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 looking for an anesthetic for medical procedures. Cocaine found its way to the United States, was in the drink Coca-Cola in minuscule doses, and was readily available for purchase at drug stores over the counter. This 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. Doctors began prescribing the new opioids to patients even though they were weary of the potential side effects. The side effects became what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now deems the overdose epidemic.
Currently, opioids account for 70% of overdose deaths. Other drugs may also be a factor in the deaths, but their percentages are much lower. The commonality between these two events, has become the rate of addiction. Therefore, some in the medical field are exploring 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. There is a lot of attention on drugs because of the 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 is controversial. The truth is that addiction exists whether it is genetic or not.
Addiction is generally a behavior that has a singular pursuit of procuring a substance of choice. One of the reasons why an individual obsesses over getting the next hit is because after a few hours from the last hit, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms begin to set in. In order to keep them away, an individual simply needs the next drink or pill.
Signs of Addiction
The most obvious sign of an addiction is the loss of control. People who succumb to their substance of choice cannot resist it. A heavy drinker, for example, cannot 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.
Addiction and the Brain
It is important to remember that addiction hijacks the brain. Someone with 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.
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.
Addiction is a Disease
Addiction is not always a choice. For example, imagine a person who suffers an injury 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 allows 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 an increase of 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.
To this day, researchers 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 addicts may have a predisposition to that substance, too. So, it is best if the individual stays away from the substance for his or her entire lifetime. Essentially, there is no reason to test fate. If one never consumes a substance, 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 are 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 an individual is going to use a substance influences if they may develop an addiction. If he or she does not, then even if they have a predisposition, the addiction can never manifests. Individuals who use the substance despite their families’ medical histories are tempting fate. However, individuals who have addictive personality traits will not always develop an addiction.
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 may want to educate themselves. There are several self-help resources available online that outline the risks of substance use disorder, the data, and the outcome.
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 take into account substance use disorders such as drugs and alcohol as well as behavioral disorders, such as gambling and sex. Oftentimes, those who have both exhibit impulsivity and neuroticism. Other common red flags were a lack of agreeability and conscientiousness.
Addictive Personality in Adolescents
The young are especially at risk for addictive personality because their brains don’t fully develop 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 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 points out that adolescents who abuse drugs as well as alcohol and exhibit problematic gambling have the following symptoms:
- High impulsivity
- Sensation-seeking behaviors
Additional traits that may appear in computer gaming addiction include:
- Low self-esteem
- Social anxiety
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
These examples do not demonstrate that the young adults have predisposition to addictive personality, but they do exhibit similar red flags.
Risk and 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 finds that 60% of adolescents in community-based substance use disorder treatment programs may also have a diagnosis of another mental illness. 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 the 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. There are public options available, as well as private ones, that can one can pay through insurance.
The medical community now realizes that addiction, substance use, and other disorders are not the same for every patient and treatments must reflect that fact. Customizing a treatment plan for each patient is the best method, because everyone develops 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:
Choosing the Right Treatment
When choosing the best treatment program for a patient, one must consider 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.