You are likely familiar with the term “addictive personality.” Most often, it is used in reference to vices such as caffeine or sweets, rather than substances such as drugs or alcohol.
While they may seem harmless, “addictive personality” and other phrases like “chocoholic,” “adrenaline junkie.” and “binge watching'” minimize the suffering of those who struggle with addiction.
If you have ever found it difficult to stop eating a chocolate bar before it’s gone or watched an entire television series in one day, you know the indulgent feeling that comes with leaning into your “guilty” pleasures.
The problem with referring to this type of behavior as addictive is that it blurs the distinct line between enthusiasm and addiction.
Pleasure derived from activities such as eating candy or watching television does not typically detract from a person’s quality of life, whereas addiction has a significant negative impact.
The History of the Addictive Personality
The correlation between addiction and personality was first introduced in the early 1980s as undeterminable.
Dr. Allen Lang reported in a book by the National Research Council on supposed personality traits that could relate to addiction.
However, through extensive research and studies on alcoholism and drug addiction he concluded, “there is no single unique personality entity that is a necessary and sufficient condition for substance abuse.”
While Dr. Lang’s research did uncover a correlation between some personality traits and addiction, there was no evidence to support that those personality traits directly caused the addiction.
Despite the fact that traits like anxiety and depression are often present in those with addiction, not all those who have anxiety and depression are predisposed to it.
In reality, the cause of addiction does not lie in the personality, it lies in the brain.
The Damage Behind the Myth of Personality and Addiction
Addiction is a disease marked by a neurological changes and includes symptoms such as:
- Preoccupation with an addictive substance
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
- Feeling out of control
- Increased tolerance
- Withdrawal symptoms when not using
While drugs and alcohol are not the only vices that can result in addiction, it is important to use caution when labeling a person’s behavior as addictive.
True addictive behavior is far more complex than an excessive habit or vice, and by using the word “addiction” inappropriately, we are making light of a serious mental health condition.
In addition to the damage caused by referring to habits as addictions, believing that addiction is caused by an addictive personality is also problematic.
The idea that a single personality is prone to addictive behavior may lead many people to think they are immune to substance abuse and other addictions.
In reality, addiction can happen to anyone.
Along with the myth of the addictive personality comes stigma surrounding addiction.
Believing that certain people have a predisposition to addiction suggests there are definitive differences between those who suffer from it and those who don’t.
This often leads to hurtful stereotypes and a lack of understanding, which ultimately makes addiction worse.
A Better Approach to Addiction Recovery
While addiction is a complex disease with many causal factors, recent research concludes that is it born out of a profound sense of disconnection. This is why the stigma surrounding this disease is so damaging.
By using the myth of the addictive personality as a way to categorize those who are prone to addiction and those who are not, we create hurtful stereotypes that are not conducive for bonding.
As we strive for a world with less addiction, it is time to let go of outdated ideas such as the addictive personality.
We must remember that there is a distinct difference between addiction and habitual behavior, and no one personality is more prone to addiction than another.
Through understanding and connection, we can recognize addiction as a disease, walk alongside those who are suffering, and support those in recovery.
Read more about what we believe in the Alo House Manifesto.