Do you wish you had more control of your life and habits? But wonder if an addictive personality disorder is the problem?
Editor and lead writer Andrea Blundell explores what an addictive personality is or isn’t, and what you can do next if there is a problem.
What is addictive personality disorder?
Addictive personality disorder is a theory about why we might have several bad habits we can’t resist.
But addictive personality disorder isn’t a clinical diagnosis, nor is an ‘addictive personality’. There is actually no research proving that addiction is a personality trait or set of exact personality traits.
Alan R. Lang was the psychologist whose 1983 studywas seized by the media and triggered the idea of an ‘addictive personality’, when it suggested contributing personality ‘factors’ (not traits) for addiction. But he himself concluded that,”there is no single, unique personality entity that is a necessary and sufficient condition for substance use.’
And there is also the small issue that the definition of ‘addiction’ itself is still debated.
All this aside, it is true that there is a list of several personality traits that, in combination, can mean you are more likely to develop addictions, or lead to a personality disorder that makes you more susceptible.
And these personality traits or disorders, combined with things like genetics, meet withdifficult environments that then become a recipe for addiction.
The dangers of the ‘addictive personality’ myth
Clinical professor of social work Maryann Amadeo points out in her paper ‘the Addictive Personality’ that the idea of an ‘addictive personality’ reinforces “the pathologising, stigmatising, marginalisation, and homogenising of individuals.”
Genetics also can mean you are more vulnerable.You might genetically struggle to metabolise alcohol, or have a genetic disposition to be anxious and sad and therefore be more likely to seek solace in substances.
Of course a genetic dispositions need environments that trigger and feed them to become a problem.
This is illustrated by a study led by Italian researcher Francesca Ducci looking into the MAOA gene (also called ‘the warrior gene’ as it makes us assertive and aggressive) and it’s relation to alcoholism and abuse. In the women she studied, those with low MAOA activity who were abused were very likely to become alcoholics, whereas those with high MAOA activity who suffered abuse weren’t. It took both the gene and the trauma for the pattern to exist.
Environmental influences that lead to addiction
So what sorts of ‘environments’ could leave you vulnerable to addiction? The ones that leave you vulnerable in general.
The biggest ischildhood trauma. This could be physical or sexual abuse. Or you might have lived through a terrifying experience, such as an accident, or watching someone get attacked.
Not feeling loved is its own kind of trauma, resulting in attachment issues as an adult. If your parent was emotionally unavailable, or you couldn’t trust them, or they made you ‘earn’ love by being what they wanted, you can end up anxious or unable to connect and with low self-esteem, and things like drugs or alcohol can become a respite.
Want to ask a question about addictive personality traits and addictive personality disorder? Or share your addiction experience? Use the comment box below. Note we monitor comments and do not publish advertising or harassment of other readers.
Andrea Blundell is the editor and lead writer of this site. She studied person-centred counselling and coaching and has hopes to one day by a clinical hypnotherapist. She thought she had an addictive personality for years, and still tends to be impulsive. Find her on Linkedin.
Reilly, d.M. Drug‐abusing families: intrafamilial dynamics and brief triphasic treatment. In: Kaufman, E., and Kaufmann, P., eds. Family Therapy of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. 2d ed. Boston: allyn and bacon, 1992. Pp. 105–119.