An addictive personality is of course a personality that is more likely to develop certain addictions. These people are predisposed to addictions and will find it easier to become psychologically or physically addicted to substances or behaviors.
Generally the term is used to describe those who are more likely to develop substance addictions, but those with an addictive personality are also at increased risk of developing addictions to food, sex, pornography, exercise, relationships, work, gambling or computer games. This is partly due to the chemical nature of ‘rewards’ which are based on the release in the brain of dopamine – and this causes them to become addicted to the dopamine hit (and of course exercise and sex release a slightly different cocktail of hormones).
Of course such a personality can be a great risk for individuals and can have a range of negative impacts on their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Fortunately scientists and psychologists are now better able to understand addictive personalities and this means that they can be classified and treated.
Signs and Symptoms
There are many different signs and symptoms of addiction – of course the most obvious being that the individual spends an abnormal amount of time engaging in the addictive behavior. The difficulty of course becomes recognizing when the behavior classifies as an addiction rather than a hobby (and in some cases an addiction is not necessarily even a negative thing).
Generally an addiction is present when it begins to affect the individual’s quality of life in other areas, when their focus on what’s important begins to shift, and when they begin restructuring their life around their addiction. For instance someone who is addicted to a computer game may begin to turn down social events and might stop looking after their health or personal hygiene in the same way in order to have more time to play the games. Likewise they might begin to spend large amounts of money on the software and hardware necessary to play the games or on in-game points and tokens.
All this can then cause those individuals to begin to isolate themselves and to feel very lonely. Often they will be aware of the problem on some level and will go to lengths in order to hide their addiction – and this can be another reason that they may withdraw themselves from social contact. At some point these behaviors can of course begin to damage relationships, lifestyle, finances and even careers and this is where it begins to become an addiction. In some forms of addiction an individual may even turn to crime – for instance they might gradually increase the severity of their substance abuse until they end up breaking the law, or they might steel or commit other crimes in order to fuel a gambling, drugs or alcohol addiction.
An addictive personality may suffer from several such addictions – they may for instance play a lot of computer games, masturbate excessively (2 or more times a day under non-conducive circumstances), and suffer from alcoholism. Someone who has multiple such addictions, or who has a history of addictions is likely to suffer from an addictive personality.
Traits of an Addictive Personality
So what would such a person be like? And what other traits do addicts exhibit?
Addictive personality disorders can be considered a form of impulse disorder and they will thus act very impulsive and may be the sort of person to make large purchases or to make sudden decisions. They are unlikely to work well with delayed gratification and may seem very impatient.
This may come across as a general ‘jittery’ nature and they can be described as seeming ‘on edge’ in relaxed situations. Addictive personalities will often also exhibit a general heightened sensitivity to stress and as a result of this they might also show other similar psychological disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder. This heightened stress and lack of impulse control can also result in mood swings and may become easily frustrated. Often the latter point can be a cause of addictions – as they find stressful and depressive situations hard to deal with and thus need a ‘crutch’ such as alcohol or masturbation.
Addictive personality disorder has also been shown to correlate with low self esteem and in some cases antisocial behavior.
These personality traits can all lead to addictive behaviors as a coping method, while the lack of impulse control can make it difficult for them to take a step back and take a more logical approach. Lack of coping skills and depression along with other personality issues all correlate with addictive personalities.
There may also be underlying biological causes for addictive personality disorder. It is widely agreed for instance that addictive personalities are caused by abnormally high levels of dopamine in the brain and this then causes them to require more dopamine in order to maintain the same psychological state. In one study, Parkinson’s patients were given a dopamine drug in order to help treat their symptoms and it was found that they become significantly more likely to develop a gambling addiction.
Genetics also seem to play a role and twin studies show that alcoholism is inheritable at around 50-70 percent.
Treatments can take a range of forms. First and foremost the initial addiction needs to be treated which will usually involve taking the individual out of their usual environment (rehabilitation) and then either forcing them to go ‘cold turkey’ or ‘weaning’ them off of the addiction in cases where withdrawal could be dangerous. Programs and focus groups such as the ‘AA’ for alcoholics are also successful in some cases.
Using therapy such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) it is possible to give addicts healthier coping skills and to help alter negative thought patterns. Other forms of therapy can address underlying issues and memories in more detail. Meanwhile medication can be used both to suppress the initial addiction and also to treat the anxiety and increased dopamine levels that may lie at the heart of the addiction.
An addictive personality can also be ‘channeled’ into more positive and creative pursuits such as exercise, sports or hobbies like painting and this can help to provide a safer outlet.
Treatment is more effective the sooner it is started and it’s highly crucial that you get immediate medical attention if you or someone you know is suffering from an addiction. And remember, the first step to overcoming the addiction is acknowledging the problem…