Understanding the Addictive Personality – Are You Prone to Addiction?
Is There Such a Thing as an Addictive Personality?
Are certain people more likely to develop addictions in their lifetime, including to alcohol or drugs? Is there a definitive addictive personality or a set of characteristics that all addicts share?
Anecdotally, most people who have an addiction describe psychological cravings or impulses they find hard to control. In rehab or counselling, people often talk about lack of confidence or low self-esteem that preceded their addiction.
Difficulty dealing with physical or emotional pain, anxiety and depression are also commonly reported.
But does science support the notion of an addictive personality? And if so, how can you minimise your risk of getting addicted or relapsing?
The Difference Between a Habit and an Addiction?
Firstly, it’s essential to differentiate between habits and addictions.
Most people form habits throughout life – from drinking coffee every morning to going to the gym after work to watching Netflix before bed. Perhaps you play poker with friends at the weekend or support a football team. Maybe you follow certain trends on social media, play Candy Crush on the bus or you always buy ice cream at the cinema. Mostly, these kinds of habits are completely harmless.
Addiction is when a habit becomes difficult or impossible to control and it becomes harmful to you and/or other people. When an addictive substance or activity takes over, increasingly people prioritise it over other areas of their life – including their mental and physical health, work, education, relationships and finances. Typically, addicts experience a progression of consequences, as their impulses get harder to manage.
Does Science Prove the Addictive Personality?
Many studies have identified the co-occurrence of certain personality traits and addictive disorders. It’s much more difficult to prove cause and effect, however – because scientific research mostly involves people who have already developed an addiction, as compared to control groups.
Longer-term studies across the course of years or decades are much more expensive and infrequent.
Current research suggests that there isn’t a definitive ‘addictive personality’ – one set of indicators that apply to all people who get addicted. However, there are numerous studies that show correlations between certain characteristics and addictive disorders.
The Big Five Personality Traits and Addiction
The Big Five Personality Traits, also known as the OCEAN model, is a theory that identifies five major factors of the human personality – neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, extroversion and conscientiousness. Each of these categories covers a subset of human behaviours and attributes. Many studies have analysed the links between the big five characteristics and addiction.
Neuroticism and addiction
Neuroticism is characterised by emotional instability – including a propensity for worry, sadness, irrational fear, irritability, anger or self-criticism. People who score highly for neuroticism find it difficult to relax or ‘switch off’ their mind.
Overall, studies find that neuroticism does increase the risk of substance use disorders or behavioural addictions. 
Extroversion and addiction
Extroverts are socially outgoing people, who seek out interactions with other people to gain energy or fulfilment. They tend to be comfortable in large groups, including talking to people they have only just met. They seek stimulation from external sources.
In contrast, introverts are more likely to choose the company of people they know well. They need regular solitude to revitalise. They also tend to focus more on their internal world – including their emotions.
Andreassan et al. found extroversion to be associated with Facebook addiction, exercise addiction, mobile phone addiction, and compulsive buying. 
However, introversion can also be problematic. For example, shyness is a key factor in social anxiety disorder, which has been connected to alcohol addiction. 
Introversion can also present challenges in addiction recovery – for example, attending and asking for help in addiction support groups.
Agreeableness and addiction
Agreeableness is associated with characteristics including friendliness, altruism, politeness, generosity, cooperation and peacekeeping. People who score highly in agreeableness are less likely to develop drug or alcohol addiction. 
Conversely, low agreeableness has been associated with substance use. For example, this study found a link to alcohol involvement. 
Openness to experience and addiction
Are you comfortable trying new things? Or do you tend to stick to what you know? Generally, people who are open to new life experiences and willing to take positive risks are less likely to get addicted to substances. 
However, thrill-seeking or excessive risk-taking can be associated with addiction – such as high stakes gambling or adrenaline-fuelled extreme sports. This is connected to another trait linked to addiction in studies – impulsivity.
Impulsivity and the Addictive Personality
Impulsivity is acting on a whim without consideration of the consequences. Research shows that impulsive people find their urges harder to resist than control groups. They tend to select immediate rewards over delayed gratification – including when longer-term rewards are objectively more valuable. Lack of perseverance and a heightened sense of urgency are also factors in impulsivity.
A research review in 2017 found that impulsive behaviour is connected to the ‘initiation, maintenance, and relapse of drug-seeking behaviours involved in drug addiction.’ 
Reducing the Risk of Addiction or Relapse
If you have personality traits associated with addiction, it does not mean you will develop an addictive disorder. Nor does it mean you can’t recover – far from it. With the right treatment and support, long-term addiction recovery is always achievable.
Here are some suggestions for prevention and recovery.
Know the early warning signs of dependence
If you haven’t been diagnosed with an addiction, then it’s helpful to be aware of the early signs.
If you are using recreational drugs, prescription drugs or alcohol, consider these 10 questions:
Do you think about or crave drugs or alcohol when you’re not using them?
Is it easy to say no to drugs or alcohol?
Do substances take priority over other areas of your life?
Has your use of drugs or alcohol changed over time? (Quantity, frequency, using stronger substances or mixing drugs and alcohol)
How do you feel if you can’t get hold of drugs or alcohol?
How do you react if something or someone interferes with your plans to drink or take drugs?
When you’re not using drugs or alcohol, how do you feel mentally and physically?
Do you ever minimise or deny how much you drink or take drugs?
Are you ever secretive about using – particularly around people who don’t drink or take drugs the way you do?
Do you justify to yourself or others why you need to drink or use drugs?
Processes can also be addictive – including eating disorders, problem gambling or gaming, internet and social media addiction, sex and love addiction, porn addiction and compulsive spending. You can ask yourself similar questions about these processes – to identify any areas for concern.
The best way to identify signs of dependence or diagnose addiction is to have an addiction assessment at a trustworthy addiction centre.
Get support to spot addiction blind spots.
Every human being has things they cannot see about their own personality or behaviour. Often, it takes a friend, relative or colleague to point them out – and we don’t always like that!
If you score highly on personality traits linked to addiction, then it’s worth building a support network of people you trust. This can include friends and family members whom you respect.
When it comes to spotting the pitfalls of addiction, however, the best input comes from peers in addiction recovery or addiction treatment professionals. They have the best knowledge and experience about how the disease manifests.
Across the country, there are recovery groups for most forms of addiction – including Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous and more.
Watch out for cross-addiction
Cross addiction is very common for addicts. Put simply, when you stop or cut down one substance or addictive process, do you start or increase another? People who quit alcohol, for example, can find themselves reaching for sweet foods – craving the sugar they used to get in alcoholic drinks.
Cross addiction can be hard to spot yourself, however – so it’s worth getting an addiction assessment or speaking to your GP.
Seek addiction treatment early
If you’ve been assessed as having one or more addictions, then please consider addiction counselling or residential rehab treatment. The earlier you get professional help, the more likely you will achieve a solid and lasting recovery. This is particularly true for eating disorders, which are much harder to treat in advanced stages. With all addictions, the longer they are active, the more likely you or others will suffer harm.
UKAT offers fast access to rehab nationwide. We treat all substance and process addictions in our CQC-regulated clinics. Please get in touch for a confidential assessment and a range of treatment options.
We offer a free callback service 24/7. Enter your number below and one of our addiction counsellors will call you back shortly.
09 Aug 2020
I dont have enough words to describe my gratitude towards all the support staff, therapists & management. The programme content was incredibly insightful & I now have an arsenal of tools to combat my illness head on. I would recommend this place to anyone, and I intend to. It’s changed my life.
08 Aug 2020
Came into the centre in a real mess and desperate, the staff were very sympathetic with no judgement just genuine care. I now leave for the next step of recovery feeling human and optimistic Thank you to all the staff
08 Aug 2020
My time at Liberty House Clinic has been fantastic overall and an amazing experience with some obvious difficulties in the process. Everything was explained to me well and the groups were extremely helpful. The staff were great and there was always someone to talk to if I needed. The days were busy with therapy and other things and which i enjoyed a lot. I do believe to get the most out of the beginning of your recovery here you must push yourself and attend as many groups as possible. I am not fixed but have learnt so much and my mental health has greatly improved. Thank you Liberty House and its staff!
07 Aug 2020
Very good treatment centre. Helpful and food was lovely
07 Aug 2020
Treament went well,staff good
07 Aug 2020
The stay at Oasis bradford went really well, staff looked after you, would recommend
06 Aug 2020
My stay at Liberty house was made very comfortable by all the staff and although I’ve never had therapy before I thought that the therapists were brilliant as were all the support staff. It has been a very relaxed and positive stay and my peers have been very nice and friendly. I’ve also made a couple of really good friends that I believe will be friends for life.
06 Aug 2020
I arrived at the recovery lighthouse very low in mood and feeling very ill. I was made to feel welcome as soon as I arrived, treated with respect and empathy. I was introduced to the other peers who were also welcoming and non judgemental. I was shown into a relaxing bedroom and given time to settle in. I gained knowledge and confidence from both the varied workshops and having time to chat in groups with my peers as well as a great deal of laughter. Mealtimes were social occasions, the food was nutritious and varied. Zoom meetings were also a group activity and gave me the confidence to open up to the group. Wonderful walks to the beach and park, where somtimes we would meditate…so relaxing, and sometimes we were able to buy an ice cream!!!!! I left feeling refreshed, growing in confidence and with a positive attitude to face my future and the world without the need for alcohol. A brighter happier future. Thank you to all who helped me on the start of my road to recovery.
06 Aug 2020
It is an amazing experience and would highly recommend it to anyone who has or is in my position
06 Aug 2020
In a very stressful and worrying time in my life with alcoholism it was very helpful that there was some where as professional as Oasis Bradford where there in my time of need.
06 Aug 2020
Very helpful and supportive team. I truly feel blessed to have chosen The Lighthouse (Worthing) to begin my journey on the path to sobriety…..
06 Aug 2020
On the whole very good centre. Excellent staff. good therapy. Meals much better than expected and flexible for peoples dietary requirements. Leaving after 4 weeks clean and sober but feeling confident that the next step of the journey is some.thing I have been well equipped for now. Still much work to be done and they offer continued support. Staff here are excellent. highly recommend this centre.
06 Aug 2020
I came here new to everything and I found everything strange, however I found the meditation and gong bath very helpful, I think the staff have been brilliant and very efficient, it took me a few days to get in to the process of things but I got the hang of it. I think it is beneficial that people working here are in recovery themselves to give deeper knowledge and empathy to all of us in here.
06 Aug 2020
06 Aug 2020
Sanctuary Lodge is the second rehab facility I’ve been too. It has completely changed my perspective on my illness and how I can move forward living with addiction. I have been converted to understanding the benefits of the 12 step fellowship programmes. The facilities are excellent with amazingly caring and patient staff. My individual therapist has been fantastic and I would recommend making the most of just grabbing them for 10 minutes outside of your scheduled 1 on 1 sessions. You really get out of the treatment what you put in. I gave it my all and believe that’s helped me get to the place I’m at. Would highly recommend this centre to anyone struggling with addiction.
06 Aug 2020
This is my third time at the Lighthouse Recovery due to relapsing mainly because i did not folllow the simple instructions nor get involved 100% with the AA fellowship. This time round I am aware of the need for me to put those foundations in place. The staff at the lighthouse are amazing and have had a big part to play during this recovery experience. The lighthouse is truly life-changing and i could not recommend it highly enough. It has also been amazing to meet wonderful people that will now become friends for life. Thank you
05 Aug 2020
The treat,met was exactly what I expected. Was hesitant at first. But the staff calmed me down and it all went smoothly from there. I feel like my 9 lives had ran out and this place has granted me a tenth. I hope to co,e back as a volunteer one day or work.
05 Aug 2020
I cannot thank the staff enough for all the help and support I have recieved during my stay. The staff are all friendly and very nice. Special mention for the chef. The food was exceptional. Thank you all.
05 Aug 2020
was in a really dark place before i entered recovery lighthouse. I have had a total change in myself and my view on life and cant thank the staff enough for all there help and advice on how to deal with all aspects of my life, would highly recommend the lighthouse house to anyone that has reached rock bottom due to alcohol and drugs,
Our patients’ health takes priority during the COVID-19 pandemic and our doors remain open. To read about our commitment to patient and staff safety and how to keep yourself safe during the lockdown, click here!