There's No Such Thing as an Addictive Personality

Whether it's your fourth cookie, shoe purchase, or cigarette, it's common to pass off a moment of weak willpower as being caused by an addictive personality. But according to research, there's no such thing.

"I Think I Can, I Think I Can..."

Sure, there are personality traits that are associated with addictive behavior: neuroticism, for example, or impulsiveness. But those are just traits. Just because scientific evidence shows that most people with addictions are neurotic doesn't mean that neuroticism makes you prone to addiction—there are plenty of neurotic people who aren't addicted to anything.

Likewise, research shows that having one addiction makes you more likely to have another, but plenty of addicts stick to a single vice. Different vices also fulfill different personal needs for different people: we've all heard of the depressed alcoholic who drinks to numb the pain and the party-animal alcoholic who drinks to make life more exciting. Same drug, two different personalities.

If you put aside the fact that personality types are highly controversial, you can consider what it would mean for an addictive personality to exist. For there to be such a thing as an addictive personality, there would need to be one personality trait that predicted whether you'll become an addict. And according to psychological research, there just isn't.

According to Dr. Alan R. Lang, who authored a study on the psychological factors of addiction in the 1980s: "...there is no single, unique personality entity that is a necessary and sufficient condition for substance use." This might sound contrarian, but it's good news for those who thought their impulsive need to drink coffee or hit the slots was just an immutable part of their personality.

There's No Such Thing As An Addictive Personality

Unpack this complex issue.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Some factors that can make you more likely to develop a problem with addiction and some personalities are more common among addicts, but those things don't combine to create an addictive personality. 00:42

  2. In the 1980s, Dr. Alan Lang published a chapter on the personality factors that could contribute to addiction. The media misreported on it, and the idea of an addictive personality stuck. 04:47

  3. Technically, the idea of an addictive personality disorder is wrong, but the way that personality and addiction come together is tricky. 06:47

Measuring Personality

Explore the many ways psychologists have to examine our personalities.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Trait theory researchers try to define personality by looking at long-term behavior patterns and conscious motivations. 02:00

  2. Reciprocal determinism theorizes that aspects of your environment affect aspects of your personality, and vice versa. 05:13

  3. The humanistic approach generally disregards methods of standardized personality testing. 09:01

Written by Ashley Hamer November 22, 2016

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