Part One of a Three Part Article Written by Randi G. Fine
How do you envision someone with an addictive personality? Do you picture an alcoholic, someone strung out on drugs, a chain smoker, or a gambler down on his luck?
Addictive behaviors are commonly thought of as behaviors that impair a person’s ability to function. Often they do but not all addictive behaviors have that effect. Some addictive behaviors do not negatively influence or impact the person’s life.
Many people are unaware that they even have the tendency because their behavior doesn’t fit the image they have in their mind of those who do. Someone with an addictive personality can turn a positive activity, such as exercising, into an obsession. As one mental health expert put it, healthy people plan exercise around their life. Addicts plan their life around exercise.
Those with addictive personalities have urges other people don’t have that can impede their ability to make good decisions. They have the tendency to do things that are fine in moderation, things that those without addictive personalities do with no problem, and become addicted to them. They are prone to becoming dependent on substances, activities, and other people—just about anything. And they are especially at high at risk of becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, pornography, exercise, work, and codependency.
It is theorized that 15% of American people have a predisposition to addiction. Doctors and clinicians still debate whether or not the addictive personality exists. The National Institute on Drug Abuse calls it a brain disease. Though addictive personality has not been classified as a personality disorder by the American Psychological Association, there are common traits that those with the tendency have—certain characteristics that make them more susceptible to physical or psychological dependencies that may negatively impact their quality of life. Not everyone demonstrating these characteristic will develop an addiction.
A common characteristic of the addictive personality is poor stress management skills. Without the benefit of healthy coping skills they are prone to using substances, activities, or other people as a way to manage their emotional discomfort and alleviate stress. They have the tendency to self-medicate, believing they are only using it symptomatically, but in fact are using it as a way to cope with life. Some have social anxiety or have trouble letting their guard down. Substances help them let go and have fun.
Many with addictive personalities suffer from insecurity or are excessive approval seekers. They may use substances such as drugs and alcohol to provide a temporary sense of worth, a pseudo-identity. Though they are aware that the sense of worth achieved that way is false, they like the way it feels and crave it more and more. They may turn to addictive substances in order to deal with insecurity, or they may ultimately feel powerless to stop an addiction once it starts.
Another marker of the addictive personality is the lack of ability to get in touch with feelings. The feelings are there but they may be too painful to look at. Feeling makes them feel vulnerable and out of control. This causes someone to focus outward, searching for anything that makes them feel good inside and comforts them.
Those with addictive personalities often have the need for instant gratification. They crave the quick, powerful feeling that makes them feel good in ways nothing else can. The euphoric feeling is short lived so they are constantly seeking more. This sometimes occurs with those who have obsessive or compulsive personalities, and those who are perfectionists.
The inability to form emotional attachments with other people is another characteristic of those with addictive personalities. Many of these people are unable to make relationship commitments. Some alienate themselves from others believing that trusting relationships are unattainable. Some have brief, superficial relationships filled with emotional turmoil, and often with those who also have addictive personalities or are abusive. Substances such as drugs or alcohol become substitutes for the bond they lack with others.