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Personality Pathways to Addiction

Many participants at Duke City Recovery Toolbox often come to us with the same question: “Why me?” It is an intriguing question, especially when you can look around and see so many people who do not struggle with substance abuse and addiction.

Some research and psychologists have looked into personality types to determine if there is a link between personality and addiction. What they’re finding is that addiction is not a factor of personality type but rather the result of a “perfect storm” of factors that predispose an individual to substance abuse (which may progress to addiction and chemical dependency). These factors are experienced equally by every personality type.

The Myth of the Addictive Personality

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines personality as “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.”[1] It’s a complex topic, and there are countless personality theories, such as Astrology, Taylor Hartman’s Color Code, the Myers-Briggs Type and the “Big Five” personality traits, which asserts that people’s personalities, universally, are the result of a compilation of five factors:

  1. Openness to new experience
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Extroversion/introversion
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Neuroticism[2]

No matter what theory is used to understand personalities, all have “light” and “dark” aspects to them. There is no personality that is immune or more susceptible to mental health issues than any other. In other words, the popular term “addictive personality” is a myth. In fact, research by Alan R. Lang, a research psychologist from Florida State University, has found that there is no single set of traits to define “addictive personality.”

What Feeds a Predisposition to Addiction

The same research that debunks the idea of an “addictive personality” also uncovered a set of factors that have been identified as traits that appear to be resident within the personalities of those with addiction:

  • Impulsivity—difficulty in delaying gratification or being able consider long term consequences
  • Non-conformity—a lack of value on the socially recognized goals
  • Social alienation—a lack of connection with the larger society and/or one’s future in it
  • Heightened stress paired with a lack of coping skills[3]

Here’s what happens: in an effort to ease the discomfort presented by heightened stress but without the resources of a supportive social network, an individual seeks the fastest relief, regardless of the long-term consequences or failure to address the actual cause of stress. The fastest relief is often an immediate escape—drugs, which numb the mind and body, temporarily reducing the sensation and perception of stress. Drugs also supply a (superficial) social connection with other users.

These factors do not define a personality type, nor are they exclusive to one personality type; they are simply common among people who have addictions. Viewing them as risk factors and identifying these patterns early could be key to preventing addiction—i.e., providing social connection and coping strategies before someone takes the first sip, hit, trip. Addressing these factors as part of well-rounded treatment will lead to better outcomes for those who are working with an addiction.

The Course of Addiction

Though addiction is not the result of a personality or determined by any single set of traits, the truth remains that, over time, those who become addicted experience a shift from abuse to chemical dependence. Basically, the changes in the brain that occur with use of a drug begin to fade, so the effects just aren’t as powerful. To get the same intensity of a “high” requires higher and/or more frequent dosing. This is an adaptive state of tolerance. With some drugs, withdrawal will result when use is reduced or stopped.

The time for dependence to develop depends on the drug. Different drugs affect different neural pathways and in slightly different ways; heroin is believed to be, perhaps the drug with the highest dependence potential.[4]

Once established, dependence becomes not just a psychological issue, but a physiological one, requiring a multi-dimensional approach to successfully treat and cure the addiction. Because simple abstinence from the drug will actually create unpleasant and possibly life-threatening symptoms, treatment must address both the psychological and biochemical issues at play.

The idea of an “addictive personality” is a myth. There is no one personality type that leads to addiction, but there are common factors that do. Learn more.

The factors that predispose an individual to addiction are not determining factors. Research published by the National Institutes of Health reveal that the factors that determine addiction and recovery are choice-based.[5]

Addiction is not a disease or a personality defect. It is a repeated thought pattern that stems from a feeling of disconnection and solidifies and manifests in substance abuse behavior. Addiction begins as the choice to escape the feelings and thoughts, rather than to question a cognitive distortion or create a meaningful social connection around a contributory, enjoyable activity.

Yet, addiction is not evidence of a person’s weakness, only of their lack of resourcing at a critical time. And because the addiction pattern was paved by repeated choices, so, too, can the road to recovery.

Making the choice to get on the road to recovery is where the journey begins. And you don’t have to do it alone. The experts at Duke City Recovery Toolbox are here for you. We provide the multi-faceted treatment you need to effectively address this multi-faceted problem.

Contact us to schedule an intake appointment and make forward progress on your personalized recovery journey.




[1] https://www.apa.org/topics/personality/
[2] https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/big-five-personality-theory/#ocean
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/1983/01/18/science/the-addictive-personality-common-traits-are-found.html
[4] http://mentalhealthdaily.com/2014/10/10/10-most-addictive-drugs-list/
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3644798/