Addictive Personalities: Fact or Fiction?
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, exercise, and the internet, among other things. A 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, environments, social pressure, and mental health problems.
We know for sure 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. This can lead them to depend on it for day-to-day functioning. Addiction occurs when people can’t control their own drug use, which leaves them unable to fulfill other obligations of a normal life.