Is There Really an Addictive Personality?
We have all heard that some people are prone to addiction, and there seem to be plenty of real-world examples to illustrate the truth of this adage.
But is it accurate to say that someone who has suffered through multiple addictions actually has an addictive personality? Or is this an overly simplistic explanation for a more complex phenomenon? It is clear that some people develop patterns of behavior that strongly suggest they possess an inherent tendency to become compulsive; this seems undeniable. But is this really based on personality type, or on something more subtle and less easily defined?
In the technical sense, nothing that could be labeled exclusively as an “addictive personality disorder” has ever been identified. However, a multitude of studies have shown that members of certain authenticated personality categories are more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Here, then, is a quick look at the five personality types that seem prone to chemical dependency and substance abuse, with an explanation of some of the dynamics that may be at work:
- Immature Personality – Those with immature personalities are like perpetual adolescents. They constantly seek instant satisfaction without anticipating consequences or planning for the future. Immature types can be easily talked – or dared – into trying just about anything, and when their behavior gets them into trouble, they are not mature enough to admit their mistakes and listen to those who are trying to alert them to the danger. Needless to say, a person’s initial decision to start using drugs or alcohol is not usually based on a whole lot of deep thought. Immature personality types will often do foolish things on a whim and will frequently adopt a “if it feels good, do it” attitude that can rapidly lead them down a dark path into drug or alcohol addiction.
- Antisocial Personality – This type needs therapy – and a lot of it – to cope with their unprovoked hostility and anger, and if they don’t get this kind of support from somewhere, the results can be disastrous. Filled with anger and rage and uncertain of what to do about it, antisocial personalities will frequently turn to drugs or alcohol to help them pacify their tumultuous emotions. And because of their tendency to react to others with mistrust and anger, it can be tremendously difficult for loved ones to reach them once it becomes clear their drinking and drugging is morphing into full-blown substance abuse.
- Passive-Aggressive Personality – Outwardly friendly but inwardly seething, passive-aggressive personality types repress so often and so routinely that their frustrations can eat them alive. They may not realize they’re playing with fire when they start using drugs or alcohol, but that is exactly what they’re doing. Passive-aggressive people are too unaware of their own vulnerabilities to put up defenses when the wolves of substance abuse are howling at the door.
- Anxious/Stressed Personalities – Haunted by vague feelings of impending doom and swamped by thoughts of personal inadequacy, people with overly anxious or stress-ridden personalities have a hard time feeling comfortable in their own skin. More than any other personality type, anxious people are chronically desperate to escape from the prison of their own lives before the constant tension and stress they feel completely overwhelms them. With the overly anxious, it is not so much about coping as it is about forgetting, and drugs and alcohol make it easy to bury persistent fears and unpleasant emotions under a dense layer of denial and avoidance. Over time, the anxious/stressed personality will almost inevitably ramp up her drug and alcohol consumption, since the temporary release it brings feels so wonderful and liberating – right up until the point she plunges over the cliff into addiction and crashes on the jagged rocks below.
- Self-Penalizing Personalities – These are the perfectionists who hold themselves to impossible standards. They never feel good enough, smart enough, skilled enough, talented enough or productive enough, and to keep others from finding out the ugly truth about who they really are, they become experts at hiding their true faces from the world. Drugs and alcohol won’t make the self-doubt they feel disappear completely. But at least for a while, self-penalizers under the influence of intoxicants will feel like they can climb Mt. Everest or leap over the Empire State Building in a single bound. Like anxious/stressed types, self-penalizing personalities develop a strong need to escape from an awkward and uncomfortable inner reality. Drugs and alcohol will help them achieve this escape, and their situation may have to become unbearably bleak before they are finally able to admit they have fallen into the trap of substance abuse.
The Addictive Personality: Yes, No or Maybe?
While there may be no such thing as an addictive personality per se, it seems there are personality types who possess a unique vulnerability to the seductive siren’s call of drugs and alcohol. Even following recovery, people with a history of addiction must remain on guard against the possibility of slipping into a new dependency, since the underlying personality issues that predispose them to such behavior will never disappear.
In short, the addict in recovery would be wise to assume that the addictive personality does exist and that she is it. To label this as fiction might be correct in a semantic sense, but from a practical perspective it is an entirely accurate and eminently useful diagnosis.