The personality of an alcoholic and its role in alcoholism is a major area of research in addiction studies. There is debate as to existence of an addictive personality and the traits that are often associated with it. Research has been done for both sides of the disagreement.
The personality of an alcoholic and its role in alcoholism is a major area of research in addiction studies.
There is debate as to existence of an addictive personality and the traits that are often associated with it. Research has been done for both sides of the disagreement.
The term addictive personality has become commonplace. It is generally used for somebody who tends to abuse whatever substance or activity they take up.
However, it is important to note that there is no personality trait that will predict if a person will develop an addiction. There are several factors that contribute to the development of an addiction, so it is impossible to narrow it down to only personality characteristics.
Research seems to show that those prone to addiction (and this includes alcoholics) have certain personality characteristics. There are common traits among persons struggling with addiction. Recent research has begun to show that there are differences among the different addictions.
For example, there are different characteristics between an alcoholic and a person who is addicted to gambling.
Most, if not all, people will recognize some of the traits below in themselves. As previously mentioned, having one or multiple of the characteristics below does not mean that a person is or will become an addict or alcoholic.
But alcoholics, or those more likely to become alcoholic, will generally display more of these characteristics and more strongly. Of course, it is important to note that there are other issues at play in the development of drink dependency. A combination of environmental, psychological and biological factors are at play in the development of alcoholism.
• Low Self-esteem: The individual doesn't feel as if they are of value. They are somehow 'less' than other people. An inferiority complex. This can often be traced back to a person’s childhood and early adulthood experiences.
• Anxiety/Fear: The individual suffers from worry. This could be fears of social situations, fear of failure, fear of sex etc. A general feeling of fear is very common among alcoholics- they are not anxious about anything in particular. A sense of anxiety. Anxiety and alcohol are a dangerous mix as alcohol can be used as a way to cope with the feelings a person is experiencing. A lack of healthy coping skills for anxiety and fear can exacerbate a person’s drinking behaviors.
• Perfectionism: The individual has to be and do the best at everything he/she does. This, obviously, is not possible and so he/she feels like a failure. A sense of failure is a common characteristic of alcoholics. This can often tie into the anxiety and fear previously listed and can often be traced back to earlier times in a person’s life.
• Feelings of Guilt: The individual feels guilty all the time. It is as if everything they do, say or think is motivated by guilt. Guilt is a sense of feeling that “I did bad”. This can be tied to a particular event or behavior. Learning how to cope with guilt can be a challenging part of a person’s recovery journey.
• Shame: The individual believes there is something wrong with them. They are somehow stained. They are different from other people, in a negative sense. Shame is a sense of feeling “I am bad”. Similar to guilt, shame can be tied to a particular event/behavior or it can be something that has occurred for some time. Learning to respond and work through shame can also be a challenging part of a person’s recovery journey.
• Impulsive: Much like a child, the individual does things without thinking. If they want something, they want it now. Forget about the consequences. This can often be traced to behaviors as a child or young adult.
• Self-pity: What some like to call the 'poor me' syndrome. The individual feels as if nobody understands them, only they are suffering. This tends to be an isolating trait since they don’t feel understood and struggle to see how others could relate to their experiences. This can also be a tiresome trait for loved ones as the focus of conversations is often on challenges or negative topics.
• Under-achievement: The alcoholic will generally not do as well as their intellect/skills would allow. This can often lead to feelings of disappointment, frustration and shame. All of which can be considered triggers for a person’s drinking.
• Blaming: The individual will tend to blame people for their problems, mistakes etc. Nothing is their fault- me vs. the world. This often ties into a difficulty of acceptance of one’s self. This too can be a frustrating trait for the loved ones and family to cope with.
• A Sense of Injustice: The individual thinks everybody is against him and nothings fair. Much like a child, "wah wah wah life's not fair". This can often tie into the blaming trait listed above.
• Low-tolerance: The individual finds it is difficult to cope with negative feelings/situations for any period of time. The development of coping skills traces back to our childhood experiences. In a concept called modeling, we learn how to cope with negative and uncomfortable emotions by watching those around us. If we do not learn how to cope with emotions at a young age, it can be quite challenging to learn them as an adult. Drinking can be an effective coping skill, however it is an unhealthy one. Alcohol can help numb a person’s emotions which then prevents them from sitting in and processing them. This is also known as “stuffing down feelings”.
• Easily Frustrated: The individual gets frustrated very quickly usually erupting into anger if something doesn't happen to go the way he/she wants or anticipated. A person’s family and friends may feel as though they are walking on egg shells.
• Unable to Receive Love: Because the individual doesn't love himself/herself then they cannot accept love and affection from others. "Why would anyone want to love someone as worthless as me?". This can lead to the individual pushing away from those their close to such as family and friends. Addiction thrives on isolation.
• Dependence: The individual usually depends on other people to look after them. Because they do not believe in themselves as valuable they rely on others people's actions/words to make them feel better about themselves. We call this codependency. Codependency is quite common among individuals struggling with addiction and often requires that the other person also receives education about their behaviors.
So there you have it - some of the personality characteristics commonly found in alcoholics. Again, it is important to note that if you have some of these traits, it does not automatically mean that you are or will become an alcoholic.
It is argued by some that the personality of an alcoholic develops after somebody has developed a drinking problem NOT before.
In other words alcohol has a psychological effect and actually 'changes' the personality of an individual.
So the characteristics you read about above are not a cause of alcoholism but a result of alcoholism.
Research in this area is ongoing and the personality traits of alcoholics are often studied in behavior analysis programs in order to find a way to curb addiction.
Other Contributing Factors
I want to briefly expand on the other contributing factors for addiction mentioned above. Hopefully having an understanding of the other characteristics as well as the characteristics can help you better understand your own experiences.We have environmental, psychological and biological factors to consider.
Environmental factors can refer to the environment a person is currently in or the environment they were in as a child. Growing up,
These are some examples of environmental factors that increase a person’s risk of developing an addiction.
Research has shown that a person who starts drinking at a younger age is at a higher risk of developing an alcohol addiction compared to someone who started drinking as an adult. Some feel that the way alcohol was viewed in an environment is important as well.
For example, if a person grows up in a household with limited education about the dangers of drinking and is just told not to do it because “it’s bad”, that person may be more inclined to drink in an act of rebellion.
Psychological factors basically refers to any mental health concerns that a person may experience. Many individuals who seek help for their alcohol addiction are often diagnosed with a mental health concern such as depression, anxiety, bipolar and PTSD.
For persons who are undiagnosed or have poor coping skills for their mental health struggles, drinking can be an effective, yet unhealthy coping skill. It is also necessary to note that there are medications for mental health concerns that can be addictive if not taken as prescribed. Many mental health medications have negative interactions with alcohol as well.
Some of these medications can be used to manage anxiety, depression and attention deficit disorder. Environmental factors such as abuse and neglect can lead to mental health concerns.
Biological factors is simply referring to a family history of addiction and/or substance abuse. It is important to note that there are several forms that addiction manifests such as drugs, gambling, sex and eating disorders. Maybe no one in your family struggles with alcohol, but are there any who struggle with other forms of addiction?
Some families have kept quiet about addiction among them, so it may be possible that there is addiction in the family without knowing it.
Like the personality traits listed above, it is critical to note that having some or even all of the factors listed does not mean that a person will be or is an alcoholic. It has taken time to identify the various personality traits and other contributing factors.
One thing that we have learned is that there is no guaranteed predictor for addiction and that everyone’s journey is different. We can identify things that make a person at a higher risk for addiction but this does not have a causation relationship.
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