Addictive Personality Disorder

Addictive Personality
Addictive Personality Traits
The Addictive Personality

Addictive Personality Disorder
The addictive personality displays certain traits which can be treated

The concept of an “addictive personality” or having an “addictive personality disorder” is controversial in the addiction recovery community. On the one hand, it’s a useful and straightforward explanation for determining why some people may become addicted to alcohol, drugs, compulsive activities, and even problematic emotions. On the other hand, this addictive personality is not currently recognized by the established medical community as a genuine disorder. 

What does the current research suggest? What evidence do we have on both sides of the controversy? And what do we do with this information moving forward?

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Addictive Personality Disorder
The Case Against

Almost all substance use disorders entail physical addiction symptoms. These symptoms vary depending on the substance, but they can include telltale signs like:

  • Speech changes (rapid or rambling speech; slurred or slowed speech)
  • Intensified irritability and agitation
  • Nausea, dizziness, or vomiting
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Dilated or constricted pupils 
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Chills and sweating
  • Involuntary shaking (tremors) and jerky movements
  • Bone and muscle aches and pains
  • Teeth clenching
  • Increased or decreased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Blue or purplish skin
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Overdose
addictive personality disorder

Medical professionals who aim to debunk this concept of an addictive personality often point to these physical symptoms as evidence that addiction requires an outside agent (i.e., the drugs or alcohol) to trigger biological changes. They argue that these changes then result in further substance use to avoid more distressing physical symptoms (known as withdrawal). This ongoing cycle perpetuates the addiction.

Often these professionals argue that non-substance related compulsions like gambling, pornography, or video games aren’t true “addictions” because they don’t entail physical changes or withdrawal effects. They might consider them compulsions, as compulsions refer to intense urges to act out in a particular behavior.

Addictive Personality Disorder
The Case For

Many researchers and professionals support the theory of the addictive personality. They argue that the brain experiences the same physical symptoms and changes in the brain among all substance use disorders and non-substance compulsions.

There’s no doubt that drugs interfere with optimal brain functioning. Research shows that alcohol and drugs can cause neurotransmitters to release abnormally large amounts of certain hormones like dopamine or serotonin, which disrupt the natural communication process. Drugs and alcohol also impact the parts of the brain associated with:

  • Mood regulation
  • Pleasure
  • Socializing 
  • Eating
  • Sex
  • Motivation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability and anger
  • Stress response

However, emerging research also shows that compulsive issues related to disordered eating, sex, shopping, gambling, and technology can also interfere and restructure the brain. Thus, there does appear to be a strong argument for how repetitive and problematic patterns reinforce the cycle of addiction.

Furthermore, some professionals argue that addiction is more of a ‘state of mind’ rather than a cluster of physical symptoms. They look more towards the psychological relationship people have with their compulsive issues, and they often look at how the problem impacts other areas of the person’s functioning. For example, they would examine information related to:

  • Is the person sacrificing time, energy, or money on the problem?
  • Has it impacted the quality of relationships?
  • Has it affected work or school performance?
  • Are they facing legal problems?
  • Has it taken a toll on their self-esteem or self-worth?
  • Are they experiencing feelings related to intense guilt, shame, or worthlessness?
  • Can they cut down or cut back without professional intervention?
  • Have they made promises to stop or cut down, but they haven’t been successful?

Addictive Personality Traits

There are specific, psychological traits that point to addictive personality, including:

Insecurity: People with an addictive personality often have relationship problems due to their heightened insecurity. They often desperately fear abandonment and rejection. They may fail to commit to others, and they may also have an incredibly hard time with trust and honesty. Insecurity can manifest in a variety of ways. People may become controlling, hostile, passive, or withdrawn. Often, they long to be close to others, but the concern about getting hurt prevents them from doing so. As a result, they tend to seek constant approval, but the approval rarely feels satisfactory. 

Antisocial: People with an addictive personality may struggle with social relationships. They may isolate or alienate themselves from others. They often turn down social invitations or only attend an event for a short amount of time. If they do have to be social, interactions tend to be brief and tight-lipped. They may seem shy or even rude around others. Often, even if they have the desire for closeness, they don’t know how to let their guard down. 

Isolation and loneliness: People with an addictive personality may feel very isolated and lonely. These feelings can occur even if they report having a positive support system. It’s not uncommon for people struggling with addiction to have loving friends, family, and coworkers. Unfortunately, they often experience a profound sense of disconnect from the world around them. 

Difficulties or inability to cope with stress: People with an addictive personality disorder often have limited distress tolerance skills. Although stress is an unavoidable part of life, they often feel overwhelmed, bombarded, or inept at managing it. As a result, they may react quickly and impulsively. Often, they want to escape their feelings, which makes drugs and alcohol so alluring. 

Poor impulse control: People with an addictive personality often lack skills rooted in delayed gratification and long-term planning. Instead, they often live in the present moment and make moments based on current feelings. This makes it hard for them to understand and work through the long-term consequences associated with addiction.

Repeated or ‘transfer’ addiction: It’s not uncommon for people to have one or more addictions. It’s also not unusual to “trade” addictions. For example, if an individual becomes sober from alcohol, he may justify abusing sleeping pills because it’s not “the same” as drinking. Unfortunately, the same dangerous behaviors tend to repeat themselves, and a relapse in all problems remains common.

Addictive Personality Disorder Treatment

If you believe you struggle with an addictive personality, the best course of treatment is usually professional treatment via extensive psychotherapy. To stop the cycle of ongoing addiction, you must be willing to address the root of the problem.

In improving self-awareness, developing coping skills, understanding addiction, and learning how to cope with stress, you can work on your problematic character traits. You can also increase your chances of living a meaningful life in recovery.

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Free Expert Advice Available Now

  • Speak with an addiction specialist 24/7
  • Confidentially guaranteed
  • Discuss your treatment options


If you found this page helpful, then the following will be of interest to you:


Mayo Clinic -  Drug Addiction
NIH - Drugs and the Brain
NIH - Brain Circuits Involved in Compulsive Behaviors

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