addictive personality is both fact and fiction.
There is no one generic addictive personality that all but condemns someone to a life of addiction. (In fact, confusingly, there are often seemingly disparate traits which can lead to addiction). That said, there are some well-established addictive personality traits which can make someone more prone to addiction.
It’s important to note that having certain personality traits does not automatically mean someone will develop an addiction. These traits are not present in every person dealing with addiction, whether that’s gambling, shopping, food or drug addiction – they are just one element in a variety of factors which contribute to addiction.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how to tell if you have an addictive personality and what causes this. We will explore a few of the other factors associated with addiction and look at the main characteristics of addictive behaviour. We finish up with some practical steps you can take to cope with an addictive personality, and what to do if you’re worried about a loved one who exhibits addictive behaviours you think could be a result of their personality traits.
How Do You Know if You Have an Addictive Personality?
There is no conclusive test to determine if you have an addictive personality. Instead, you would need to examine your personality traits and historic behaviours. To get you started, see if you recognise yourself in any of the following…
- Unable to satiate desires – Are you always left wanting more? It doesn’t have to pertain to an addictive substance like alcohol or drugs either. For example, it could be wanting more clothes when you have an overflowing wardrobe.
- Impulsive behaviour – Do you dive into things without thinking about the consequences first? We all lack proper judgement from time to time, but if you regularly engage in impulsive behaviour, it could mean you’re more at risk of addiction.
- Avoiding the truth – Do you have a history of lying? This might be to yourself or others. Addiction and lying are bedmates and people who avoid being honest with themselves could be more likely to develop an addiction, as they won’t be able to honestly evaluate their behaviour (“it’s fine, it was a one-off” etc.)
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What Causes an Addictive Personality?
In most cases, there is no one root cause of addiction. Instead, the addiction, whether that’s shopping, work, food or drug addiction, is the result of an amalgamation of factors. In this section, we’ll look at some of the personality traits that increase the risk of developing an addiction, along with other factors such as genetics and childhood experiences.
What Personality Traits Are Associated With Addiction?
While there is no one generic addictive personality, there are addictive personality traits. As we mentioned at the start, these traits are not present in every person dealing with addiction and likewise having these traits does not mean you will automatically go on to develop an addiction. Having these personality traits is simply associated with having a higher risk of becoming addicted.
Some people are simply more willing to take risks than others. People with this personality trait will enjoy taking risks and have less impulse control around potentially dangerous activities, such as taking addictive substances. Some research has found that risk-takers have higher levels of dopamine and low sensitivity to it. This means that they need more intense experiences in order to get the same response that non-risk takers would get from a less intense version.
It sounds at complete odds with the previous trait, but being disconnected and cautious can also make someone more likely to develop an addiction. This might be because along with feeling disconnected (or perhaps in part because of this) the person with this trait may also be suffering from anxiety or depression, which also increases the risk of developing an addiction.
People who feel disconnected are likely to struggle with socialising and may turn to self-medication to soothe their anxiety, feelings of loneliness and other negative emotions. This can lead to dependency and a belief that the only way to feel normal is through an addictive substance.
Obsessive and Compulsive
When it comes to personality traits, having poor impulse control might seem like an obvious risk factor for developing an addiction. However, people who are too particular about their impulses can also end up being at a greater risk for addiction too.
In many cases, addiction becomes a compulsion (to take drugs, drink the drink, bet the money, buy the clothes) based on a habit that has formed over a period of time, compared with just one intense impulse. Because of this, people who are highly habitual could be at more risk of developing an addiction.
Inability to self-regulate
Research has found that being unable to regulate behaviour with regard to receiving a reward is linked with developing an addiction. The research found that people with drug addiction had a high degree of motivation for reward-seeking, but a reduced ability to adjust their behaviour, along with less fulfilment, once they got the reward.
What Other Factors Are Associated With Addiction?
Of course, having a certain set of personality traits is not the only thing that makes someone more likely to develop an addiction. There are other psychological, genetic and environmental factors which influence the degree to which someone is at risk. These include:
Having a blood relative that is dealing with an addiction plays a role in the risk of someone developing an addiction. In fact, research has found your genes are responsible for around 40 – 60% of your risk for addiction. According to further research certain parts of the human genome have a direct connection to specific addictions.
Despite all the research we have, it’s important to remember that your genes are not your destiny and having a family history of addiction does not mean you are condemned to a life of addiction.
Experiencing trauma, such as childhood neglect, sexual abuse or physical trauma can have an impact on who goes on to develop an addiction. It is well established that childhood trauma increases the risk for a number of psychiatric disorders and substance abuse. For example, research has found that adolescents who had a history of trauma exposure accounted for 70% of the patients receiving treatment for substance abuse.
People who grow up witnessing drug addiction and family members or friends using addictive substances are more likely to engage in the same behaviour. Unfortunately, research has found those that who experiment with these substances early on are also more at risk of addiction.
Mental Health Issues
Having a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression, or a personality disorder like bipolar, can increase the risk of developing an addiction. This is well established in the research literature and having both an addictive substance use disorder and a mental health condition is referred to as a dual diagnosis.
What Is the Root Cause of an Addictive Personality?
There is often more than one factor at play when it comes to developing an addiction. Trauma certainly plays a primary role in many people’s addiction, but people who haven’t experienced a big trauma such as childhood neglect or sexual abuse can also go on to develop addiction too.
Ultimately, all of the factors outlined above can influence who goes on to develop an addiction and who doesn’t. It isn’t simply a case of having an addictive personality, nor is it a case of certain childhood experiences or genes making addiction inevitable. In most cases, it is a mixture of various factors, including personality traits along with psychological, genetic and environmental factors that determine who is more likely to develop an addiction.
Is There a Free Online Personality Test?
There is no test that can conclusively tell you whether or not you have an addictive personality. There are several free personality tests available on the internet that can test you for addictive personality traits, but it is worth taking any generic test like this with a pinch of salt. They cannot replace the guidance of an addiction-informed healthcare professional, who should be your first point of contact for any concerns.
What Are the Six Major Characteristics of Addictive Behaviour?
One influential model of addiction that research has focused on is the addiction components model. This model defines addictive activity as any behaviour which features the six core components of addiction, which are outlined as follows:
- Salience: When the activity becomes the most important activity in a person’s life, to the extent that it dominates their thinking, feelings and behaviour. For example, even when the person isn’t engaged in the behaviour, they’re preoccupied thinking about when they next will be.
- Mood modification: Once they engage in the activity, it alters their state of mind. This could be obviously enjoyable and give them a buzz or a high, or it could give them a sedating feeling of numbness or escape.
- Tolerance: They require greater amounts of activity to achieve those mood modifications. If it used to be one drink, now it’s three or four. What was once a £100 shopping spree has now become £500. And so on.
- Withdrawal symptoms: Should they stop the activity, they will experience a range of unpleasant feelings whether psychological (e.g. irritable, anxious) or physical (e.g. shakey, poor sleep).
- Conflict: Their focus on this activity begins to cause conflicts with other activities like their work or hobbies, with their loved ones and even within themselves such as causing them to feel a loss of control.
- Relapse: If they do gain control over the activity, they relapse and begin to engage excessively with the activity once again.
What Should I Do if I Have an Addictive Personality?
If you are concerned you have an addictive personality, it’s understandable that you want to know how to better get a grip on it to avoid problems in the future and minimise your risk of developing an addiction. In this section, we’ll talk you through some practical steps you can take right away to set yourself up for success whatever background or personality traits you have.
How to Deal With an Addictive Personality
If you feel you have an addictive personality, that is to say, a mix of addictive personality traits along with other factors which put you at higher risk of addiction, it’s important to recognise it so you can take steps to avoid addiction.
Unfortunately with the perpetuation of the generic ‘addictive personality’ myth, many people who have these traits or backgrounds feel like they are powerless in the face of addiction. But that is not the case. There are proactive steps you can take to lower your risk of developing an addiction, whether that’s an alcohol or drug addiction, or something else like gambling, sex, work or shopping addiction.
Get to know yourself: Knowledge is power! This might involve journalling or talk with a trusted loved one about your concerns. This can help you gain self-awareness and feel less alone, both of which are critical.
Seek professional help: Once you feel ready to take it a step further, find a therapist who understands your concerns and work with them to develop a plan of action. You might benefit from a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) approach, which focuses on practical solutions. You’ll work through your triggers and better understand the underlying causes contributing to your addictive personality.
Create small changes: People who have addictive personality traits can often focus on what feels good in the present moment, sacrificing what is beneficial in the long term. Trying to make rapid, drastic changes wholesale is rarely successful, so focus on making small, achievable changes that are sustainable in the long term.
How to Help Someone With an Addictive Personality?
Are you worried about a loved one you suspect has an addictive personality? Perhaps they are experiencing a range of negative emotions as a result of it, or you’re worried about them developing a drug addiction or other addictive substance disorder in the future.
The first thing to know is, having certain personality traits does not mean that developing an addiction is inevitable. The second point to remember is – and this one can be harder to bear – unless the person you are worried about actively wants to work on this issue, you cannot force them to change. It has to come from within.
The best way you can help someone you think has an addictive personality is to be a judgement-free, active listener if they want to open up about their issues and reassure them that their personality traits do not mean developing an addiction is the only outcome. If appropriate, and they are receptive, you might also like to signpost them to relevant resources. It’s also important that you have strong boundaries and make sure you are looking out for yourself too.
Last updated & clinically assessed 10 November, 2022