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An addictive personality refers to a particular set of personality traits that make an individual predisposed to addictions. Addictions are characterized by a physical or psychological dependency that negatively impacts the quality of life of the person. They are frequently connected with substance abuse, but people with addictive personalities are also highly at risk of becoming addicted to gambling, food, exercise, work, and even relationships (codependency) ("Addiction/Addictive Personality"). People engaged in addictive behavior tend to plan their lives around it ("Addiction/Addictive Personality"). Scientists have been able to better understand addictive personalities as researchers delve further into understanding the chemistry of addiction. Alan R. Lang of Florida State University and author of an addiction study prepared for the National Academy of Sciences said, "If we can better identify the personality factors, they can help us devise better treatment and can open up new strategies to intervene and break the patterns of addiction" (Nelson).
Addictive personality disorder may be defined as a psychological setback that makes a person more susceptible to addictions. This can include anything from drug and alcohol abuse to pornography, gambling, videogames, food, exercise, work and even relations with others. Experts describe the spectrum of behaviors designated as addictive in terms of five interrelated concepts which include patterns, habits, compulsions, impulse control disorders, and physical addiction ("Addiction/Addictive Personality"). An individual is considered to be at the risk of developing such addictions when he/she displays signs of impulsive behavior, nonconformity combined with a weak commitment to the goals for achievement valued by the society, a sense of social alienation, and a sense of heightened stress (Nelson). Such a person may switch from one addiction to another other or even sustain multiple addictions at different times (Mason).
Signs and symptoms
People suffering from addictive personality disorder are currently defined to have a "brain disease" as promoted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and other authorities (Addictive Behaviors 3). People with addictive personalities are very much sensitive to stress. They have trouble handling situations that they deem frustrating, even if the event is for a very short duration. They often lack self-esteem and will show impulsive behavior such as excessive caffeine consumption, eating of chocolates or other sugar laden foods, television watching, or even running (Nelson).
Mood swings and antisocial behavior are other visible traits of people that suffer from addictive personality disorder. They may turn down invitations to social gatherings in order to alienate themselves from their respective societies. The main reason behind such behavior is that they are fearful of being caught with this disorder. The feeling of isolation will often have negative effects on the people facing the issue, and so to substitute for the lack of personal relationships, they turn towards drugs, smoking, alcohol consumption, or the like. They usually will believe that such harmful substances serve as "quick-fix" solutions for their life's problems ("Addiction/Addictive Personality").
People suffering from APD find it difficult to manage their stress levels. In fact, lack of stress tolerance is a telltale sign of the disorder. They find it difficult to face stressful situations and fight hard to get out of such conditions (Mason).
Long term goals prove difficult to achieve because people with APD usually focus on the stress that comes with getting through the short term goals. Such personalities will often switch to other enjoyable activities the moment that they are deprived of enjoyment in their previous addiction.
Addictive individuals feel highly insecure when it comes to relationships. They may often find it difficult to make commitments in relationships or trust their beloved because of the difficulty they find in achieving long term goals. They constantly seek approval of others and as a result, these misunderstandings may contribute to the destruction of relationships. People suffering from addictive personality disorder usually undergo depression and anxiety, managing their emotions by developing addiction to drugs, alcohol or other pleasurable activities (Nelson).
Common forms of addictive behavior
Substance abuse and dependence is one of the most common displays of addictive personalities. Alcohol is the most frequently abused psychoactive substance and affects over 20 million Americans—13 percent of the adult population ("Addiction/Addictive Personality"). Aside from alcohol, other psychoactive drugs commonly abused include barbiturates, narcotics, stimulants, anti-anxiety drugs, and psychedelics and hallucinogens ("Addiction/Addictive Personality"). While drug abuse and dependence can happen to anyone, it is significantly more likely to occur in the presence of an addictive personality.
Another common addiction that may attract those with addictive personalities is gambling. When an addict behaves mindlessly and irresponsibly while gambling, it can grow to be a bigger problem. There are said to be three stages a gambler with an addictive personality goes through (Eng). The first is the "winning phase" in which the person can still control his or her own behavior. Second comes the "losing phase" where the individual starts to gamble alone, borrowing cash and gambling large sums of money compiling debt which he or she may not be able to pay off. Finally, the "desperation phase" of the addictive behavior gambler is when the person takes further risks, may engage in illegal loans and activities and even experience depression or attempt suicide (Eng).
Addictive personality behaviors even include eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating. Those with anorexia nervosa are not content with their physical image, and in turn constantly starve themselves in order to feel beautiful. Once a person starts dieting, it is very difficult for him or her to quit. This is similarly true for those suffering from bulimia. A person is said to have bulimia when he or she binges on large amounts of food and then prevents absorption by purging (laxatives, vomiting, water pills, etc.) (Eng). With compulsive eating, the person has a compulsive urge or craving to eat and will eat even when not hungry. This addictive behavior often results in obesity.
Three increasingly more common displays of addictive personalities include work and exercise. Our society rewards those who work hard. But work may become an obsession if family, friends, interests and hobbies have suddenly become unimportant. Likewise, an extreme commitment to exercise that can sometimes lead to self destructive and harmful behavior is an example of addictive behavior.
Addictive personalities and the subsequent addictions are difficult to treat, and more seriously, addictive behavior itself often has long term psychological ("Addiction/Addictive Personality") consequences. Physical addictions even alter an individual's brain chemistry making the road to recovery longer and more difficult. Often the person with a physical addiction cannot be exposed to the addictive habit without lapsing back into addiction. This is why rates of being "cured" are often closely followed by setbacks. The first step in the recovery process of addictive behaviors is to admit that there is a problem and seek help. Medical intervention may be necessary for those who engage in substance abuse—medication is often used to treat withdrawal symptoms and treat for malnutrition. Many forms of psychological intervention are also available to those with addictive personalities including counseling and inpatient programs, group therapy, environmental intervention and behavior therapy ("Addiction/Addictive Personality").
- "Addiction/Addictive Personality." N.p., 6 April 2001.<http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g2699/is_0000/ai_2699000007/>. Rpt. in Encyclopedia of Psychology. BNET. Web. 7 April 2010.
- Addictive Behaviors. Ed. G. Alan Marlatt and Katie Witkiewitz. Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
- Engs, Ruth C. "The Addictive Process and Addictive Behaviors." Addictive Behaviors. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 March 2010. <http://www.indiana.edu/~engs/rbook/readabd.htm>.
- Mason, Stephen, Ph.D. Rev. of The Addictive Personality. Psychology Today. N.p., 14 March 2009. Web. 31 March 2010. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/look-it-way/200903/the-addictive-personality>.
- Nelson, Bryce. "The Addictive Personality: Common Traits Are Found." The New York Times. N.p., 18 January 1983. Web. 31 March 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/1983/01/18/science/the-addictive-personality-common-traits-are-found.html>.
- Rev. of The Addictive Personality. Psychology Today. N.p., 14 March 2009. Web. 31 March 2010. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/look-it-way/200903/the-addictive-personality>.