Somehow, you feel like you always knew. You know how reckless they liked to be, how they felt a need to feel the thrill of life at every available moment. Or how they became easily obsessed with something, driven to perfect it, or find out what they wanted to know no matter what. In hindsight, their personality seemed to fit addiction perfectly – so much so that it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to know that they ended up struggling with it.
But that’s not how it works. While the concept of an addictive personality is popular, it’s also unfounded. Personalities don’t have much bearing on a person’s likelihood to get addicted – at least not in the sense that you might think they would.
Yes, there are factors that make addiction more likely. Yes, there are people with rough lives that go through every possible hardship and still come out the other end never having been addicted to anything. And yes, there are many people who easily find themselves interested and passionate about something, who then also find themselves addicted to drugs. However, in the larger scope of things, a person’s personality or passion doesn’t hint towards addiction – but other things do.
Nature, Nurture, and Addiction
Likelihood is not destiny. Statistics don’t spell fate. And no matter how much your life may be swerving in a specific direction, there’s always the chance it’ll go a completely different way. It’s important to note these things when likelihoods and statistics are discussed. This is not meant to serve as evidence that you or someone you know may end up addicted to a drug. It’s meant to help explain why some people are addicted, and others aren’t. And like anything, it can’t account for every case – just most of them.
All addiction risk factors can be roughly divided into internal and environmental. Environmental risk factors are everything and anything that we designate as “nurture” – from how a person was raised, to where they were raised, as well as the choices they made, the choices others made for them, and the choices no one consciously made that still affected them greatly.
Internal factors are largely biological, stemming either from family history or pure chance. Things like genetic conditions, rare birth defects, undetected diseases, or developing conditions gone unnoticed throughout an addiction or period of mental illness. Anything from chronic pain without an identifiable source to severe depression caused by an inborn hormone problem, like Cushing’s disease or hyper/hypothyroidism.
The things that are most likely to account for a person’s addiction are:
- A person’s contact to drugs
- Their likelihood to take them
Ultimately, it’s drugs that cause addiction, and the more someone is exposed to them, the more opportunities they have to try them. Age is a big factor, because younger minds are not just easier to pressure into drug use, but they’re also more susceptible to the effects of drugs. Someone with a healthy childhood and enough education might know better than to cave to peer pressure and take a substance they can’t identify or know is addictive. But even then, there is a certain age where no amount of parenting can account for the sheer need to fit in with other kids.
Then there are all the factors that openly encourage someone to try drugs, from disillusion and heartbreak to physical pain.
Most cases of addiction begin with a series of mistakes, for any number of reasons, from suffering to teenage misguidedness. No one consciously makes the decision to ruin their lives. Instead, they see a simple short-term solution to a nagging problem and are in no position to rationally weigh the risks. No personality specifically pushes someone to be more susceptible to a drug’s addictive properties. But personalities do play a different role.
It’s Not the Personality
Personalities don’t dictate how effective a drug is going to be in making someone addicted. But they do play a role in how likely someone is to take drugs. In this sense, an “addictive personality” is not hallmarked by passion or obsessiveness, but by apathy, nihilism, pain, and social distance. They’re more likely to try drugs out as a solution to their consistently low mood. Socially aggressive and insecure individuals are also more likely to take drugs, to drown out their anxieties and fit in.
Mental instability highlighted or hinted at through serious personality flaws can be a major sign that someone is at risk for not just addiction, but self-harm and unpredictable behavior. It’s important to seek help or get someone help if they’re struggling to be happy, with themselves or their lives.
But it’s important to distinguish symptoms of a potential mental disorder from “personalities”. Personalities are very complex and individual, and there is no proper consensus towards categorizing personalities in a way that is in any shape or form therapeutically-relevant. Even popular personality tests, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, are rarely if ever useful. However, people cling to such definitions because they simplify a very complicated topic, and allow them to fit into a group, despite it not actually existing.
Your personality is unique, fostered and created through a unique set of circumstances and individual factors. You share similarities with others, but no other person can be your splitting image. Personality traits exist, but we rarely follow them closely. While a person may be more likely to exhibit introverted behavior or act cholerically, it does not make them one or the other. Therefore, it is better to identify risk by looking at your family history and considering environmental factors.
Why the Why Matters
If you’ve never been addicted, then know that even if the odds are against you, you still have choice. You can choose to say no. You can choose to stay away. Without a history of drug use, it’s entirely in your power to completely avoid addiction.
If you’ve been addicted, then knowing why can help you figure out how to stop and treat your addiction. Like any condition, resolving the underlying cause can help in treating the symptoms. If your addiction is the result of pain and anguish, you must learn to address it head-on in a way that does not involve drugs. Therapy and addiction treatment can help you work through your issues and find a way of life that works much better.