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Is There an Addictive Personality ?

By March 1, 2008 - 1:45pm
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Do you know someone who has an "addictive personality"? Is there such a thing, and if so, is it genetic or does something in the environment influence an entire personality ?

Such an interesting topic, because addiction could be related to so many different behaviors: alcohol, sex, shopping, food, nicotine, other drugs, gambling....

The research I've read suggests that there is not an addictive personality, but that unhealthy behaviors "define" how others perceive that person (and their "personality"). For instance, many people whom we may describe as having an addiction share similar personality traits, such as they are gregarious, impulsive, a little rebellious... someone who is probably very fun to be around, and they may be "the life of the party" (particularly with substance abuse and addiction). And, if you see someone with these personality traits, they are not necessarily predisposed to developing an addiction. Conversely, someone who is reserved, contemplative and cautious are not "immune" from developing an addiction.

Then the question becomes similar to the chicken and egg theory: do people who are more gregarious, impulsive, and rebellious choose unhealthy behaviors that can lead to abuse/addiction, or, do people who have an "addictive personality" gravitate towards unhealthy behaviors that can lead to abuse/addiction?

Anyways, just a fascinating topic to discuss, as I'm very close with friends and family who have compulsive tendencies (that was a very nice way to say that, right?!) :-) These loved-ones of mine don't do things half-way...it's all the way for them! It is wonderful to know these people and have these qualities yourself; but when these qualities start including alcohol, food, sex, gambling, drugs, etc, it can become harmful very quickly.

I'd love to hear your stories and talk about what others have experienced in their families or with themselves!

Add a Comment5 Comments

Some interesting research has been done on twins:

Twin babies that were adopted to different families have the same genetic/family history (from their "biological" family), but being raised in different families, have different environmental influences.

Some of the babies were raised in homes with a person addicted to alcohol (the caretaker developed alcoholism later; the adoption would not have taken place otherwise!).

Some of the babies were raised in homes with no alcoholism present.

Results: some of the adopted babies, now as grown adults, developed alcoholism; others did not.

When researchers went back, and looked at the babies who had a biological family history of alcoholism, *regardless if they were raised in the family with alcoholism or without*, were FOUR TIMES more likely to develop alcoholism!

(Of course, the adults who had grown up in an environment with alcoholism present were more at risk for developing abusive drinking behaviors or other problems, it still did not outweigh the power of the genetic factor).

How is this so? Well, we don't pass on to our kids an "addictive personality", but what we *do* pass on, through our genes, is our tolerance levels and our trigger levels. We are all born with different trigger levels...for heart disease, alcoholism, and other diseases. Adult children of alcoholics are four times more likely to develop alcoholism themselves, as they have lower trigger levels (meaning, alcoholism can develop sooner) than adult children who do not have an alcoholism in their (biological) family.

(oh--and "biological family" can be misleading, too. "Family" is defined as a close bloodline: mother, father, sister, brother or grandparent).

The important message, though: some of the babies, who did not have alcoholism from their biological family nor in their adoptive family ("environment") did develop alcoholism! There is undoubtedly an environmental component. Just as people are not "immune" from developing something like heart disease if it does not "run in their family"; they are also not immune from developing alcoholism. And, it goes without saying, that people with alcoholism in their family history are not "predestined" to develop alcoholism.

(Source: PRI: Prime for Life)

March 4, 2008 - 2:16pm

Well, your description of an "addictive personality" describes my darling groom, as he's very charming, charismatic and loves to be the center of attention. But, that's just when he's in his comfort zone.

I tend to believe that alcoholism and other drug abuse is learned behavior. I also agree with the idea that certain drugs should be legalized, taking the "danger" and "mystique" out of them and making them taxable. Jail for drug abuse doesn't seem to accomplish much. People used to be sent to a rehab ward in a hospital.

March 3, 2008 - 5:44pm
EmpowHER Guest

One thing is clear about how we as a society deal with the thousand's of people are addicted to drugs and alcohol.....we need to start treating it as the disease it is vs. locking people away. I think a great first step would be to decriminalize the majority of current illegal drugs and put these people into treatment vs. jail.

March 2, 2008 - 5:51pm
EmpowHER Guest

Although addictive personality is not the correct term, there is a ton of research and studies being done helping us understand why some people seem to have many addictions while other people can try many addictive drugs and substances once and never have a problem. Below is a great recent article in the New York Times about this subject. They are getting closer to understanding what parts of the brain are responsible for addiction and starting to come up with ways to help solve this very important crisis. See the article below.


March 2, 2008 - 5:45pm

I don't believe that something like alcholism is 'genetic'. If your mom was an alchoholic, and her mom was and you are, it's the behavior that is handed down, not a specific alcoholic gene. Drinking alcohol (as opposed to drinking water or eating food) is not a genetic trait. We are genetically inclined to eat food and drink water. We are not genetically inclined to ferment fruit or hops and barely and drink it, that is a man-made trait. Same with drugs. There is no genetic drive to process opiates and use them to get high.

I do believe, however, that certain people are more inclined to become addicted to drugs or alcohol or gambling (or any other 'vice') than others. I think there may be a genetic predisposition to addiction but there is not a genetic predisposition to a specific addition. Gambling is not genetic! Our genes are far too old and go too far back! Way before even alcohol and that is several thousand years.

The mere fact that someone's family has a history of alcohol abuse doesn't make alcohol abuse genetic. It perhaps makes addiction genetic but the actual addiction choice (drugs, alcohol, cigarettes etc) is mimicked behavior. We are more likely to drink if our parents drink, smoke if they smoke, etc.

March 2, 2008 - 6:54am
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