Have you ever heard someone say, “I have an addictive personality” and you wonder this about yourself, “Hmm interesting? Do I have an addictive personality?” You start to list all the ways you overbuy things, eat more chocolate than you think you should have, or stay up late on Instagram. Over the years, “addictive personality” has been used as humorous excuses for someone’s obsession with any number of silly things. But more importantly, it has been misused as a false reason and explanation for why certain people develop addictions.
Unfortunately, this concept has done more harm than good. According to scientific research, there’s no truth to the idea that certain people have addictive personalities and others don’t. Let’s take a look at the facts.
The Power of Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for “evidence” that supports our personal opinions or non-scientific theories. We’re prone to doing this in all manner of topics.
When it comes to the idea of addictive personalities, we often start by listing the people we know who struggle with addiction. Then our thoughts search for the behavior they displayed when younger, or similar traits in their relatives. Maybe they read incessantly in high school or had a strong sweet tooth. Or perhaps their mother tended to buy too many knick-knacks.
Armed with this loosely collected proof, we think we can label someone as having an addictive personality.
Behavior Isn’t Personality
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that someone’s behavior is not their personality. The two are entirely different. When we notice behavioral patterns in someone, it can be tempting to attribute those to their underlying personality. In actuality, behavior is more often a sign of a person’s emotional state and what they’re going through.
To help us reframe our understanding of personality versus behavior, I want you to think of young children. When they are tired or hungry or just need help falling asleep, they express this through their behavior. If a child is fussy because they missed naptime or are teething, we don’t blame that on their personality. We accept the behavior as an accurate reflection of what they’re experiencing.
Addiction brings with it a wide range of behaviors, although they’re not the same for everyone. Many individuals who struggle with addiction operate from a deep inner sense of shame. Whatever they become addicted to — whether its substances, spending, work, or porn — is often a way for them to try to numb their emotional pain.
The Danger of Labels
Believing that addictive personalities are a real thing is harmful in several ways. It can cause an individual to feel hopelessly trapped in their struggle with addiction. This idea can lead them to think that it must be impossible for them to escape the struggle if it’s in their very personality.
Likewise, this concept can also lead people who haven’t yet experienced addiction to believing that they’re immune to it. If they can’t find any “evidence” that they’re prone to addiction, they may be less cautious about their substance use, spending money, long hours at the job, or excessive screen time.
True Risk Factors
What is most important is to be able to recognize and understand the real risk factors for addiction. Once we let go of the notion that some people merely have addictive personalities, we can learn to identify what may lead to addiction.
Researchers and therapists have identified several risk factors for addiction:
- Childhood abuse and neglect
- Growing up in an environment where substance abuse and addiction were present
- Being introduced to substances at an early age through classmates or friends
- Having a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety
- Personal history and stressors
Many factors can lead to addiction — but it’s vital to remember that there is always hope. If you’re struggling with an addiction, reaching out to a qualified therapist is an essential step in your recovery. And the next time you hear someone say, “I have an addictive personality,” you can merely laugh, knowing that this is not true and maybe teach them a thing or two.
If you’re ready to move forward, please visit my Drug and Alcohol Counseling page or call me. I’d love to talk.