If you’re wondering if you have an addictive personality, you may find it helpful to separate fact from fiction and understand the nature of the term.
Addictive personality usually refers to a set of personality traits that may make you more prone to develop addictions to different things, from substances to love.
It’s a controversial term that’s poorly understood and easy to misuse.
On the one hand, some people have said that specifying an “addictive personality” may help decrease the chances of someone developing an addiction, by identifying possible early symptoms and prevention and treatment plans.
On the other hand, the term is laden with stigma, not backed up by research, and offers an incomplete view of a complex challenge.
In general, an “addictive personality” typically refers to a group of traits that can make you more prone to becoming dependent and addicted to substances and other things.
Addictive personality isn’t a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) and neither is addiction itself.
Instead, the DSM-5-TR includes a handful of diagnoses that may involve emotional or chemical dependence as well as cognitive and compulsive behavioral patterns related to one or more substances or activities:
None of these conditions is proven to be associated with any specific personality traits or personality types.
So, what type of people are more prone to these disorders?
Scientific evidence isn’t conclusive about it, so there’s no “addictive personality” diagnosis or list of symptoms. There isn’t a particular type of person that may be more likely to develop symptoms of addiction or substance use disorder.
Instead, what causes addiction disorders is likely a combination of factors that include:
- early life experiences
- traumatic events
- emotional intelligence
- biology and genes
Still, people with similar backgrounds may have different experiences, so even going through difficult or challenging times doesn’t mean you’ll end up experiencing a mental health condition.
In terms of addiction, it may be useful to think of it as a pattern of behavioral modifications that have helped some people to survive difficult situations, says Menemsha Milnor, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist in New York City.
“The best way to understand addiction is to see it as a coping mechanism that helps people recover from immense stress or trauma,” she explains.
“Substances, for example, can be a way to self-medicate, helping someone live with the uncomfortable, often painful, physiological symptoms of trauma. Addictive habits can temporarily soothe a dysregulated nervous system, allowing people to function in society,” adds Milnor.
You may find yourself feeling addicted to:
What you feel is valid and real, even if it doesn’t come with the formal label of addiction or a substance use disorder.
In essence, addiction refers to a set of thoughts and compulsive behaviors that you find unable to stop despite negative consequences.
There’s no evidence to suggest that you can experience addiction symptoms when it comes to sex, love, or people, or that symptoms of compulsive behavior can be explained as an addiction.
In some instances, these feelings and behaviors may be the result of other psychological processes, including trauma and emotional dependence.
There’s no established list of traits or signs that indicate someone may have an addictive personality or may be more prone to developing one.
In other words, there’s no cookie-cutter “type” of person that is more likely to face mental health challenges, including addiction and substance use disorder.
Although there’s no evidence that supports the idea of an addictive personality, feeling addicted to something may be similar to symptoms of substance use disorder:
- intense and persistent emotional and physical needs or cravings for something or someone
- mood episodes that may lead you to change from one mood to another without any evident reason
- a tendency to neglect your duties and relationships to give something else your entire attention
- difficulty exiting a situation even if persistently experiencing negative consequences
- emotional or physical pain when away from the subject of the “addiction”
In some instances, an “addictive personality” may be mentioned if you’ve experienced these symptoms repeatedly and related to more than one object or activity. For example, if you tend to feel this way in all or most of your relationships, hobbies, or interests.
But, again, this is likely due to other reasons and not because of your personality type.
Is an “addictive personality” the same as having OCD?
No. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a formal mental health diagnosis that involves symptoms like obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are unwanted, distressing, and persistent thoughts you feel you cannot control. Compulsions are rituals you engage in to decrease the distress caused by obsessions.
It’s possible to have both a diagnosis of OCD and behavioral addictions.
Researchers can’t pinpoint the exact cause of addictive or compulsive behaviors, as everyone is different. It’s probably a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Some of these may include:
- adverse childhood experiences (ACE)
- insecure attachment styles
- availability of substances
- chronic pain or stress
- co-occurring mental health conditions
- family history of similar behaviors
- lack of interpersonal support
- low distress tolerance
- unresolved trauma
Addiction and genetic vulnerability to addiction are complex and nuanced, says Dr. Nicole McGuffin, PsyD, a therapist in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
“I like to exchange the term addictive personality for heartbreak,” she says. ”In this guise, we can meet ourselves or others with empathy, compassion, and understanding.”
“In my worldview, addiction may be about heartbreak, disconnection from self and others, perhaps not knowing how to attune to your needs, guilt, pressuring yourself, not trusting, or self-medicating that heartbreak. It may also be about developmental trauma,” explains McGuffin.
The concept of an addictive personality is tricky because of how loaded and charged the term has become, says Ben Friday, a therapist in Sacramento.
“It can often be weaponized by family or others in society. It is typically seen as a derogatory term, which most of my clients are unlikely to endorse when living with a use disorder,” he explains.
The negative implications of the term can also impact your healing process, says Friday.
“When labeling someone as having a personality trait, we typically view these as fixed points, so people feel hopeless about change if they view this as a facet of their personality,” he adds.
But mental health challenges can be managed and support is available if you’re experiencing mental or emotional distress. There’s nothing that implies you have to or will experience these symptoms for the rest of your life.
The term “addictive personality” is commonly used to refer to a set of personality traits that may make someone more likely to develop addictive behaviors. It isn’t a formal health diagnosis nor is it backed up by scientific evidence.
Compulsive or addiction-like behaviors are likely the result of a combination of factors that include biology, genes, early life experiences, and the environment, instead of personality types. They can be managed with professional support, and relief is possible.