Addicted? What does it really mean, and is your personality to blame?

The word “Addicted” gets thrown around with abandon these days. People will say that their latest smartphone app is addictive, or that a TV show is addictive, and weirdly enough, that doesn’t mean anything negative. On the contrary, it’s seen as a positive comment. So what makes a genuine addiction, and can it even be a positive thing?

Can behavioral addictions be real addictions?

Psychology Today reports that a healthy, yet excessive enthusiasm is possible, and distinguishes between this attitude, habits and true addiction. The distinction, it says, is based on the outcome. If your “addictive” TV show adds interest and excitement to your life without damaging your relationships, work performance and outside ambitions, it’s just an enthusiasm.  It’s also possible to develop bad habits without them being true addictions. Behavioral problems or substance use can be termed as true addictions when the following conditions are fulfilled:

  • Constant preoccupation with the next “fix”
  • Career and relationship issues resulting from the activity
  • The presence of symptoms when the activity cannot be practiced
  • Increasing intensity and frequency as tolerance develops
  • Use of the behavior to feel better or improve mood
  • Feelings of being out of control or craving sensations

Where does the concept of the addictive personality come from?

When a person gives up a behavioral or substance addiction, it leaves behind a void that begs to be filled. Unfortunately, replacing one addiction with another is a common phenomenon, and this has given rise to the idea that certain people have “addictive personalities”.

It is certainly true that some psychological factors can predispose people to addiction. For example, a tendency to be neurotic or impulsive can make it easier for a person to become and addict, but Psychology Today argues that none of these mental health issues are sure-fire predictors of addiction. Scientifically speaking, there isn’t enough evidence of there being specific personality traits that are sure to lead to addiction and therefore the “addictive personality” is a myth.

Pain is one of the strongest predictors of addiction

Research indicates that physical or emotional pain and distress are far more likely to predict addiction than any combination of personality traits. For example, those who suffer from moderate to acute pain are 41% more likely to become addicted to opioids. This would seem like a fairly straightforward connection, but there are still many who feel that addiction has to be the result of a personal “shortcoming” rather than a distressing condition.

Then then there are those who have been subjected to emotional trauma and pain at some time in their lives. A study by anti-child-abuse organization Child Help found that two out of three patients in drug rehabilitation programs had experienced abuse or neglect as children. The US Department of Veteran Affairs reveals that 10% of PTSD sufferers also develop substance abuse disorders, and that two out of every three vets seeking help for a substance abuse problem have co-occurring PTSD.

Addicted? Your personality is not at fault

Mainstream thought characterizes people with addictions as being weak-willed, impulsive, irresponsible, and so on. Although there is no doubt that one is far more likely to exhibit these characteristics when under the influence of substances, they are symptoms rather than causes. For example, a teen on a drinking binge is more likely to indulge in activities that are against his or her normal morals and beliefs such as drug use or unprotected sex. But one cannot say that same individual is irresponsible under normal conditions.

Addiction does have its causes, but it would be impossible to identify a single one as being responsible for all types of addiction. Broadly, emotional and physical pain can be seen as playing an important role, but they are by no means the only possible causes. Since there is no easy answer to the question of what causes addiction, those who suffer from behavioral or substance related addictions should seek individualized help in order to determine the factors responsible for their particular addiction.

Shocking addiction statistics shake accepted beliefs

The assumption that addiction can be defined according to character type is, like all stereotypes, wrong! Let’s profile a drug addict in our minds: chances are, it’s a guy, and he’s probably black, right? Wrong! Yes, men do have a greater incidence of addiction, but white men are far more likely to abuse drugs than black men. A study found that 9% of white American men have substance abuse disorders compared to only 5% of black men. The fact that prisons are being filled with black people on drug charges can’t be explained away by an increased likelihood of substance abuse, but does lend credence to the black community’s allegations of racist treatment by law enforcement officials.

What does this have to do with mythical addictive personalities? It shows that it’s time we shed preconceptions and urban legends and started looking at the facts. We may find that they differ widely from what we have always believed to be true.

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