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Although some addiction experts would likely reject the notion of contributing addiction to an “addictive personality,” individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) may demonstrate particular personality traits. More influential factors include a person’s family history and genetics. Being aware of the things that predispose a person and increase their risk of developing SUD can aid in stopping the cycle of addiction in families. Psychoeducation and family therapy are critical elements of effective treatment at facilities like West Coast Recovery Centers.

Can Someone Have an Addictive Personality? 

The general consensus is that a person struggling with substance use should not be labeled as having an addictive personality. This can actually cause more harm than good, even if the intention is to highlight that the person’s behavior is concerning. 

For instance, telling a good friend who consumed too much alcohol that they have an addictive personality may actually reinforce their behavior. If their love for alcohol is a part of “who they are,” they might see this as an excuse to keep drinking. What is meant to be a suggestion to make a change could also be taken as a painful jab, making them feel hopeless about changing. Developing an accepting attitude toward alcohol abuse as a result of the assumptions of others can prevent a person from looking for professional treatment. 

Meeting Somewhere in the Middle 

At the same time, some research indicates that certain traits may have a hand in SUDs, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Impulsivity
  • Blame-shifting
  • Nonconformity
  • Sensation seeking
  • Breaks social rules
  • Low tolerance for stress

The results of one study found patterns between certain types of addiction and personality traits. For instance, individuals with SUD and compulsive sexual behavior scored low on questionnaires that measured how agreeable and conscientious they are. The researchers concluded, “Different addictions may, to some extent, stem from distinct processes that are involved in personality development.” 

Disclaimer

It is important to highlight that studies tend to find associations between traits and addiction rather than causation. Conclusions made about individuals who get stressed out easily or enjoy new experiences are likely to be incorrect. Instead, this information is better used to alert a person with a particular trait to be careful around substances.  

What Role Does Genetics Play?

To attribute addiction to personality alone would reduce the disease to a simple issue. The current understanding is that SUDs are influenced by biological, environmental, and social factors. Genetic factors are a leading contributor, accounting for approximately 40-60% of a person’s vulnerability. Environmental and social factors, such as having grown up in poverty and experiencing violence, can interact to alter gene expression (i.e., epigenetics). These changes can be passed down in families. 

Oftentimes, addiction is hereditary. If one relative has a substance use problem, there is a good chance they are not the only one. The cycle of addiction can afflict multiple generations. 

Some Specific Examples

Multiple genes have been identified in animal studies on addiction risk. A piece by the University of Utah titled The Science of Addiction: Genetics and the Brain explains that some genes cause the body to process alcohol abnormally. Individuals that have a certain variation experience symptoms like nausea and a fast heart rate when they drink. This could be a protective factor because it could turn them away from drinking. Other genes influence the number of dopamine receptors in the brain. Those with fewer receptors may be more prone to alcohol, cocaine, and heroin addiction.

Variations in other genes have been found to result in: 

  • Cells having a higher sensitivity to nicotine
  • Higher rates of drinking alcohol when stressed 
  • The rewarding effects from cocaine not being as strong
  • Higher chance of alcohol dependence and opioid use disorder
  • Withdrawal effects from alcohol and sedative-hypnotics that are not as severe
  • Differences in the blood-brain barrier that cause greater sensitivity to cocaine 

Why Might the Family Need Therapy? 

How personality traits are involved in addiction is a critical area being studied. However, genetics and family life play a much larger role. Consequently, relatives would benefit from having a discussion regarding their predisposition, particularly if there is a family member currently in need of or seeking treatment. 

The family is typically encouraged to become involved in the recovery process of their loved one. Through psychoeducation and family therapy, relatives learn about the short and long-term implications of the addiction, how it is treated, and what individuals can do to provide support. The family can also come to understand their own risk of addiction and how to protect themselves. 

Certain personality traits are associated with the development of substance use disorder; however, it is not clear if they can consistently predict addiction risk. The contributions of genetics and family history are better understood. West Coast Recovery Centers is an addiction treatment facility located in Oceanside, CA. We offer high-quality care to those seeking help for substance use disorders and co-occurring diagnoses. Intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization are our core services. There are a number of reasons that family is encouraged to be a part of their loved one’s recovery, one of them being the reality that other members of the household could pose a risk to themselves and the client in treatment. Family dynamics and supportive behaviors are discussed to ensure the client has the best chance of success following treatment. Let us help your family find long-term solutions to substance abuse. Call us at (760) 492-6509 today.

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