Is There Such a Thing as an Addictive Personality?
Updated: Oct 8, 2020
And if so, what is it?
We have all heard someone say, "I just have an addictive personality." The first time I heard that phrase, I was in college. I can't remember exactly what my friend was talking about, but I think it was Candy Crush. He couldn't download gaming apps because that would be all he did for days. The phrase "addictive personality" stuck with me.
When he said that to me, I recently recovered from my eating disorder, and other addictions started to creep into my life. I always had a six-pack of alcohol in the house, and I couldn't go a day without exercising. Granted, I was probably a little paranoid; my eating disorder had sabotaged my life, and I didn't want anything else too. Hearing there might be an explanation for my struggles piqued my interest.
Is there such a thing as an addictive personality? There are two studies I want to examine. To understand some of this research, we must first understand personality traits. Both studies in this area use the Big Five personality traits. So we will examine them first.
Summary of Big Five Personality Traits
The Big Five personality traits are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. They are often abbreviated OCEAN or CANOE. Initially discovered in the 1980s, the Big Five didn't become popular until the late 2000s to 2010s.
Openness refers to the curiosity and adventurous nature of a person. A person high in openness is often considered an intellectual, an artist, or a creative. They want to learn about the world around them and have a multitude of interests. A person low in openness likes the status quo. They don't like change and often don't wander far from home. They struggle with creative activities or abstract concepts.
Conscientiousness refers to the organization, productiveness, and responsibility of a person. A person high in conscientiousness can control their impulses and are incredibly thoughtful. They live in the moment and have a heightened understanding of how their actions and behaviors affect others. A person low in conscientiousness has a difficult time staying on task, being organized, and focusing on a goal. They don't like schedules and have a hard time seeing how their actions affect others.
Extroversion refers to how sociable or outgoing a person is; the opposite is introversion. It describes a person's assertiveness, comfort level in social situations, and emotional expression. A person high in extroversion is more assertive and outgoing. They thrive at social gatherings and don't have a problem expressing their feelings. A person low in extroversion avoids social situations because they are draining. They have a hard time with small talk and are more comfortable listening to others.
Agreeableness refers to how compassionate, trustworthy, affectionate, and respectful a person is. A person high in agreeableness is comfortable being kind and friendly to others. People consider them cooperative and reliable. A person low in agreeableness is manipulative, competitive, and uncooperative.
Neuroticism refers to how prone a person is to depression, anxiety, or mood swings. A person high in neuroticism is considered emotionally unstable. Others see them as moody, irritable, and anxious. A person low in neuroticism is emotionally stable and considered resilient.
Addictive Personality Studies
According to Personality Profiles of Substance and Behavioral Addictions (Study 1), people with addictions share two traits: high neuroticism and impulsivity. Though individual addictions have distinct personalities. Alcoholics also showed low extroversion, agreeableness, and openness. Drug addicts and those with compulsive sexual behavior also scored low on agreeableness and conscientiousness. While gambling addicts had similar profiles to the control group. Overall, the study suggests that addictions may stem from personal development processes.
According to Big Five personality traits and alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, and gambling disorder comorbidity (Study 2), a person high in neuroticism, low in agreeableness, and low in conscientiousness is associated with all addictive disorders studied. This suggests that these Big Five traits - neuroticism, agreeableness, and conscientiousness - are related to developing an addiction and may provide proof for an addictive personality type.
These concepts are relatively new and require more research. These studies were conducted in the past two years (2018 and 2019) and aren't considered proven theories yet. To be proven or generally accepted as fact, the study must be replicated multiple times with similar results. That said, these initial studies pave the way for further research. They also open a lot of doors in this area of study and for addiction recovery.
Is there such a thing as an addictive personality? Yes.
Do we know the details of that personality? No.
What does this mean for eating disorders? An eating disorder is considered a behavioral disorder or a behavioral addiction. Since these studies don't account for eating disorders, compared to those with compulsive sexual behavior or gambling addiction will have to suffice.
Study 1 says that compulsive sexual behavior individuals have distinct personality traits, but gambling addicts don't. Study 1 and 2 show a correlation between high neuroticism and addiction. No conclusion can safely be made about eating disorders, but it's probably safe to hypothesize high neuroticism has something to do with addiction.
If you have an eating disorder, you are more likely to be emotionally unstable. Which is me, for sure! Without taking the test, I can tell you I am high in openness and conscientiousness, average in extraversion and agreeableness, and high in neuroticism. I have always had problems with my emotions, explicitly feeling too deeply. Though it's anecdotal evidence, I can attest that high neuroticism leads to eating disorders.
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