It would certainly be convenient if we could predict who would suffer from addiction based on their personality traits. Unfortunately, there is no single “addictive personality” that indicates whether or not someone will be diagnosed with a substance use disorder. Certain traits are linked to an increased risk of addiction, but it’s important to realize that addiction doesn’t discriminate. Anyone—regardless of their personality—can struggle with substance abuse.

Personality Traits Associated with Addiction

Based on research involving individuals who’ve sought treatment for substance use disorders, the following personality traits are thought to carry an increased risk of addiction. The more traits from the list, the greater the risk becomes. 

  • Nonconformity. People who identify as fundamentally different than their peers due to their interests, goals, and values have an increased risk of developing a substance use disorder. This is often due to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Impulsivity. People who prefer to do things on the spur of the moment are more likely to develop substance abuse problems because they tend to make choices without fully considering the consequences.
  • Risk-taking. The brains of thrill-seekers who are in search of new experiences despite the danger often have higher levels of dopamine. This makes them less sensitive to its effects and more likely to seek out addictive substances that can provide a dopamine rush that exceeds what is associated with everyday activities. 
  • Erratic moods. Often, people with addiction have co-occurring mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. They turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate the symptoms of their condition. 
  • Blame-shifting or a victim mentality. People who blame others for their mistakes and don’t see themselves as in control of their future are more likely to find that experimenting with drugs and alcohol leads to addiction.
  • Low tolerance for stress. Stress is a normal part of life and can’t always be avoided. However, people with addiction are more likely to struggle to cope with their stress and the negative feelings that accompany it. 
  • Narcissism. People with substance use disorders often struggle to empathize with others. They are focused on meeting their own needs above all else. 

Nature vs. Nurture

Our personality traits are formed by both nature (our genetic makeup) and nurture (the environment in which we live). Some aspects of our personality, such as whether we are more introverted or extroverted, are formed early in life. Others, such as conscientiousness and agreeableness, change over time as we learn to relate to different types of people and discover the rewards associated with certain behaviors. 

The debate over whether there’s an “addictive personality” is closely related to the idea that addiction is somehow determined by a person’s genes. While it’s true that a family history of substance abuse does increase a person’s risk, biology isn’t destiny. At most, genetics account for only about half of the risk. 

Research into neuroplasticity has shown that the brain has the potential to continue to change well into adulthood. With access to the right resources, people can learn new skills and healthier ways of coping with life’s challenges. This commitment to personal growth can counteract any innate addiction risk a person might have. 

There’s Always Hope for Recovery

Having personality traits associated with addiction doesn’t mean you’re doomed to struggle with substance abuse. You may have an increased risk, but you are ultimately responsible for your own life choices. No matter what has happened to you in the past, you can choose a brighter future by reaching out to get the treatment you need to begin life in recovery.

At Mountain Laurel Recovery Center, we provide evidence-based care for men and women with substance use disorders. Our Pennsylvania residential addiction treatment program is personalized to fit individual needs but generally begins with detox followed by intensive therapy and holistic support services that promote the development of a wellness-focused lifestyle. After graduating from residential treatment, our clients receive extended care services that help them successfully transition back to independent living. If you’re ready to take the first steps on your recovery journey, we’re here to help.