It does seem that some people are more likely to fall into addiction than others. It is also common for individuals to describe themselves or other as having an addictive personality. If such personalities exist then does this mean that the culprit in addiction is not alcohol or drugs but instead just the people who use them? Does this also mean that it is only those who have such a personality who are at risk of addiction? If some people are more likely to become addicts this might also mean that they can be targeted with an intervention before it happens.
To say that an individual has an addictive personality implies that they have certain characteristics that make them more susceptible to this type of problem. Such people might not only be more likely to become dependent on drugs or alcohol, but even things such as relationships (co-dependency) or work (workaholism). It is believed that as much as 15% of the population in the US has an addictive personality.
The word addiction has developed over the years to cover a much wider range of behaviors. People now talk about such things as ‘internet addiction’, ‘chocolate addiction’ and ‘sex addiction’. It is believed by some psychologists that nearly all self-destructive behaviors may be due to addiction. There are other experts who feel that the word addiction has been overused so much nowadays that it has lost much of its meaning.
Addiction to alcohol or drugs is said to involve two components; a physiological addiction and a psychological addiction. This means that there is a mental compulsion to use the substance and physiological consequences when the substance is not available. The body adapts to dealing with alcohol or drugs so well that it will initially struggle when the substance is removed. Fear of these withdrawal symptoms combined with the mental compulsion to keep on abuse helps keep the individual trapped in their misery.
Those individuals who are involved in addictive behaviors will tend to exhibit certain characteristics including:
* They may try to hide the full extent of their behavior from family and friends
* They may continue the behavior even when there is evidence that it is causing them harm
* They may think about it all the time so that it becomes an obsession
* They seem unable to control the amount of time they spend on the behavior
* If they are confronted about their behavior they will exhibit denial
* They may suffer from periods of depression
* They may experience blackouts while engaged in the behavior
* The individual may find it difficult to give up the behavior
* If they do manage to stop the activity they may experience withdrawal symptoms. These may be physiological or psychological in nature – with substance addition they are usually both
The individual with addictive personality can be susceptible to many different types of addictive behavior including:
* Alcohol and drugs (including prescription drugs)
* Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, or compulsive eating
* Sex and love
* Computers or the Internet (still a controversial topic)
* Groups and cults
The National Academy of Sciences conducted a study with the aim of finding the shared characteristics of all types of addict. They were unable to discover one set of characteristics that fit everyone, but they did find many frequently shared similarities between the different addicts. These similarities were:
* A high sense of stress in their lives
* Low self-esteem
* A feeling of alienation from others
* They valued nonconformity
* They tended to act impulsively
* They found it hard to delay gratification
* Prone to attention seeking behavior
* Highly insecure in relationships
* Usually suffer from depression or anxiety
* Antisocial tendencies
* High tolerance for deviance
The usual approach for dealing with addictive personality disorder is to help the individual escape their current addiction. The way this is done will depend on the type and extent of the addiction. Sex and work addictions may be treated with some type of counseling approach. Those individuals who have alcohol or drug addictions may require rehab and significant amount of support during the early weeks and months of recovery. Self-help groups like AA can be useful for helping people stay free of substance abuse long term.
Those individuals who have the characteristics of an addictive personality need to be vigilant in recovery. There is a risk of them moving from one addiction to another. This may involve spending all their time at work or becoming a fitness fanatic. It could even involve them become obsessive about a recovery group. While some addictions may be less harmful than others they can all lead to suffering. It is therefore necessary for the individual in recovery to be on their guard against this type of behavior.
There is widely held belief that it is alcohol and drugs that are the problem and not the individual who takes these substances. This belief has dictated many of the actions taken by governments to tackle addiction. It is a type of thinking that has been influential in such campaigns as the War on Drugs. If the real problem is the addictive personality then these actions to tackle addiction may be ineffective.
The idea of an addictive personality is not universally accepted by everyone. Critics point out that a personality just refers to a way of acting and thinking at a certain time. Personality is not a static thing but instead changes as people pass through their life. By labeling people as having an addictive personality it may do more harm than good. The fact that researchers are unable to completely agree on the traits of an addictive personality further suggests that it may not exist at all.