Perhaps you’ve read about the addictive personality or have seen it mentioned on television. But just what is the addictive personality? And could you have it? It’s a legitimate concern, especially if you are closely related to an addict or fear that your loved one is an addict. However, there are as many causes for addiction as there are addicts. There is no agreement that your personality indicates whether you are any more prone to addiction than the next person.
Many workers in addiction counseling and the mental health field deny that there is such a thing as an addictive personality. Others are just as adamant that one exists. Even addicts will strongly feel that they have an addictive personality or are prone to any type of addiction that exists.
Whether an addictive personality exists or not, some people find this a convenient fiction that can help them manage their addictions. If this applies to you, it may be useful. However, some people also use this fiction as an excuse for their addictions, which can actually make it harder to manage. Never let your personality be an excuse for not taking steps to overcome addiction.
According to the concept of the addictive personality, people are more prone to becoming addicts if they:
- Are the children of addicts
- Are the spouses or lovers of addicts
- Have many addicts in your family
- Are neurotic
- Seek lots of thrills in life
- Seeks quick fixes to life’s complicated problems
- Suffers from mood swings
- Work in the arts or long to work in the arts.
Another aspect to the personality concept is that as soon as the person constantly substitutes one addiction for another in an attempt to make it appear that they are rehabilitated. One such addict is the famous guitarist and singer Eric Clapton, who claims in his autobiography that he exchanged his cocaine addiction for alcoholism.
The “addictive personality” is a layman’s term and not a medical one. There is little scientific basis to the concept of an addictive personality, notes author Elizabeth Connell Henderson in Understanding Addiction (University Press of Mississippi; 2009.) In other words, it is still unknown why some people become addicts and some do not, even if they are members of the same family.
How to Control Your Addictive Personality
Once you have identified the existence of an addictive personality, it’s time to use that insight to help you identify and overcome your addictions. One of the most important things to understand is that addicts often substitute one thing for another. Unfortunately, the substitute never actually supplies the need, so the addict constantly seeks out more and more of the substitute in an attempt to fill the need.
Some common substitutes include sex for intimacy, possessions for self-esteem, food for comfort, and alcohol for confidence, but there are as many substitutes as humans have needs, and we haven’t even identified all of those yet.
The first step in overcoming some of these addictions is to identify the substitute and what your real need is. By admitting this and then trying to fulfill your true need, you may be able to circumvent the unhealthy process that leads to your addictions.
Know When to Get Help
Unfortunately, sometimes identifying your addiction and its cause may not be enough to help you overcome it. In fact, some addictions, especially those with a neurochemical component, may be virtually impossible to overcome on your own. Instead, you should seek professional help if you:
- Lie or hide the habit
- Have trouble stopping the habit at any time. If you’re not sure about this, give yourself a cooling off period of some weeks. If you can’t go without, you need help.
- Engage in the habit despite negative consequences
- Let the habit crowd other things and people out of your life
- Are told by others that they are worried about you because of your habit
If you are noticing these signs, then it’s time to admit that your addiction is out of your control, and you need professional help.
The Difference between Use, Abuse and Addiction
Most people assume that everyone is happy with their lives. Just because you are, it does not mean that others are as well. Otherwise, why would society be plagued with drug or alcohol use, abuse and addiction? Laypeople often use these terms interchangeably, but there is a huge difference. Just because someone experiments with illegal drugs or consumes alcohol occasionally does not mean he or she is abusing or has become addicted. Do you see the difference? No? Don’t worry, you are not alone. The standard definitions of use, abuse and addiction have often left people confused, but a health care professional who deals with these issues does know the difference.
When you go out with friends and family, you may drink alcohol and even try out some illegal drugs. These are examples of use, as you do not need the alcohol or drug to function normally. You are just experimenting or having fun. The other scenario is when your doctor puts you prescription medication. As long as you consume the medication as advised by your doctor, it is use. Here are some ways that you can use drugs and alcohol without abusing or getting addicted to them:
Experimenting: This is usually when you are curious or pressured by your friends to drink or use illegal drugs. If you do not repeat the use or discontinue the use after a short duration, it will not turn into a problem.
Recreational Use: In many societies across the world, it is an accepted norm to drink in social settings. Here even excessive drinking may not be looked down upon. As long as your drinking does not cause you and others a problem, it is considered fine. The same also holds true for marijuana, which is often smoked for recreational purposes.
Relieving Stress: Some people smoke, drink or indulge in illegal drugs as a way to de-stress themselves. If you do it occasionally and your use does not cause you further stress or problems, this may not turn into an addiction. A point to be noted is that alcoholism and drug addiction often start as stress relieving measures.
Of course, with even the most casual use, abuse and even addiction are always risks.
When you consume alcohol or illegal drugs to alter or control your state of mind in such a way that it can be harmful to you and others, this use is known as abuse. Some people, for example, meet with an accident and are put on prescription painkillers. However, they start using these painkillers even when they do not need it. As a result, it affects them emotionally, mentally and physically. This is a classic example of abuse.
Abuse can occur due to legal problems, health problems, job-related issues and family or love issues. It has a profound affect on your personal and work life. Abuse can ruin your life and those of your loved ones, as you will become aggressive and want to use your money to feed your habit and without the substance or alcohol, you will feel that you cannot function. Abuse leads to addiction.
You can use or abuse drugs and alcohol without getting addicted. This said, abuse can be habit-forming, and this is what leads to addiction. We don’t know all of the factors that make people more likely to become addicted. Addiction is also often described as “dependence.”
In addiction, you want to repeatedly drink alcohol, or consume drugs even though you know that socially, psychologically or physically it is not good. With addiction, you can physically dependent on the drug or alcohol. This is a chronic state and is considered a disease. You may be able to abstain for certain periods of time, but most times, you will have this urge and craving that cannot be satiated until you get access to the drug or alcohol you are addicted to.
Addiction also is progressive in nature – it gets worse with time. You also go into a state of denial wherein you disagree when you are told your use is out of control or causing you and others problems. Most therapists say that addicts first need to accept that they have a problem and only then can treatment help them.
The Bottom Line
The relationship between use, abuse, and addiction is still somewhat mysterious. Without an understanding of what risk factors make some people more likely to become addicted, we can’t really predict under which circumstances drug use is dangerous and can lead to abuse, addiction, and even death.
In the absence of good information, you need to remember that every time you use a substance, including a legal one, you are essentially taking your life into your own hands.
Finding an Effective Recovery Program or Addiction Counselor
If you or a friend are concerned about a potential addiction issue please seek help. Learn more about addiction and the steps to recovery or search therapytribe for an addiction counselor with expertise in your area of concern.