Can Someone Have an Addictive Personality?
An addictive personality disorder is not a formal diagnosis or an actual mental health disorder; however, some research has indicated that certain personality traits may play a role in the development of addiction.1
While there aren’t specific criteria for an addictive personality, there are common traits that may contribute to a person’s development of a substance use disorder. This article will help you understand more about the traits and risk factors common in people struggling with addiction and factors that may help protect a person from developing an addiction.
What is an Addictive Personality?
There isn’t any such thing as an addictive personality disorder, but researchers have identified certain personality traits that could impact the development of addiction.1, 2 The term addictive personality is sometimes used conversationally but is only a hypothesis that implies that people with a collection of certain personality traits might be more prone to addiction.3 Additionally, some researchers believe that the term addictive personality is outdated and not supported by sound research.3
Traits and factors that researchers have identified as potentially being related to addiction include:1, 2, 3
- Difficulty delaying gratification.
- Antisocial personality.
- Sensation seeking.
- Antisocial personality (characterized by manipulating and violating the rights of others). 5
It’s important to remember that there isn’t a professional consensus on what specifically constitutes an “addictive personality,” and having some or all the potential traits does not mean a person will develop an addiction.3
Many risk factors contribute to addiction, also known by the diagnostic term, substance use disorder (SUD). Addiction is a complex brain disorder and is thought to be caused by several different factors including genetics and environment.4 Substance use can lead to brain changes that can influence a person’s behavior and personality.4
For example, chronic drug or alcohol misuse can impact the areas of the brain that are responsible for judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control.4
This typically means that a person who has an addiction will continue to use substances even though it causes problems in their lives and problems with family and friends, and negatively impacts their health and overall wellbeing.4 Substance use can impair a person’s self-control and make them act more impulsively or in antisocial ways, which may not be characteristic of their behavior when not misusing substances.4
Causes of Addiction
There isn’t just one cause of addiction, but people who have substance use disorders may experience certain common risk factors.4 In general, the more risk factors a person has, the more likely it is they will develop an addiction.4 Some of these factors include:4
- Genetics. Researchers believe that genes account for around 40% to 60% of a person’s risk of addiction.
- Environment. This includes having parents or older family members who use substances or who are involved in criminal activity, exposure to a peer group that uses substances, struggling in school, or having poor social skills.
- Substance use earlier in life. While people can develop an addiction regardless of when they first use substances, research shows that it’s more likely if a person starts using substances at a young age.
- The way substances are used. Taking specific drugs in certain ways, such as smoking or injecting them, can cause effects to be felt and then decline more quickly, which may lead a person to want to repeat the experience.
Traits of People with Addiction
As mentioned above, several traits have been identified by researchers as being positively correlated with addiction, most notable being impulsivity.1, 2
Studies have strongly supported the idea that impulsivity, defined as rapid, unplanned behavior with little forethought of the consequences, can have a significant impact on addiction.1 Research has also shown a correlation between neuroticism (which can be associated with traits like anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, and sensitivity) and addiction.3, 6
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) provides diagnostic criteria for SUDs. These criteria include behavioral, cognitive, and physiological symptoms.7 Some of the behavioral criteria includes:7
- Impaired control over substance use, such as taking the substance more often than intended or being unable to cut down or stop substance use.
- Social impairment, such as being unable to fulfill important obligations at home, work, or school due to substance use.
- Risky use of the substance, such as using the substance in situations where it is physically dangerous to do so, or continuing to use the substance even though the person has a physical or mental health problem that is probably due to the substance.
People who display high levels of impulsivity may act in ways that are consistent with the above criteria. They may be more prone to seek immediate gratification despite the long-term harm caused by substance misuse.6
Certain traits characteristic of people with SUDs can begin to show up as early as infancy or early childhood.8 Common risk factors in children have been found to be associated with later drug use. These factors include:8
- A lack of attachment to parents and caregivers.
- Ineffective parenting.
- A caregiver who misuses substances.
- Lack of parental supervision.
- Availability of drugs at school.
- Community poverty.
Early childhood sets the course for a person’s life and can impact the development of certain traits that could influence addiction further down the road.9
For example, a secure attachment with parents or caregivers is one of the most important factors affecting healthy socialization and self-regulation, which are both significant protective factors against drug use and other behavioral problems.9
Mental Health and Addictive Personality
Co-occurring mental health disorders may play a role in the development of SUDs, and vice versa.14 Research has found that mental health problems can lead to substance misuse, which can contribute to mental health problems.10, 11
Certain psychiatric disorders may co-occur more frequently with SUDs like mood disorders, anxiety, and personality disorders.10 Other disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have also been found to occur frequently with addiction.11, 12
However, it’s not always possible to tell which came first; for example, people may use substances to ease emotions and symptoms related to their mental health, but certain substances can also cause symptoms of a mental health disorder.10, 11
Protective Factors Against Developing an Addiction
A person who has risk factors for addiction isn’t guaranteed to develop an addiction. Certain protective factors may help prevent addiction, especially if a person is at higher risk. Protective factors, especially those present in childhood, can include:4
- A belief in self-control known as self-efficacy.
- Parental support and monitoring.
- Healthy, positive relationships.
- Good grades in school.
- School anti-drug policies.
- Neighborhood resources.
Get Help for Substance Misuse
If you are struggling with substance misuse and/or recognize risk factors for addiction in yourself, getting help can be an important step toward making positive changes in your life. Start by making a call to American Addiction Centers (AAC) and their caring staff. They are available 24/7 at to listen to your story and help you find the right treatment for your needs. If you have insurance, you can also check to see what insurance covers so you can start treatment immediately.