Addictive Personality – Myth or Real?


Table of Contents

Addictive Personality Studies and Findings

The medical and scientific community is far behind in conducting studies to understand addictive personalities. However, there have been many studies that explore the correlation between certain traits and addiction. The findings are shocking.

A Study by NAMI found:

  • Impulsivity and neuroticism are higher among all types of addictions than in the control group of participants not suffering from Substance Use Disorders.
  • People who struggle with Alcohol Use Disorder scored lower on extraversion, agreeableness, and openness to experiences. 
  • People with Substance Use Disorders and those with compulsive sexual behavior showed very similar traits, scoring low on agreeableness and conscientiousness.

A Study by BMC Psychiatry found:

  • Compared to participants who have never smoked, current cigarette smokers showed lower traits of conscientiousness and higher neuroticism. 
  • Cocaine and heroin users score high on neuroticism, and vulnerability, and low on conscientiousness, including competence, achievement-striving, and deliberation.
  • Marijuana users tend to score higher on openness to experience, and average neuroticism, and low on agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Both studies highlight the strong correlation between low conscientiousness and addiction disorders. While much more needs to be studied in the realm of addictive personalities, these studies give us important insights into the personalities of those who have a predisposition toward developing an addiction.


Is the Concept of Addictive Personalities True?

So, exactly what is an addictive personality? People who appear naturally drawn to addictive behaviors seem to have addictive personalities.

However, researchers continue to debate this concept. Although certain factors can put people at a higher risk for addiction, there is no strong evidence that specific personality traits count as such factors.

What research does tell us is that existing addictions tend to foster further addictive behaviors.

In other words, having one addiction increases the likelihood of developing other addictions. Addiction is not limited to drug and alcohol use.

People can also be addicted to eating, exercising, and the internet, among other things. Common example of co-occurring addictions is gambling and alcoholism.

Multiple addictions can make it seem like the addiction is simply a part of a person’s nature.

It is also common to replace one addiction with another. When a person can recover from one addiction, they may notice a large absence or void in their lives, which they used to fill with activities and behaviors related to their addiction.

Some feel they can only fill the void again with other potentially addictive behaviors.

The Big Five Personality Traits and Addiction

The Big Five model is the most widely accepted personality theory in the field of psychology.

The theory suggests that an individual’s personality contains five core factors: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Each factor is a spectrum that shows how well a person aligns with a certain trait.

For example, under the trait of agreeableness, a person can range from hostile to highly agreeable.

Researchers have tried to determine the relationship between the Big Five traits and several addictive behaviors to determine their impact.

Overall, the results showed that addictive behaviors, such as alcoholism and smoking, are associated with low levels of conscientiousness and high neuroticism levels.

The results also suggested that agreeableness and openness were generally unrelated to addiction.

However, the studies could not determine if the traits were present before the individuals developed addictions or developed due to the addiction.

Causes of Addictive Personality 

Multiple factors may influence the potential for addiction. These include genetics, environment, social pressure, and mental health problems.

We know that no matter what influenced a person to begin abusing substances, drug addiction results from changes in the brain made by those substances.

Alcohol and other drugs alter the brain’s ability to send and receive chemicals involved in pleasure, motivation, and behavior reinforcement.

An addict’s brain relies on the drug, rather than natural brain chemicals, to produce feelings of pleasure and eventually feel normal.

The brain adapts quickly to the drug, so the user must take more and more to keep getting the same effect. Taking more of the drug at regular intervals can lead them to depend on it for day-to-day functioning.

Addiction occurs when people can’t control their drug use, leaving them unable to fulfill other normal life obligations.


Personalities Drawn to Opioid Addiction

Over the last decade, it’s been clear that we are in the midst of a How Widespread is the Opioid Epidemic Interestingly enough, Further research suggests that opiate abusers, in particular, may share several common personality traits.

These studies lead some to believe in the existence of an “opiate addict personality” or something in a person’s nature that leads them to abuse opiates.

Research indicates that opiate abusers commonly show high impulsivity and low cooperation and self-determination.

However, it is still unknown whether the traits came before opiate abuse or developed due to addiction. The researchers did not assess the personalities of the participants before the development of their addictions.


While research has not pinpointed a single opiate addict personality trait, it has been found that personality disorders are fairly common in opiate addicts.

Different personality disorders correlate with various problems in people with addictions. Such problems range from legal issues to medical ones.

This information suggests that a patient’s personality disorder diagnosis can help predict their specific addiction treatment needs.

Understanding individual addiction treatment needs is important because treatment needs to be tailored to the individual to be most effective. With such information in mind, treatment professionals can be better prepared for the kinds of problems that opiate addicts face.

Some studies have also suggested that patients with severe personality disorders have more difficulty or less motivation to participate in methadone treatment. Methadone is commonly used in the treatment of opioid addiction.

Again, this information can help improve addiction treatment methods. Personality disorders may not directly cause addiction, but they can be major complicating factors.

The Link Between Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Addiction

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and addiction share many similar symptoms, which leads some people to believe they are related.

Like an addiction, OCD is an impulse disorder, not simply a matter of personality.

OCD is more severe than an inclination for order or cleanliness, just as addiction is more severe than an inclination for alcohol or other drugs.

The disorder involves repetitive and distressing intrusive thoughts. These thoughts (obsessions) occur against a person’s will and lead them to engage in behaviors (compulsions) to ease the resulting stress temporarily.

For example, a person with OCD may repeatedly check that they have locked the door despite knowing that they have already locked it several times.

The compulsions become habitual and automatic. With an addiction, using drugs similarly becomes habitual to ease withdrawal symptoms.

OCD and Addiction

As with addiction, obsessive thoughts and compulsions can take up an excessive amount of time. This makes it impossible to meet the demands of a normal life.

Patients with OCD often describe the feeling as if someone has hijacked their brain’s controls.

Likewise, addiction’s main feature is a loss of behavior control. People with OCD know that their thoughts and feelings are not rational, but this does not stop them.

Those with addictions similarly continue to use drugs despite the consequences of using them.
OCD and addiction are not the same, but they do share many features.

OCD could have an “addictive” personality because of its compulsions, but this does not mean that OCD always leads to addiction.

Many mental disorders heighten the risk of developing an addiction since some people may drink or use drugs in the hopes of easing the disorder’s symptoms.

Overcoming an Addictive Personality

A better understanding of all the possible influencing factors of addiction and what constitutes addictive behavior can help make treatment more successful.

 Knowing yourself and where you fall short can help you anticipate problems that arise in your recovery. Proper treatment needs to address drug abuse and any associated medical, mental, and social problems.

Addiction is often due to various factors and cannot be traced back to a single personality trait. Even if you feel you are someone with an addictive personality, you will not overcome an addiction if you only focus on changing your personality. Personality can be difficult to alter. You will ultimately be more successful in treatment if you focus on modifying your behavior instead.

People cannot cure their addictions simply by stopping drug use for a few days. Many other factors contribute to an addiction, so most people need long-term care that addresses all addiction components to recover fully. Treatment most often takes the form of behavioral therapies.

Therapy helps patients change their attitudes and behaviors related to drug use and gain healthy life skills so they can persist with recovery for a long time. Behavioral therapies help people regain productive lives and relationships, which addiction is known to significantly disrupt.

Ready to seek help? Have questions about addiction treatment for a loved one? Give us a call at (888) 906-0952

Sources of Information

[2] BMC Psychiatry
[3] NIH Study on Addictive Personality Traits
[4] NIH Study
[6] Psychology Today
[7] Psychology Today II
[8] Science Direct 

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