Any discussion of addiction will invariably mention that someone has an "addictive personality." But despite this cultural ubiquity, there is little agreement in the scientific community of what exactly constitutes such a personality.
It is not a recognized condition, and diagnostic manuals do not have a standard list of criteria for it. Nevertheless, there are some behavioral and emotional characteristics that seem to predispose a person to addiction of one form or another.
These addictive personality characteristics include the following:
- A general sense of alienation from the social world. This can manifest itself as a predilection for social deviance or as a lack of intimacy. The inability to establish meaningful interpersonal connections can be seen as the result of a fear that such connections are undeserved.
- Inability to delay gratification. Along with a tendency toward impulsive behavior, those with "addictive personalities" have trouble escaping the temptation of sensations and experience in the here and now. Instant gratification allows a compulsive person to feel in control of life, while ironically removing that control from the person.
- Lack of stress management skills. A lack of coping skills leads a person to require drugs or alcohol to deal with the stressful events of one's life. Again ironically, this dependence on outside intervention reflects a relinquishment of power over one's life. Even if the person recognizes that the addictive substance provides only a false sense of worth, he or she will take that feeling of worth from any source.
- Unduly valuing non-conformity. The addictive individual may see him or herself as bravely fighting on the side of the underdog. This stems from an inherent distrust of the criteria for success laid out by society.
- Stressful periods in life. Adolescence and other major changes over the course of a life (leaving for college, starting a family, etc.) may cause a person to seek a new way of dealing with the anxiety of the unknown. This leads to higher levels addiction.
Part of the difficulty in establishing definitive addictive personality characteristics is the related difficulty of adequately defining addiction itself. Some say addiction includes any self-destructive compulsive behavior, while others argue that addiction can only be properly described using the object of the addiction, and generalizable rules are coincidental at best.
While it's true that there is no single set of criteria that will prove 100 percent accurate in predicting the development of addictions, but understanding very broadly the kinds of things that have lead others to addiction can inform your own self-examination, and alert you to the possibility of being more likely to end up dependent on some drug or behavior.