Episode 6: Is an Addictive Personality a Real Thing?
In today’s episode I’m going to share what I’ve discovered about the term “addictive personality” and if it’s a real thing and why it matters. You know, I hear people say, “Oh, I just have an addictive personality.” Or, once an addict always an addict implying this is an actual personality type and discounting all the complications of humanity and complexities of the brain. But since we’re in the age of information and constantly searching for the truth, I wanted to be sure to share what I’ve learned about whether or not an addictive personality is a real thing.
Like most things, if you go searching, you can find information in support of and in opposition to what you’re looking to discover. So I try to put the resource in perspective and depending on how deep you want to dive, you always want to look at who’s funding whatever study you may be referencing. I’m not going to dive that deep today because really there’s no studies on addictive personality as a type, but I will be calling upon my own personal experience with overdrinking and those I’ve helped overcome overdrinking.
Let’s just start with a definition of addictive personality. What’s interesting about this is normally when I google a definition, I find either medical definitions or a Webster’s dictionary definition and that’s not the case with this term “Addictive Personality.” Most of the results are from various addiction treatment center all with slightly different definitions.
So to find something neutral, because obviously addiction treatment centers are biased, Wikipedia was my best option, yes Wikipedia, and it’s defined as, “a hypothesized set of personality traits that make an individual predisposed to developing addictions. This hypothesis states that there may be common personality traits observable in people suffering from addiction.” It goes on to state there is a lack of a universally agreed upon definition due to the lack of a universally agreed upon concept of addiction.
Well this explains why I can’t find a medical definition and also again confirms that there is no empirical evidence to support addiction as a brain disease. So it’s a hypothesis, which is supposed to be an educated guess. But I think educated is not applicable with this hypothesis and more monetarily motivated as I will explain. So, there you have it. Shortest podcast ever…an addictive personality doesn’t exist. Haha! So why is there a commonly held belief of its existence? Why does this roll off the tongue so quickly from people? And why does it matter?
Well, let’s go back to my Google search. Most of the results are from rehab and addiction treatment centers. And like I said of course these centers are biased…it’s their business. They built a $35 billion industry and growing. It’s a business model. So perpetuating the belief in a term like addictive personality is somewhat of a foundation for their existence. I’m not against treatment centers but from my research there are more bad than good out there and they are very expensive. But let’s look at some of their definitions…
So Recovery Centers of America defines it as a term used to identify…aka label…people more prone to substance use disorder than others. Ouch! They have two wrongs in here in my opinion. The reference to substance use disorder which is not empirically proven as I discussed in my first podcast episode and the additional label, addictive personality, used to identify or target these individuals. So I would call this is fear-based marketing based on fiction.
The Addiction Center defines it as a personality that is more likely to become addicted to something, whether a behavior or a substance. Wow, how elaborate. Again, no such personality type exists according to the experts, neurologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists.
And then you have 7 Summit Pathways defining it as when someone has a difficult time controlling their desire to take part in an activity. That’s their definition; quite curious about this one because desire can go both ways…a lack of desire and an over-desire. So I guess this could define depression if it’s a lack of desire or what they’re referring to as an addictive personality if an over-desire. Not really a definition but a general, non-specific statement.
So my point is to show you there are pretty diverse definitions and this was just the top three resources, not including Wikipedia. But there’s zero evidence, zero, that a specific personality type causes people to develop a dependence on something.
In fact, I found a WebMD article about this topic and it has a quote from Dr. Michael Weaver, an M.D., at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston stating an “Addictive personality is not an actual psychiatric diagnosis.”
Personalities are formed by many factors including a little genetic, a little environmental, and a little psychological. It’s defined as the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character. Distinctive character. A personality is a unique set of characteristics attributed to an individual, as well as a complex combination, thereby making a classified group of those with an “addictive personality” impossible.
Nevertheless, the traits recognized as similar among people with this un-diagnosable label are impulsiveness, sensation seeking, non-conformity, social detachment, and increased stress. I actually laughed when I read this… In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, who didn’t have these personality traits? I find many of these expressions of personality transformations are based on people trying to cope with life.
Personalities change. And although there may be some innate characteristics you’re born with, you can evolve. There’s a mindfulness movement for this very reason. For example, I became aware of skills I needed to sharpen. I mindfully practiced how to create positive habits and sharpen those skills. And I learned the importance of living in the present moment, occupying space in the here and now. But these are skills you have to intentionally build. Unfortunately, we are not taught this as humans, at least in the western world.
One definition of addiction I read was defined as continuing a behavior that you either A) no longer want to continue but can’t seem to control it and/or B) have a compulsory need for it despite negative outcomes and circumstances.
Human beings have a compulsory chip just sitting waiting to be activated and this new age of technology hit the jackpot. Have you seen the Netflix documentary ‘The Social Dilemma?’ If not, check it out. But essentially computer programmers can create algorithms to hack our little human brains to want to engage on social media or our electronics despite negative outcomes. In fact, they themselves admitted they don’t fully understand the algorithms and they, too, can’t seem to separate from their devices. So, this little “addictive” switch is just sitting there in our human brains waiting to be stimulated?
I believe what you have is an industry, creating a label, again, and selling it as if it’s facts. It’s not. Addictive brain disorder is not fact and an addictive personality is not fact. Now there is conditioning and neuroplasticity of the brain.
Conditioning is simply learned behavior from repeated associations and patterns, like Pavlov’s dogs. And the neuroplasticity is the malleable nature of the brain. Your brain changes minute by minute as new information is received and digested. It’s really amazing. But these factors allow us to build neural pathways creating automatic responses from triggers in our environment AND unlearn behaviors and automatic responses. So this really broadens the scope of who would be susceptible to “addictive behavior” then. And if everyone is susceptible to “addiction” then there really is not an “addictive personality” other than being a human being with a normal functioning brain.
So is so-called addiction just really the creation of neural pathways tunneling through your brain? If so, then why is there a negative connotation associated with it? Why do people who try to learn how to decondition their brains get labeled and isolated like it should be easy? These neural pathways get created by repetitive behaviors and dopamine rewards and are the reason we’re alive. It’s our innate software program that takes skill and practice to overcome. So “addiction” sounds to me like the human condition, not an isolated “disease” or “illness” bestowed upon an unlucky subset of our culture.
Not many people are conscious enough or educated about this process of the brain. So let me share…you can try and prevent the conditioning and neural pathway from forming by interrupting the repeated behavior (this is where doing everything in moderation helps) or once that neural pathway is created you can unlearn the behavior, but you have to be aware.
If I notice I’m making a habit of having a sweet treat every day after lunch (which I am by the way), my brain is going to become programmed to expect this. Now I can disrupt this by skipping a few days or only allowing it periodically. This will prevent a strong neural pathway from becoming automated because there’s not a regular enough pattern to identify. And if this neural pathway is already built, I’m going to start craving a sweet treat every day after lunch if I don’t have one. Then, I have to deal with discomfort when I don’t.
If the neural pathway is little or new, it might only take a few days of not responding to the desire with sweets to remove this conditioning and the urge to eat sweets might be light. But if it’s been going on for years, it will take longer to unlearn this behavior and the discomfort is going to be much greater. And the discomfort is the urge or desire to have the thing you’re trying not to have. But you have to bring something out of your unconsciousness in to your consciousness and cognitively make the change, which takes work and takes discomfort.
But this is one of the leading factors in modern assessed “addictions”: Netflix, cell phones, video games, Pinterest, etc. They all light up your dopamine receptors and become conditioned behaviors and responses to unpleasant circumstances, just like alcohol, and you roll with it. You let your primitive brain take over and step out of consciousness.
When you’re living on conditioning, you’re living on autopilot. It’s the easy method of escaping your unpleasant circumstance with immediate gratification, rather than finding innate solitude and learning to allow discomfort as the price of lasting change and true pleasure. All things “addictive” are short-cuts to pleasure. That’s what the cave woman brain wants to do: seek pleasure and avoid pain. This is not a personality trait; this is how part of the human brain works for everyone.
The antidote to these behaviors is consciousness, presence, mindfulness, awareness. Putting your cognitive brain in charge as the CEO of your brain and recognizing you’ve been on your phone too long, you’ve eaten too much, you’ve drank too much and then finding out what in your life is creating the displeasure to which you’re escaping. These so-called addictions are simply escapes. Drinking is the symptom, not the disease. Excessive social media is a symptom. Excessive shopping is a symptom. Sugar is a symptom.
It’s about fixing your life so you no longer desire to escape. There are natural ups and downs in life that you can learn to accept or exacerbate with coping mechanisms like overdrinking. But by not letting your natural skills develop, you may overcome overdrinking just to turn to sugar. Or you may overcome overeating just to turn to overdrinking. This is not an addictive personality…this is not fixing the core. Not working on how to handle negative feelings and emotions. Not working on how to find the pleasure in delayed gratification. Not working on how to find gratitude in living by changing your perceptions.
If your mind is a miserable place to reside, there is no real escape because wherever you go, there you are. You can even take a lovely paradise-like vacation somewhere but it’s not going to feel like paradise if your cluttered mind is there with you. And you end up trying to resolve those inner disturbances by censoring your inner voice with alcohol. You want to find the tools to calm the mind so you’re not hopping from escape tool to escape tool to do it for you. This is part of my coaching is how to build the neglected ability we have innately to mentally escape. The real key to eliminating the desire to these dopamine triggers is your mind. And the term “addictive personality” is a marketing ploy and I want you to see through it.
Why? Why do I want you to see through it. Because when you accept labels like, we’ll I’m just an addict, or I just have an addictive personality, it’s complacency. It’s accepting that you don’t have the power or ability to create a life free from the weight of this burden. It’s like living with a Scarlett Letter, why would you want that? This label makes you powerless. This label is irresponsible. This label is fiction.
People that accept that there is something wrong about them or they have an addictive personality type walk around in this world with powerlessness and fear. They try to avoid all triggers in a world filled with triggers and live a very restrictive, isolated life. They fear being in the presence of people drinking and they fear having alcohol in the home.
They don’t trust themselves as if they’re powerless over their behavior so they try to control their exposure to the world. To accept that you’re a damaged human does create an inner disturbance. And you build a protective bubble around you to protect that inner disturbance. Michael Singer writes in his book The Untethered Soul about walking around with a thorn on your arm directly connected to a nerve. Let me read an excerpt here, Chapter 9, page 81 of the book.
This label becomes an inner disturbance and a thorn. As you accept that life is hard and develop a willingness to deal with it awake, aware, and present you actually start to fully live. You live a free, open life with the vulnerability to feel what’s real. You lose the fear to live.
I believe we’re humans trying to navigate the human condition. This is why I coach women to build their innate skills and wake up to the pre-programming established by our culture.
The important thing to remember is that your personality doesn’t determine your fate. You have everything you need to live a full life filled with joy and freedom. The first step is awareness of a pattern of behavior you want to change. Just by asking yourself whether you have an addictive personality, you’re on the right track but don’t believe the fiction.