There’s a popular belief that some people have what is known as an addictive personality. Maybe they go from one obsessive hobby to another or maybe they quit drinking only to become addicted to exercise, religion, or food. Although addiction may seem to characterize their personality, research seems to indicate that there is no single addictive personality. Many different kinds of people develop substance use disorders as a result of many different factors, including genetic predisposition, mental health issues, and trauma. Typically, when someone moves from one addictive behavior to another, what you’re really seeing is someone with an untreated mental health issue who is trading one coping mechanism for another. Although there is no single addictive personality, there are two primary personality traits that affect your risk of experiencing addiction.
Neuroticism is one of the five traits in the Big 5 model of personality commonly used by psychologists. Openness to experience, extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness are the remaining four. Specifically, Neuroticism is the measure of one’s tendency to experience challenging emotions such as anxiety, self-consciousness, emotional instability, anger, irritability, and depression. It is one of the personality traits most validated by research, as well as being the only trait having primarily negative effects on your life. People who score high in neuroticism are far more likely to have anxiety disorders, mood disorders, substance use disorders, and eating disorders. Mood instability and propensity toward challenging emotions often lead people with high neuroticism to use drugs and/or alcohol to cope.
Unfortunately, if you do score high in neuroticism, there isn’t a lot you can do about it. Your best defense is through working with a therapist to resolve childhood trauma, implement positive lifestyle changes, better regulate emotions, and develop behavioral strategies to reduce the negative effects of neuroticism.
Conscientiousness is another trait that significantly influences your addiction risk but in the other direction. If you’re more conscientious, you’re less likely to struggle with substance use. Conscientiousness is your tendency to be organized, goal-oriented, and focused. People with higher levels of conscientiousness tend to care more about following rules and social norms and meeting obligations. Consequently, these individuals tend to demonstrate more self-control and less impulsivity, resulting in limited exposure to drugs and/or alcohol abuse and creating a “high bottom” for substance use in general. One study of more than 7000 people found individuals high in conscientiousness to be less likely to develop substance use disorders, even if they were also high in neuroticism.
As with neuroticism, conscientiousness is hard to change. However, since conscientiousness is more directly related to behavior, you can affect it more directly. Part of recovering from addiction is the commitment to making healthy lifestyle changes, creating healthy routines, and developing behavioral strategies to help you make smarter decisions. Simultaneous work with a therapist to help you better cope with challenging emotions promotes sustained lifestyle changes and supports the recovery process. Change isn’t easy, but if you commit to the consistent effort, change is possible and we can help. Tree House Recovery of Portland, Oregon is a holistic addiction treatment program that helps men create better lives. Call us today at (503) 850-2474 to learn more about our program.