Addictive personality: Myth or fact?

Nov 2, 2022

A recent analysis article published in The Conversation examined the concept of an addictive personality. In the article, the authors argue that the term “addictive personality” is problematic, as it’s associated with negative connotations, such as weakness, unreliability, selfishness, impulsivity, and a lack of control. Moreover, the authors discuss the notion that the addictive personality stereotype increases the stigma about alcohol and other drug problems, while suggesting that change can be difficult or impossible. In turn, this stigma can prevent individuals from seeking out help when needed.

“The addictive personality idea can also lead people to believe they are either destined for problems, or completely protected from them, neither of which is true. For those who do experience problems, they may have a sense of helplessness about managing their use,” the article states.

Indeed, some personality clusters do seem to increase the risk of problems, including risk-taking or impulsiveness, and sad or anxious temperaments. Individuals who have experienced trauma have a higher risk of developing alcohol or other drug problems, there are higher rates of dependence among people with ADHD, both of which augment the activity of the brain’s limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for emotional reactions, and reduce the activity of the prefrontal cortex, which regulates impulse control.

While there is no single personality gene that leads to alcohol or other drug problems, there is a genetic component to personality and developing drug and alcohol problems. Accordingly, the article’s authors argue that instead of having a fixed personality trait, the motivation to use alcohol or other drugs is driven by the brain learning associations between the effects of a drug, the individual response to the drug, and the environment in which the drug is used. With repeated drug or alcohol use, the brain’s reward pathway is strengthened, as the brain releases more of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

“It’s great news because what is learnt can be unlearnt. And it means alcohol and other drug use and problems are not inevitable, even if you have a genetic or personality predisposition,” the article concludes.