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Treating Individuals With Addictive Personalities

The discussion of addictive personalities remains a topic that causes disagreements among medical professionals. Some don’t believe the condition exists, and others vary concerning which characteristics define the personality type. However, there are a number of behaviors and emotional factors that serve as a basis for a possible diagnosis.

Characteristics of Addictive Personalities

* Impulsive behavior involves the consistent need to experience instant gratification. Whether related to eating, participating in a new activity, making purchases or engaging in substance abuse, someone having addictive personality disorder feels powerful impulses to satisfy himself right now, which causes a sudden rush of excitement. While some believe that fulfilling the need allows for exercising control of the moment, the action actually shows what little control such an individual has.

* An inability to commit to goals or values is similar to having a short attention span. The need to act on sudden impulses causes addictive persons to drop whatever thought process or activity they may be currently engaged in to get satisfaction from something else.

* Constant anxiety or stress comes from many facets of the personality. Someone might regret a particular impulsive action. He may feel stress when judged by others. He might feel guilt for substance use. Additionally, addicts generally have a lack of coping skills to deal with the obstacles of everyday life, which often serves as the trigger that influences someone to turn to alcohol or drugs as an escape. Having to depend on a chemical substance for relief further demonstrates a lack of control over circumstances or life.

* Habitually antisocial behavior may also take many forms. Some hopscotch from one social group to another while never really establishing long-lasting relationships. Others may have a pattern of avoiding social settings all together secondary to feeling fearful that they truly don’t deserve to have relationships. In the end, people living with this disorder suffer from loneliness.

* Poor self-esteem or negative self-image combined with a pattern of mood swings is typical of someone having compulsive and impulsive behaviors. After the initial thrill of satisfying a craving wears thin, regret settles in when faced with the realization of the consequences of the action.

While any one of these symptoms may apply to most people at one time or another, addictive people typically display multiple symptoms on a continual basis.

The Increased Risk of Substance Use Among These Individuals

A debate also exists over whether addictive personalities develop because of biological, environmental or psychological factors. Studies indicate that someone having parents suffering an addiction are 70 percent more likely to engage in addictive behaviors. However, whether the addiction occurs because of inheritance or social habit remains unclear. Some believe addictions are part of innate personality traits.

According to some psychologists, psychological traits that prevent someone from handling stress effectively lead to escape through addiction. However, whether caused by the environment, genetics or a learning process, the personality carries the burden of many negative feelings and thought processes. In an effort to alleviate the negativity, these individuals attempt to self-soothe through impulsive or compulsive behaviors that often lead to addiction. Unfortunately, the gratification typically leads to more negativity and thus, the cycle continues.

In addition to the adrenaline rush experienced by satisfying a desire, more complex reactions on a chemical level occur in the brain that ultimately lead to substance addiction. Addiction is part of a learning process. Feelings of pleasure happen when dopamine levels in the brain rise. Dopamine interacts with another neurotransmitter known as glutamate. However, these two chemicals are also responsible for memory, motivation and learning. When chemical substances stimulate these circuits, overload occurs, which the brain confuses with liking the substance to wanting or needing it. This is how cravings are born.

When the addicted individual enters a specific location, socializes with certain people or comes in contact with a particular substance, the brain triggers a pleasant memory of an event associated with substance use. The person then becomes tempted to use the alcohol or drug of choice. Someone with an addictive personality naturally succumbs to the need of the moment and gets rewarded through the release of hormones and neurotransmitters.

In time, the brain recognizes that the overflow of chemicals is abnormal. The reward response may produce anywhere from two to 10 times the normal level of neurotransmitters. In an attempt to correct the problem, neurons release fewer chemicals. Receptor sites become blocked or eliminated and tolerance occurs. The same amount of alcohol or drugs no longer produces the desired pleasurable effect. At this point, compulsion kicks in.

While a memory continues triggering the desired effect, the pleasure is no longer produced. Addicts must then take higher doses or use the substance more frequently to feel high. Nevertheless, as the brain continues fighting to function normally, neurotransmitting chemicals continue declining and fall below normal levels. The addict must then get a fix just to bring chemical compounds up to a normal level. The increasing amounts of substance required can also lead to overdose.

Methods of Treating Those With Addictive Personalities

Effective treatment for people with addictive personalities must address the personality disorder and the addiction. Depending on the type of substance use and the seriousness of the addiction, the first step often requires that the person undergo detoxification. As the experience is typically considered an unpleasant period accompanied by a series of physical and psychological symptoms, detox is especially traumatizing to individuals suffering from an addictive personality. These clients then not only require possible medical intervention, but also continual emotional and psychological support to ensure completion of the treatment phase. In this case, the individual may benefit from anti-anxiety medications along with formulations that help minimize uncomfortable physical effects.

Through therapy and counseling, individuals gain knowledge of the personality traits along with the factors causing the addiction. With guidance, these people learn to identify real needs and more constructive methods of gaining satisfaction, solving problems or dealing with stress. If the individual doesn’t receive treatment for the underlying cause of the behavior, though free from substance addiction, the person will likely turn to another type of behavior to gain gratification. The person learns to control the behavior while gaining an understanding of the reasons behind the need when he can finally recognize the need for instant reward.

Using individual and group therapy, experienced addiction specialists introduce a variety of individualized treatment methods. Some of the more common techniques include cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step methods and moral recognition. Various treatment facilities also offer supplemental types of treatment that may include holistic approaches, nutritional counseling, exercise programs, acupuncture, massage or osteopathic manipulation. Individuals also commonly attend lectures and workshops dealing with an array of topics related to addiction and substance abuse.

During the course of treatment, individuals must come to identify what triggers fuel the need for getting high. They then must avoid these situations. While addictive people want instant results, they must also learn to change thought processes and realize that recovery and total healing takes time. Setbacks may occur along the way. However, equipped with a sufficient amount of knowledge and the proper skills, these individuals may then move forward. Addicts must also learn to forgive themselves for their mistakes. Some need to forgive others for causing emotional, psychological or physical pain. Addicts additionally learn the importance of honesty in terms of acknowledging the addiction, the personality disorder and often buried pain. Lying to oneself and to others or continually resorting to excuses only keeps individuals imprisoned within the vicious cycle of addiction.

Relapse Prevention and Recovery Maintenance

Before completing treatment at a facility of choice, addiction team members and clients must devise outpatient recovery plans that include establishing a support network. For someone with addictive personality disorder, this means healing relationships with family members and learning to create safe friendships. These individuals must admit that they’re powerless over their addictions. Some choose to relinquish control to a higher power.

Addicts need to learn to trust and love themselves while finding a means of building and bolstering self-esteem. Individuals also benefit by participating in community activities. This may mean attending weekly community-based addiction recovery meetings, going to church or taking part in any type of group activity. People with addictive personalities must learn to reach within themselves and out to others in an effort to receive healthier rewards.

The leading cause for relapse during the first one or two years after completing treatment involves having a lack of the necessary recovery and social skills needed to maintain sobriety. They must avoid triggers and actively develop altered thought processes, feelings and behaviors that lead to better outcomes. By putting these new skills into play, addicts are better equipped to deal with stress and problems. Individuals must formulate goals and work toward achievement. Recovery also requires ongoing personality changes as needed.

Using a method known as self-actualization, individuals determine if goals or values are worth keeping or need discarding. Lifelong recovery requires continual growth and development. Without the proper support network to talk about problems or learn from others, individuals have a greater likelihood of getting stuck and relapsing. Confidence may suffer when these individuals are confronted with an emotional, psychological or physical obstacle, which may prevent them from taking the necessary action. However, with the ongoing support of others, addicts resist the urge to lapse back into denial and make the wrong decision to bypass the problem.

If someone recognizes that he has an addictive, compulsive or impulsive personality and is tired of living with substance abuse and addiction, the individual should seek help. Learn where to turn to take the first step in leading a healthier life by calling the helpline at 844-806-6511. Trained counselors answer calls any time of the day or night and have the knowledge necessary to guide individuals toward getting the help they need.


Our articles are written by individuals who have seen addiction up close. They may have watched addiction take a toll on someone they loved or had their own battles with substances, and they write for us to spare others some of that pain and confusion. If you find these writings useful and would like to speak to someone who gets addiction, call us at (844) 826-1700.

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