There’s so much stigma surrounding addiction that it’s not surprising that much of the “information” available about it is really misinformation. Often, the things we think we know about the topic are just myths that have been repeated so often they’ve gained the ring of truth. This is especially true when it comes to the idea of the “addictive personality.” We hear this used to justify everything from an evening spent binge-watching Netflix to a friend’s alcohol dependence, but when it comes to “addictive personalities,” what we think we know may be entirely fictional.
Myth: There is a Single “Addictive Personality Type”
Truth: Though there are traits that many people with addictions share, there is no universal personality type that predisposes a person to developing an addiction. Caring wives and husbands can be addicts as easily as social outcasts. What those with addictions do share, however, is a loss of control to their addictions. This is what separates true addicts from those who jokingly claim they are addicted to chocolate or coffee. When a substance or activity begins to negatively influence your behaviors and your feelings about those behaviors, it’s time to consult an addiction specialist
Myth: Addiction is a Result of Weak Character
Truth: This is another common myth that has no basis in fact. addiction does not develop due to a lack of self-control or willpower. In fact, the reverse is true: an addiction is what causes a loss of self-control, often due to the physical dependence of the brain and body on the addictive substance. By definition, an addiction is not a habit that can simply be broken by firm resolve. Though the quality of a person’s character has no impact on whether he or she develops an addiction, there are traits that can act as predictors, such as compulsiveness and limited coping mechanisms. If you are concerned that your feelings or behavior may lead you to experiment with addictive substances, a licensed therapist can help you address them before they become problems
Myth: People with “Addictive Personalities” Have Multiple Addictions
Truth: There’s a stereotype of the “addictive personality” causing someone to become dependent on everything from chocolate and coffee to alcohol and heroin. This is simply not the case. According to Maia Szalavitz, author of Unbroken Brain, only about half of people with an addiction have two or more at once. Those recovering from addiction are more likely to form new dependencies, however. Often, an addiction leaves a void in one’s life, which is most easily filled by other addictive behaviors. This would explain some of the myths surrounding this aspect of “addictive personalities.”
Myth: People with Addictions have Criminal Tendencies
Truth: Because of the attention that illegal drug addiction gets, it’s easy to assume that people with addictions have a personality that predisposes them to be criminals. And in extreme cases, addicts may turn to various illegal activities in a desperate attempt to feed their habit. The vast majority of addictions, however, are to legal substances or activities, such as tobacco, alcohol, and shopping. Often, those with addictions feel ashamed of their behavior and of their inability to control it. This may lead them to lie to friends and family, reinforcing the idea that they are inherently untrustworthy. It is important to realize, however, that having an addiction does not itself make someone into a criminal. Those struggling with addiction already face enough stigma without adding false accusations of crime.
Myth: Genetics is the Single Most Important Factor in Addictive Tendencies
Truth: One of the most harmful myths regarding an “addictive personality” is that it is something a person is born with and is no more subject to change than height or eye color. This attitude completely disregards the role that a person’s environment plays, as well as robbing them of personal responsibility. It’s true that as with other illnesses, there are genetic traits that can lead a person toward addiction. However, there is no guarantee that a family history of addiction will be “passed down,” and a lack of such a history does not protect someone from developing an addiction. Regardless of family history, it is important to seek good role models and adopt healthy coping mechanisms, especially for children and young adults. This will help them build resilience and make them less susceptible to addictive behavior.
While it may be convenient to explain away addictions with a personality disorder, the truth is much more complex. addiction is an illness, but not one that always arises from the same causes. According to The Lakes Treatment Center, one of the leading predictors of addiction treatment success is the support of caring and understanding loved ones. If you or someone you know is facing addiction, it is important to know that it is not an inherent part of who you are. When you’re ready to overcome your addiction, a specialist can help you find ways to cope and move forward.