People talk about having an "addictive personality," but are there really certain personality traits of addiction? Addictive personality isn't a real psychological diagnosis, but some personality traits do seem to be more common in people with addictions.
Seeing the Signs
Doctors and psychologists can sometimes tell, just from meeting a patient, that the person has an addiction. It's sort of a "sixth sense" that comes from long experience. What exactly are the doctors looking for? They may not be able to say just what sets off that sixth sense, but it's based on certain behaviors and attitudes that people with addiction tend to have.
For example, people with addictions may:
- Suffer from anxiety and depression
- Appear anxious
- Seem awkward, impatient, arrogant or angry
- Ask for narcotic medications without a valid reason
Traits and Behaviors
Spending time with an addict may help you recognize certain traits and behaviors that tend to accompany addiction, such as the following.
- Making impulsive choices
- Constantly seeking excitement and new sensations
- Feeling alienated from mainstream society
- Valuing deviant or nonconformist behavior
- Lacking patience such as having trouble waiting for delayed gratification
Personality Disorders and Addiction
Not every addict has a personality disorder, and not every person with a personality disorder has an addiction. However, some personality disorders do seem to have a connection to addiction.
Antisocial Personality Disorder
These people seem to have no regard for either social norms or other people's feelings. Typical traits include:
- Constantly breaking the law
- Acting deceitful, such as lying, using false names or trying to con other people
- Failing to plan ahead
- Acting irritable or aggressive, and getting into physical fights
- Behaving recklessly or putting other people in danger
- Failing to hold a job, pay bills or keep up with other responsibilities
- Lacking remorse for wrong-doing, including for hurting others
Borderline Personality Disorder
People with this disorder have trouble maintaining healthy relationships. Typical traits include:
- Fear of abandonment
- A pattern of unstable relationships
- A tendency to see people as either wonderful or awful
- Poor self-image
- Suicidal or self-harming behavior, such as cutting
- Intense moods which change fairly rapidly
- Inappropriate or uncontrollable anger
Personality Traits of Addiction in Teens
Researchers hoping to prevent addiction have studied teenagers to see if certain personality traits predict addiction. Studies suggest a higher risk of drug addiction or teen drinking among teens who:
- Are popular socially, but do poorly in school
- Have low self-esteem
- Seem to lack inhibitions
- Refuse to accept authority
- Lie, cheat, steal or destroy others' property
- Act aggressively or violently toward people or animals
General Behaviors in Addiction
For a person who is addicted to alcohol or drugs, the substance becomes more important than almost anything else. Addicts may lie about their whereabouts or who they're with so that they can drink or use drugs without being discovered. They may spend their savings or money that belongs to a friend, spouse or child to get more alcohol or drugs. People with addictions often become defensive or angry if the addiction is addressed. They may also feel guilty and go through periods of remorse during which they decide to get help, only to relapse later.
A Word of Caution Regarding Addictive Personality Traits
One reason why addictions tend to go undiagnosed is that every addict is different. While some people with addictions behave recklessly, seem depressed or make poor decisions, others are able to carry on their lives amazingly well. Looking for personality traits of addiction can help you decide if friends or loved ones have a problem, but it won't tell you for sure whether they're an addict.
Also, just because a person has some of the personality traits of addiction doesn't mean they are, or will become, an addict. Doctors do consider certain traits to be warning signs, but that's all they are. No personality trait guarantees addiction.