What Is an Addictive Personality?
When people say someone has an addictive personality, they are often implying that a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol will be unable to ever meaningfully change their behavior. This simply isn’t true. No matter what challenges a person has experienced in the past, there’s always hope for recovery.
Substance use disorders are chronic illnesses, but they can be treated with access to evidence-based care that addresses a person’s individual risk factors and helps them proactively develop strategies to manage their condition. Effective treatment is tailored to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of individual personality traits while still recognizing that change is possible.
How Personality Traits Affect a Person’s Risk of Developing a Substance Use Disorder
Attempts to use personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) to determine if a person will develop a substance use disorder have been unsuccessful. Although these types of personality tests can provide interesting insight into general behavior patterns and are often used in schools and workplaces for career planning, they are designed with a limited binary that doesn’t apply to all types of daily activities. For example, classifying people as either extroverts or introverts is problematic because this refers to a spectrum of behaviors that can vary in different types of situations.
There is no specific personality type that guarantees a person will become addicted to drugs or alcohol. However, there are certain personality traits that are known to increase a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder. These include:
- Emphasis on nonconformity. People who value individuality will often describe themselves as fundamentally different from those around them and are often socially isolated. This increases their overall addiction risk.
- High levels of sensation-seeking behavior. Seeking out new experiences that can provide added sensory input, such as loud concerts, adventure sports, or traveling to meet new people, is referred to as sensation seeking. People who engage in high levels of sensation-seeking behavior are more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
- Impulsivity. Spontaneity can be a blessing in some circumstances, but this personality trait can have the drawback of increasing addiction risk when it leads to experimenting with drugs and alcohol without fully considering the potential negative consequences.
- High levels of anxiety. Even if someone doesn’t have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, people who are frequently anxious may turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.
- High levels of rumination. Often referred to as “overthinking,” rumination is the inability to control repetitive, intrusive, and generally negative thoughts. People prone to rumination may use drugs and alcohol to “turn off” the thoughts that are affecting their mental health.
- Low frustration tolerance. Difficulty coping with day-to-day stress is a sign of low frustration tolerance, which is more common in people with substance use disorders. When a person doesn’t have positive ways to cope with stress, they may turn to drugs and alcohol for comfort.
- Low levels of personal accountability. People with substance use disorders often find it difficult to accept responsibility for their own mistakes and will attempt to shift blame to others when confronted about their behavior.
Genetics Aren’t Destiny
Even though some personality traits that can be inherited are associated with an increased risk of addiction, it’s important to remember that genetics aren’t destiny. A person always has the power to work towards a better future for themselves by seeking out the resources they need to treat their substance use disorder and start living a healthier lifestyle.
Only about half of a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder is attributed to genetic risk factors such as inherited personality traits. The remaining portion is a result of environmental influences such as early childhood trauma and the effects of peer pressure during the teen years. One must also remember that other types of environmental influences have a protective effect, such as parental involvement, living in a community with strong anti-drug policies, and being actively involved in sports or hobbies that one finds enjoyable.
The Role of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Treating Substance Use Disorders
Cognitive behavioral therapy plays a vital role in the treatment of substance use disorders. CBT works by teaching you how to take control of your recovery by changing dysfunctional thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. This includes taking steps to lessen the impact of negative personality traits, such as a tendency toward rumination or a low frustration tolerance.
At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, we incorporate CBT into both individual and group therapy sessions. Clients at our Pennsylvania residential addiction treatment center learn how to use CBT to develop strategies to cope with cravings, recognize how negative thoughts are affecting their recovery efforts, avoid catastrophizing when they make mistakes in their recovery journey, and identity filtering behaviors that are preventing them from seeing all of the progress they’ve already made. It’s a solutions-focused approach that promotes accountability and empowerment so you can face the future with confidence.