At this time, the United States is experiencing an alarming increase in addiction rates and drug overdose deaths. The use of chemical substances to cure conditions and to relieve pain is not new. In the 1880s, the coca plant found in South America was experimented on by German scientists. They were looking for an anesthetic for medical procedures. Cocaine found its way to the United States and was even used in the drink Coca-Cola in minuscule doses. It was also readily available for purchase at drug stores over the counter. The spread of the chemical prompted the U.S. government to ban coca in the early 1900s, making its consumption unlawful.
In the 1990s, the pharmaceutical companies successfully manufactured prescription opioids that were far more potent than the over-the-counter pain relievers. These companies convinced doctors to prescribe the new opioids to patients even though doctors were weary of the potential side effects. The side effects turned out to be what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deems the overdose epidemic. The CDC made adjustments to the recommended prescription guidelines in 2016, which may have already delivered results. 2018 saw a 4% decrease in reported overdose deaths and a 13.5% decrease in reported prescription opioid-related deaths.
Right now, there is a conversation being had across the United States over opioids. This is due to the fact that opioids account for 70% of overdose deaths. Other drugs may also be involved in the deaths, but their percentages are much lower.
The more pressing issue, and the commonality between these two events, has become the rate of addiction. Therefore, some in the medical field have started to explore the role that addictive personality plays in the current overdose epidemic.
What Is an Addictive Personality?
Addictive personality is a condition that causes an individual to be unable to overcome his or her craving for a substance. A lot of attention is placed on drugs because drugs have such severe results in a short amount of time. Really, though, an addictive personality is not limited to chemical substances. People can become addicted to a host of other things, such as:
• Eating in general
For several years the medical community has attempted to prove or to disprove the existence of addictive personality. To this day, the theories vary from it being just a myth to an acknowledgement that it is real.
Whether or not a personality can be addictive can be debated. The truth is that addiction exists whether it is genetic or not.
Addiction is generally defined as behavior that has a singular pursuit of procuring a substance of choice. One of the reasons why an individual becomes obsessed with getting the next hit is because after a few hours from the last hit, withdrawal symptoms begin to set in. Withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable. In order to keep them away, an individual simply needs the next drink or pill.
The most obvious sign of an addiction is the loss of control. People who have succumbed to their substance of choice cannot resist it. A heavy drinker, for example, will not be able to resist a drink at a gathering even though he knows that it is best to give up the alcohol.
Chemical substances such as drugs and alcohol rewire the reward mechanism of the brain. The brain becomes accustomed to its source of dopamine, so it begins to crave it when the effects of the last hit wear off. This vicious cycle leads to tolerance, which makes the addiction stronger because the substance must be consumed in larger doses at a higher frequency.
Addictive personality, therefore, is a result of several character traits and at least one chemical substance coming together. The question that remains is whether some individuals are predisposed to this condition over others. Genetics are a possibility, but environment and support system, or lack of one, also play a role.
It is important to remember that addiction hijacks the brain. Someone who has succumbed to an addiction has lost control of his or her life to the substance of choice. An individual with an addictive personality, therefore, is simply predisposed to this reality. NIH-funded scientists have been tasked with looking into the biological component of addiction. If biology is a big factor, then helping an individual overcome the condition takes more than good intention and will power. Even when a 30-day inpatient program is completed successfully, the risk of relapse is always going to exist.
Addiction is not always a choice. For example, imagine a person who is injured on the job in a manufacturing factory goes to his doctor to receive help. He has to be able to heal from his injury so that he can go back to work. If he is prescribed an opioid and becomes hooked on the medication, it is not necessarily his fault or choice. The opioid medication allowed him to tolerate the pain of his injury during the healing process. The problem is that because the opioid medication attaches itself to the opioid receptors in the body, the body compensates for the additional presence of opioids. This leads to increased dopamine in the brain. When the additional dopamine is gone, especially at the level of opioids, it is not easy for the brain to adjust back to its default state.
A brain without chemicals understands reward in a healthy manner. Physical activity, such as exercise, produces natural endorphins in the brain. When the brain is rewired through manufactured chemicals like illicit drugs or prescribed medication, it restructures the reward mechanism.
Researchers have used twins in their studies. They have also used families. To this day, they are unable to scientifically explain why one family member will fall into addiction when the others do not. Individuals can take heart that if they fall into the hole of addiction, more help is readily available today than ever before. Plus, by assessing the individual, a medical staff can set them up with recovery plans that are tailored to their needs, family medical histories, and current health.
What Causes an Addictive Personality?
If it is true that genetics play a role in addictive personality, then genetics are one cause of an addictive personality. The other would be actual consumption of the substance. A person who has parents who were addicted to a substance may be predisposed to that substance, too. So, the individual would be encouraged to stay away from the substance for his or her entire lifetime. Essentially, there is no reason to test fate. If the substance is never consumed, then the addiction may never exist.
Some red flags of addictive personality include:
• Sensation-seeking behavior
• Negative affect
• Negative urgency
Government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Department of Health and Human Services at the state level have become more entrenched in crunching the data about the substance use habits of youth. The goal of these groups is to figure out if a strict pattern exists. The answer that many have come up with so far is that the chance of addiction really depends on a variety of factors.
Will You Become Addicted?
Whether or not an individual will become addicted is determined by whether or not he or she is going to use the substance. If he or she does not, then even if predisposed, the addiction never manifests. Individuals who use the substance despite their families’ medical histories are tempting fate. Even then, individuals who have addictive personality traits will not always develop an addiction, though.
The best action to take is to stay away from the substance. Those who are not aware of their families’ medical histories but who demonstrate addictive personality red flags are encouraged to educate themselves. There are several self-help resources available online that outline the risks of substance use disorder, the data, and the outcome.
One study acknowledged that there have been contradictory results in terms of addictive personality from work trying to decipher personality traits in different addiction populations. Each addiction carries its own set of personality traits. Because of this connection, researchers took into account 216 addicted individuals and 78 controls from substance use disorders such as drugs and alcohol as well as behavioral disorders such as gambling and sex. Several of the participants exhibited impulsivity and neuroticism. Other common red flags were a lack of agreeability and conscientiousness.
Addictive Personality Symptoms in Adolescents
The young are especially at risk for addictive personality because their brains are not fully developed until the age of 25. There is a reason why people cannot rent cars if they are under the age of 25 as well as why vehicle insurance rates are higher before a person turns 25 years old. The increase in college enrollment has placed young adults at greater risk for addiction not necessarily because they are predisposed but because peer pressure is rampant on campuses.
Studies found in Co-Occurrence of Addictive Behaviours: Personality Factors Related to Substance Use, Gambling and Computer Gaming pointed out that adolescents who abused drugs as well as alcohol and exhibited problematic gambling have the following symptoms:
• High impulsivity
• Sensation-seeking behaviors
Additional traits that were found in computer gaming addiction included:
• Low self-esteem
• Social anxiety
• Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
These examples do not demonstrate that the young adults studied were predisposed to addictive personality, but they did exhibit similar red flags.
Addictive Personality Risk and Protective Factors in Children and Adolescents
A connection between mental health disorders such as trauma and substance use disorders exists in both adults and young people. NIDA found that 60% of adolescents in community-based substance use disorder treatment programs could also be diagnosed with another mental illness based on current criteria. The youth are at a particularly vulnerable time when they are between the ages of 18-25 years. This time frame is basically one continuous transition from living at home with parents to self-sufficient adulthood. Children who use substances increase their risk of addiction as adults. Untreated childhood ADHD, for example, is one reason why they may develop an addiction as adults.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has outlined some risk factors that include:
• Mother who consumed substances while pregnant
• Parents who abuse drugs or alcohol
• Child abuse and/or neglect
• Violence against mother
• Mental illness in the household
• Parental divorce or separation
• Incarcerated family member
• Early aggressive behaviors
• Lack of parental supervision
• Drug availability
Addictive Personality Treatment Options
Thanks to the decades of data and research, there is no shortage of treatment options for addictive personality as well as substance use disorders. Additionally, there are options that are funded through the public as well as private ones that can be at least partly paid through insurance.
Since 1999, when the overdose epidemic began, the medical community has realized that addiction, substance use, and other disorders cannot be treated in the same manner for every patient. A treatment plan has to be customized to the patient because they may have arrived at their disorder through different paths. Plus, the chemistry of each patient determines whether or not therapy, counseling, or medication will be successful. In an outpatient program, for example, a series of regular appointments is scheduled. The licensed professional meeting with the patient determines how well the patient is progressing. By measuring progress, there is an opportunity to make spot adjustments so that the patient can recover his or her life.
Treatment options include:
• 12-step programs
• Teen-focused programs
The best treatment program for a patient is determined by factors such as:
• Level of addiction
• Risk of withdrawal
• Additional medical conditions
• Other behavioral, cognitive, or emotional conditions
• Readiness to change
• Risk of relapse
• Environmental factors such as family, peers, and school
An assessment for one person may determine that the best course of treatment is at a long-term residential center whereas a different patient might be appropriately matched with an outpatient program. When necessary, medications are combined with therapy or counseling.
If you believe that you are experiencing an addiction due to an addictive personality, help is available. There are several options at your disposal in both public and private settings.