6 Personality Traits Commonly Linked to Addiction

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Addiction Recovery Options  Personality Traits Linked to Substance Use

The risk factors for addiction are vast and complicated. Some people are genetically predisposed to substance abuse. They might have a history of addiction in their immediate family. Perhaps their mother is an alcoholic, or their father is a compulsive gambler. Other people develop substance use disorders after undergoing a traumatic event, or after experimenting with drugs and alcohol from a particularly young age. Some people pick up certain personality traits that make them more susceptible to the development of addiction. This article discusses which personality traits are commonly linked to addiction, and how to help prevent addiction from developing and how to effectively treat addictive disorders if they have already developed. However, it is important to understand that addiction is a complex medical condition, and it can be extremely difficult to pinpoint who is susceptible and who can safely use substances without developing a dependency.

If you or someone you love has been struggling with addiction, recovery is always possible. At Guardian Recovery we have developed an individualized and effective treatment program geared towards helping people of all ages overcome even the most severe and stubborn substance use disorders. To learn more about the development of addiction and the personality traits to keep an eye out for, contact us today.

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What is Addiction & How Does it Develop?

What exactly is addiction? Better understanding how addiction develops and how it affects the sufferer will better equip you to tackle the problem head on. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as, “A treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.” Once a person transitions from problem use to addiction, they lose all choice in how frequently or how much they use. They exhibit a specific set of diagnostic criteria, and they have an extremely difficult time stopping substance use on their own. In the vast majority of cases, professional treatment becomes necessary in order for lasting sobriety to be achieved.

What Makes Some People at Higher Risk of Addiction?

Why do some people develop addictive disorders while others can drink socially and use drugs recreationally with impunity? The answer is complicated. There are several distinct risk factors, including:

  • Genetic predisposition to addiction.
  • Underlying/untreated mental illness.
  • Unresolved trauma.
  • Environmental factors/consistently high stress levels.
  • The accessibility of chemical substances.
  • The age at which drugs and alcohol were first used.
  • Lack of parental supervision.
  • The presence of a specific personality trait.

While some of these risk factors can be prevented, like the accessibility of drugs and alcohol, others cannot be easily avoided. If a person has several of these unavoidable risk factors — like a family history of addiction or a personality trait that is very commonly linked to addiction — total abstinence is recommended. If you or someone you love has been using drugs or alcohol and is concerned about the development of a diagnosable substance use disorder, there are several telltale signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for.

Have I Been Struggling with an Addictive Disorder?

How can you tell if you or someone you love has been struggling from a substance use disorder and is in need of professional addiction treatment? There is a list of diagnostic criteria outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V). In order for addiction to be professionally diagnosed, two or more of the following symptoms must be present.

  • You have experienced interpersonal and social problems as a direct result of your substance use. Your personal relationships have become strained.
  • You have been neglecting your personal responsibilities and obligations as a result of your substance use.
  • You have used your substance of choice for longer than intended and in greater amounts than intended. You often use more than you set out to, and you struggle to stop once you have started.
  • You have been engaging in an increased amount of risk-taking behaviors, like driving while intoxicated or combining multiple chemical substances at one time.
  • You have repeatedly attempted to cut back or quit entirely, but you have been unable to do so for any significant period of time.
  • You spend a disproportionate amount of time obtaining your substance of choice, using this substance and recovering from its effects.
  • You have been neglecting activities you used to enjoy in lieu of your substance use. Hobbies have fallen by the wayside, and the majority of your free time is poured into obtaining and using your substance of choice.
  • You have developed a physical tolerance, meaning a greater amount of the substance is required in order for the desired effects to be produced.
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms — both physical and psychological — when you stop using your substance of choice abruptly.
  • You experience intense drug or alcohol cravings, which can be overwhelming and often lead to a continuation of use.
  • You have experienced physical and psychological consequences as a direct result of your substance use. Physical health issues vary significantly and can include liver disease, heart problems, certain types of cancer and physical injuries resulting from accidents that occurred while you were intoxicated.
  • Psychological consequences can include new and worsening psychiatric issues like anxiety and/or depression.

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What is an Addictive Personality

The term “addictive personality” is often used flippantly, and it implies that a person may be predisposed to developing a substance use disorder based on their personality type. But it is not that simple. There isn’t one single personality type that automatically indicates a potential for addiction. There are, however, a few distinct personality traits that are common among people who struggle with substance use disorder. Some people struggle with perfectionism, for example. They have a hard time coming to terms with their human fallibility. They spend a great deal of time worrying about how their actions are perceived by others, and they have a deep desire to do things perfectly. The desire to be perfect becomes overwhelming, and in order to assuage intrusive thoughts and self-criticism a person might turn to drugs or alcohol.

There are 6 specific personality traits commonly linked to addiction. If a person exhibits one or more of these traits, they are more likely to develop a substance use disorder at some point during their lives. To learn more about the risk factors for addiction, the personality traits linked to addiction, or what steps to take if you believe you or someone you love has been suffering at the hands of a substance use disorder, contact Guardian Recovery today.

6 Personality Traits Commonly Linked to Addiction

1. Low Self-Esteem.

How we view ourselves has a significant impact on how we interact with other people and with the world around us. People with low self-esteem and self-worth feel like they are not worthy of success and happiness, which can negatively impact every single aspect of their lives. Many people who struggle with low self-esteem will use substances because drugs and alcohol offer a temporary solution to negative feelings. However, people who abuse chemical substances often engage in a variety of behaviors that do little to bolster their self-esteem — they lie, they manipulate, they steal from their loved ones, they have an extremely difficult time keeping up with personal responsibilities. Low self-esteem can develop for a number of reasons. Maybe a person experienced a traumatic event that made them feel worthless. Maybe they were abused or neglected during childhood; maybe they struggled with a learning disability or they were picked on in school. If you have been struggling with low self-esteem, there are steps you can take to improve your self-image without turning to drugs and alcohol.

2. Grandiosity.

An unrealistic sense of self-importance can also indicate the eventual development of addictive behavior. People who exhibit grandiose behavior might appear pretentious to other people. They often view themselves as special and superior to others. However, grandiosity is often used as a defense mechanism for people to cover up their feelings of low self-worth and fear of expressing vulnerability. The American Psychiatric Association defines grandiosity as, “an exaggerated sense of one’s greatness, importance, or ability. In extreme form, it may be regarded as a delusion of grandeur.” Many people with a grandiose personality suffer from an underlying mental health concern like Narcissistic personality disorder or the manic state which coincides with Bipolar Disorder. The more common symptoms of grandiosity include:

  • Feeling special compared to other people.
  • Feeling invincible and constantly safe from things that might harm other people.
  • Feeling extremely powerful and capable of accomplishing great things.
  • An inability to see personal role in conflict.
  • Constantly feeling misunderstood by others/more intelligent than others.
  • A lack of empathy.
  • Being self-absorbed and preoccupied with self.

If a person feels invincible and incapable of being harmed, they will have a difficult time coming to terms with their substance use. They might believe their use of chemical substances is unproblematic, or feel as if they personally won’t develop a substance use disorder. Like other detrimental personality traits, grandiosity can be effectively treated with intensive therapeutic intervention.

3. Impulsivity.

Impulsive behavior refers to the tendency to act with little or no forethought or consideration of the consequences. Evidence shows that impulsivity indicates the escalation of drug intake and increases the likelihood of relapse after periods of abstinence. This suggests there could be an impact on brain function that predisposes an individual to impulsive behavior and addiction. Impulsivity is thought to be one of the most common traits, if not the most common trait, among people who struggle with addiction. Impulsivity is closely linked to instant gratification; impulsive people want to feel pleasure in the present moment instead of setting goals which might lead to long-term success and happiness.

There are many different ways a person might exhibit impulsive behavior. The most common examples of impulsive behavior include:

  • Eating an excessive amount in one sitting/binge eating.
  • Driving recklessly and engaging in other risk-taking activities.
  • Going on spending sprees/spending money regardless of financial standing.
  • Shoplifting or stealing from friends or relatives.
  • Getting involved in extreme sports which could lead to accidents or injury.
  • Destroying the personal property of others.
  • Getting into fights with people seemingly without reason.

Most of us engage in impulsive behavior on occasion. We might spend a significant amount of money on something without thinking about whether or not we can actually afford the purchase. We might make a split-second decision to go on a trip; we might agree to go skydiving, or engage in a sexual encounter with a person we just met. Someone who struggles with persistent impulsivity, however, is more inclined to engage in substance use and develop a diagnosable substance use disorder over time.

4. Compulsivity.

A compulsion is an intense urge to do something. Compulsivity can lead to self-destructive behavioral patterns, including substance use. This specific personality trait refers to a tendency to repeat the same, typically purposeless or harmful acts, which are often associated with negative consequences. Examples of compulsive behavior include:

  • Excessive exercise.
  • Gambling.
  • Hoarding.
  • Shopping.
  • Overeating.
  • Sexual acts.

Most compulsive behaviors can lead to addiction, and because of this, the line between compulsivity and addiction is often blurred. For example, the terms compulsive gambling and gambling addiction are often used interchangeably. If a person compulsively uses chemical substances for a prolonged period of time, they are often considered to be dependent. They have lost all choice in whether or not they use; the urge to pick up becomes overpowering, and can only be remedied with an extended stay in a professional treatment program.

5. Nonconformity.

Many people who struggle with addiction often pride themselves on being nonconformists. If a person struggles with nonconformist personality traits they spend a great deal of time making sure they are different from others. While marching to the beat of your own drum can be an admirable quality, placing disproportionate importance on being different can lead to social isolation, reclusiveness and self-destructive behavior. The need to rebel against social norms can drive a person to break the rules, ultimately endangering themselves and others. If a person with a nonconformist personality type becomes addicted to a chemical substance, it is extremely important for underlying nonconformity to be addressed in a treatment setting. If this specific personality trait is left unaddressed it can pose significant challenges when it comes to maintaining sobriety long-term. The dangers of nonconformity in addiction recovery include:

  • Difficulty developing deep and meaningful relationships with other sober people.
  • Straying away from the guidelines included in Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step programs.
  • A refusal to take advantage of existing resources. Many people who struggle with nonconformity repeatedly attempt to “reinvent the wheel.”
  • Developing a sense of “terminal uniqueness.” A person might believe they are different from their peers in the context of addiction recovery; they might believe what works for other people will not work for them.
  • Refusing to learn from the experiences of other people in recovery.

If a person struggles with a nonconformist personality type, they can often overcome false beliefs about self with extended involvement in individual psychotherapy.

6. The Inability to Handle Stress.

People who are unable to cope with stress in healthy ways may turn to substances as a means of self-medication. Without the skills necessary to manage stress effectively, high stress levels inevitably continue, leading to a vicious cycle of substance use. A person who lacks the healthy coping mechanisms to handle stress in productive ways might:

  • Withdraw from friends and family members.
  • Spend countless hours distracting themselves from their current circumstances, which might look like binge-watching television, exercising compulsively or overworking.
  • Sleep excessively.
  • Change eating patterns, which can lead to weight loss or weight gain.
  • Lash out at other people in violent, angry and seemingly unprovoked outbursts.
  • Engage in self-harming behaviors.
  • Use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to numb out negative feelings.

At Guardian Recovery we focus on helping each and every one of our clients develop the healthy coping mechanisms they need to effectively manage stress.

How to Work Through Character Defects in Recovery

Just because you have a certain personality trait, it does not mean you are doomed to struggle with this trait for the rest of your life. Of course, in order to overcome any obstacle in life you will need to put forth adequate effort. If you have been struggling with low self-esteem, an inability to handle stress, compulsive behavior patterns or any other self-defeating trait, there is help available. In many cases a person can overcome these personality traits and many others with the help of a therapist. In some cases, therapy is not enough — this is typically the case if a person has been struggling with an underlying and undiagnosed mental illness. In cases like these medication might be necessary.

At Guardian Recovery we focus on providing an individualized approach to recovery. As therapists gain a better understanding of each client, they learn which aspects of their personalities might require some adjustment. Over the course of our multi-staged treatment process therapists work intensively with each client, helping them successfully overcome everything that might be keeping them stuck in self-destructive behavioral patterns. Contact us today to learn more.

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Contact Us to Learn More About Addiction Recovery

If you or someone you love has been struggling with substance abuse or dependence, Guardian Recovery is available to help. When it comes to addiction recovery we believe in taking an integrated approach, tackling the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual consequences of active addiction simultaneously. We focus on comprehensive healing and individualized care. Each of our clients is assigned a case manager, who works with the treatment team in developing a unique, personalized recovery program. In most cases this program includes a short stay in an inpatient detox center, followed by an immediate transition into a higher level of care. While residential inpatient treatment often comes recommended, a client might opt to transition into a partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient treatment. One of our main priorities is ensuring everyone who needs professional treatment has access to the care they require. In order to make our treatment options as accessible as possible, we have developed a treatment program that is simple, straightforward and can be completed over the phone in minutes. Simply contact us today, either over the phone or directly through our website, and we will take care of the rest.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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