Why can some people enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner, while others feel compelled to keep drinking? While it’s true that everyone has a different tolerance threshold, about 10-15 percent of the population has what is known as an addictive personality that makes them more vulnerable to developing unhealthy habits.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 21.5 million Americans aged 12 and older were found to have a substance use disorder in 2014. Out of this number, about 2.6 million people had an issue with alcohol and drugs, 4.5 million people had problems with drugs only, and 14.4 million people suffered from alcohol-related problems. However, addiction does not always come in the form of drugs and alcohol, and it can include unhealthy relationships with work, gambling, and even exercising.
To understand more thoroughly how certain people become addicted and why they are more vulnerable to developing an addiction, we need to take a closer look at the biology of addiction.
Addiction—itself—is a disease of the brain; it is not the level of willpower or lack of morals that someone has. When someone begins taking a certain drug or alcohol, the reward part of the brain is activated and a positive emotion is associated with the substance. In addition to alcohol and drugs like cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, people can also become addicted to prescription painkillers like opioids.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, about 18 million adult Americans have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This means that their drinking causes harm and distress to themselves and those close to them. Alcoholism is a disease that results in a strong craving for alcohol, loss of control over how much is consumed, physical dependence with withdrawal symptoms, and a tolerance which means that the person needs to increase intake to feel the same effect previously felt at lower levels of consumption.
Drug addiction can be in the form of a tobacco use disorder, opioid use disorder, cannabis use disorder, stimulant use disorder, and hallucinogen use disorder. When someone is suffering from a substance use disorder or a drug addiction, they develop a dependence on the drug and will continue to use the drug despite causing harm to one’s health, employment status, or personal relationships.
The brain is the most complex and dynamic organ in the human body. We need it to drive a car, enjoy a meal, and create an artistic masterpiece. There are different parts that are responsible for different functions, and when substances are introduced to the brain, they can alter these areas.
Addiction changes the brain’s natural balance, its homeostasis. This natural state of balance is required to maintain a well-functioning biological system. Each individual’s state of balance is unique and is affected differently by drugs and other influencers, and thus, causes some people to become addicted while others can prevent addiction from occurring more easily. Addiction, a chronic over-stimulation of the brain, interferes with the maintenance of this balance.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction also changes the brain’s chemistry, communication patterns, and the cerebral structures and functions. Drugs are chemicals that tap into the brain’s communication system and interfere with the way neurons send and receive messages. Drugs work directly with the reward system of the brain. They flood the circuit with dopamine, which is the “happy” neurotransmitter. When this reward system is overstimulated, it produces euphoric effects which strongly reinforce the use of drugs and urge the user to continue with the substance or harmful activity.
As drug use continues, the brain compensates the overwhelming surge in dopamine by producing less of it or reducing the number of receptors that can receive its signals. As a result, the person taking the drugs will experience a drastic drop in dopamine and their ability to experience any kind of pleasured is reduced. Someone who is suffering from an addiction may eventually feel lifeless, depressed, and will need to continue taking drugs or alcohol, or entertain another addictive activity, to try and bring their levels of dopamine back.
Someone suffering from an addiction will go out of their way to continue their drug use and experience the euphoric sensation of the dopamine surge; this results in changes in behavior and may cause a person to stop seeing friends, quit once-loved activities and hobbies, and neglect other personal responsibilities.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that biology, social environment, and a person’s stage of development affect their chances of developing addiction.
A person’s genes in combination with their environmental influences make up 50 percent of their sensitivity to addiction. Gender, ethnicity, and the presence of a mental disorder are also potential risks.
Influences from family and friends, socioeconomic status, and a person’s general quality of life are risk factors for addiction. Peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, stress, and the quality of parenting can influence someone to turn to drugs or alcohol.
Someone’s age and stage in life can be more or less affected by a temptation to experiment with drugs or alcohol. For example, adolescents are more vulnerable to substance abuse because of social influences and the parts of their brain that are still developing, such as decision-making, judgment, and self-control.
An impulsive behavior is defined as acting without thinking about the consequences of one’s actions. This may be something as simple as eating a large piece of cake when you’re on a diet, or staying out late partying when you know you have to wake up early for an important work meeting. Almost everyone succumbs to temptations sometimes; a person who engages in this type of behavior consistently is one who may be vulnerable to an addictive personality.
Do you know a person who seems to be driven by sensations, experiences, and new ways to get an adrenaline rush? This is the sensation-seeker and they may be more sensitive to developing addictions and substance or activity abuse problems. They are often more open to trying drugs since they have a constant desire for new experiences and are open to experimentation.
People who tend to value and prioritize not conforming with society and relevant pressures are possible candidates for addictive personalities. Someone who feels and voices a disconnect and disagreement with lifestyles, goals, and other ways of life that are traditionally valued by society may be less likely to notice when their use of a substance or activity is negatively impacting their life.
A person who doesn’t have a close group of friends or actively participates in social gatherings may be more tolerant of alienating themselves from society. If someone values nonconformity, for example, they may alienate themselves from others or naturally cause others to avoid them. A lack of social interactions may lead to a person feeling lonely and turning to drugs or alcohol for self-medication to relieve negative emotions.
Someone who suffers from low self-esteem may be more likely to try using drugs due to the confidence-boosting properties some substances provide. Stimulants like amphetamines and methamphetamines are used by many people for the false improvement of confidence in social situations. Therefore, people who lack self-esteem may be more tempted to start taking drugs to be better at socializing with others in the hopes of making friends and feeling accepted.
Compulsive behavior comes in the form of participating in activities regardless of any negative consequences they have. This sign of an addictive personality in particular is often the final to occur and results from the person having a combination of the previous traits listed above. Someone who is a sensation-seeker, values nonconformity, and who acts impulsively is more likely, for instance, to perform compulsive activities that can lead to an addiction.
Many people who display one or more of these traits may never suffer from an addiction, but the presence of one of these traits or a combination of them shows a vulnerability to addiction. For example, a sensation-seeker may be able to use drugs occasionally without becoming addicted because they are not impulsive and have supportive friendships. That is why a combination of these traits is the most indicative of an addictive personality.
If you feel that you or a loved one has an addictive personality, it is important to be aware of the situations that may cause you or another person to succumb to temptations that can have negative consequences. It is also important to understand that preventing addiction is completely possible.
If you are concerned about falling prey to addiction or you worry a loved one will, there are various sources you can look to for guidance. Treatment centers and therapists have worked with and helped many people with addictive personalities to live a fulfilling life and prevent addiction from ever occurring.
Even if you don’t suffer from a substance abuse problem, it is not always easy to go about it by yourself. Struggling with an addictive personality is not something you have to do on your own, and having support is one of the best ways people successfully achieve the life they want, addiction-free.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, adolescence is a critical time for preventing substance abuse. When people move from elementary to middle school, they are confronted with new and challenging social and school-related situations. Children are often first exposed to substances like alcohol and tobacco during this time. When children then transition to high school, they may have greater availability of drugs and may participate in activities where drugs are used.
Adolescence is the time in a person’s life when it is very important to fit in and feel accepted. Getting involved with drugs and alcohol may result from the desire to be liked. Other times of major transition are also when addiction is more likely to happen. For adults, it could be during college, while having to become financially independent, or at negative moments, such as during a divorce or the loss of a job.
If you struggle while dealing with life’s stressors, reach out and making an appointment with a stress-management professional who can help you get through times of struggle without turning to drugs or alcohol. Also, seek out support in close friendships and participate in hobbies you enjoy. There are many great ways to manage stress and cope with frustrations or difficulties with emotionally supportive relationships and a full schedule of activities.
Just because you may have an addictive personality doesn’t mean addiction is an inevitability for you. You simply do not have to fall prey to addiction and allow substances or harmful activities to take control over your life. If you would like support to help you manage your addictive personality or learn more about treatments if you currently struggle with substance abuse, contact the friendly staff at RehabCenter.net today. We are more than happy to help you achieve the addiction-free life you deserve.