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Ways to Overcome an Addictive Personality Disorder

Smita Pandit Apr 21, 2019
The term 'addictive personality' refers to a theory which states that individuals with certain personality traits are more likely to develop an addiction. Read on to know more...

Did You Know?

The American Society of Addiction Medicine recently defined addiction as a chronic brain disorder and not simply a behavioral problem that involves excessive alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.
While the mention of the word 'addiction' conjures up images of individuals addicted to nicotine, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, and alcohol, there are many kinds of addictions. Addiction can involve food, gambling, and other types of behavior such as compulsive shopping, playing video games, surfing the Internet, etc.
An addiction is characterized by a physical and psychological need for the substance or habit, which turns into an obsession or preoccupation with the substance/behavior. The substance or behavior affects the brain's reward and motivation center. As the addiction becomes severe, it interferes with the addict's ability to perform routine activities.
Sometimes, identifying addictive behavior might not be that simple. There are instances, when people who are going through difficult times resort to substance abuse or any other form of addiction, thinking of it as a coping mechanism for dealing with stress or internal conflicts.
Some might indulge in comfort eating or compulsive shopping to deal with stressors, as that brings about a feeling of euphoria, which offsets the anxiety and stress. Unfortunately, they value the mood-altering effects of the substance or behavior, while ignoring the adverse effects associated with this type of behavior.
A few studies have suggested a link between certain personality traits and addictive behavior. However, it must be noted that 'addictive personality' is not a universally accepted concept.
The proponents of this theory believe that a person with an addictive personality might switch from one addiction to another, or even have multiple addictions at different times. Though the role of a neurotransmitter called dopamine is suggested in such cases, it needs to be substantiated with scientific evidence.

Personality Traits and Addiction

In 1983, Professor Alan R. Lang of Florida State University conducted a study; wherein, he hoped to find common personality traits in addicts that could be considered as risk factors for addiction. In a study published by the National Academy of Sciences, he found personality factors that might make one susceptible to an addiction.
He referred to these traits as 'significant personality factors'. Though the subjects of the study (alcohol and drug abusers) did possess one or more of these significant personality factors, there wasn't a single trait or set of traits that was common in all the subjects.
As per Lang, the significant personality factors include:

➠ Impulsivity
➠ Sense of alienation
➠ Tolerance for deviance
➠ Heightened stress
➠ Lack of coping skills
➠ Nonconformist attitude and weak commitment to socially valued goals for achievement
There have been other studies that suggest a link between certain personality disorders and predisposition to addiction. According to R. Verheul, W. van den Brink, and C. Hartgers (1995), antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder frequently co-occur with substance use disorders.
Various other studies that have been conducted on those affected by alcohol or drug abuse pinpoint the personality traits that are common in these individuals. The signs of addictive personality disorder include:

➠ Heightened sensitivity to stress, anxiety
➠ Low self-esteem
➠ A tendency for impulsive behavior
➠ Thrill-seeking behavior
➠ An antisocial personality
➠ Difficulty in delaying gratification
➠ Non-conformist attitude
➠ Less regard for goals that are generally accepted by society
➠ Tolerance for deviant behavior
➠ Social alienation
➠ Belief that they have no control on events that affect them
It is believed that such behavioral patterns might be triggered by environment. In some cases, excessive stress due to physical/sexual abuse, or unpredictable behavior of the family members could act as triggers. In such cases, affected individuals might take to drugs, alcohol, or other habits to cope with the anxiety and get a high. 

Steps for Overcoming Addiction

A person with the so-called addictive personality traits may not necessarily be affected by an addiction. However, he/she is considered to be more likely to develop an addiction. If such a person does get addicted to a substance or behavior, the road to recovery will be rough, if the addict is not ready to admit to the fact that he has an addiction.


Only when the addict is aware of the problem and feels a sincere need to recover, he will try to suppress the impulsive behavior. Addicts should constantly remind themselves of the chances of a relapse if they falter. The biggest obstacle is the denial of one's condition. Half the battle is won, if the addict truly accepts and recognizes the addiction.
The addict must think why he developed an addiction in the first place. It's possible that a substance or behavior made him feel relaxed or euphoric, but did this habit make his life any better?
While addicts may have indulged in the habit or behavior, thinking of it as a coping mechanism, the fact is that, what they get is momentary relief. As a result, they try to prolong the relief, thereby becoming addicted to the substance.

Rehabilitation for Treating the Current Addiction

First of all, the current addiction has to be overcome. For this, he needs to go to a rehabilitation center. At the center, the issue of physical and psychological dependence on the substance or behavior would be addressed.
If a person with the aforementioned traits has become addicted to a drug, it is extremely essential that he joins a rehabilitation center for detoxification. In a drug rehabilitation center, the addict might be asked to go cold turkey, or the doses of the drug would be tapered off gradually in case there's a risk of withdrawal symptoms.


Psychotherapy or counseling is extremely beneficial, as the therapist can get to the root of the emotional issues or internal conflicts that are responsible for the addiction. Drug or alcohol abuse, comfort eating, compulsive shopping, or other such habits might actually be an escape route through which the person might be trying to avoid the real issue.
To mask the addiction, the addict might further avoid social situations, which can make the situation worse. Thus, the therapist has to deal with such issues in a sensitive manner. He has to persuade the addict to speak up or vent his emotions or frustrations, and make him emotionally stronger to be able to deal with the stresses of life.
In order to help the patient cope better, the therapist might follow dialectical behavioral therapy; wherein, the patient learns to accept self-destructive thoughts, feelings, and behavior, and then tries to change the thought process and behavior. He learns to regulate his emotions, identify the triggers to destructive behavior, and use coping skills.
During the sessions, the therapist helps the patient recognize situations that might trigger such behavior and provides ways to tackle such situations. As per the addictive personality theory, such individuals are more likely to jump from one addiction to another. Thus, emphasis should be laid on how to replace unhealthy behavior with healthy behavior.
It must be noted that if a person with addictive personality type only undergoes treatment for the current addiction, it's possible that he might get addicted to another substance or behavior. Moreover, there could be a relapse, if the treatment is not based on changing the behavior patterns associated with this personality type.
Thus, it is essential to treat individual behavior patterns that might be the underlying cause of addiction. The therapist can focus on the addict's hypersensitivity to stress, and train him to deal with stress. He can focus on traits that are considered to make one susceptible to addictions. He can work on social alienation and impulse control issues.

Support System

While checking into a rehabilitation center or recovery program is essential, it is equally important to have a support system. Support from family and friends is essential for someone affected by an addiction. If you have decided to give up your addiction, you need someone to support your decision, especially during times when you are vulnerable.
Also, joining a support group is quite beneficial. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Dual Recovery Anonymous are some of the renowned substance abuse support groups.
Being with others who are facing the same problem helps one feel less isolated, as there are others who know what you're going through, and understand your state of mind. Moreover, the members help each other stay motivated enough to start a new life.

Drug Therapy

Besides the aforementioned treatment options, pharmacological approach might be followed in some cases. Medication for addictive personality disorder might vary, depending on the type of addiction.
For instance, some drugs causes untoward effects if it is combined with alcohol. Though it might discourage alcohol use, doctors prescribe it in cases where the benefits outweigh the risks. Some opioids are also prescribed for addiction. They works by blocking the opioid receptors, which prevents the euphoria-like effects of opiates.
On a concluding note, the concept of addictive personality is not recognized by everyone, and many people are against the idea of labeling someone as an addictive personality. However, if a person who possesses the aforementioned significant personality factors develops an addiction, medical assistance must be sought immediately.