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Do you have an addictive personality?

By Cathy Comerford
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

A quick search on the internet on this question brings up a host of quizzes to try out on yourself to see if you fit a type which may be more prone to addictions than others.

Clearly it's a question that worries people and finding the answer to this question may, they hope, help them avoid some of the consequences of addictive behaviour.

Anxiety, depression, and social alienation are often associated with being an addict though it could be argued that these are more consequences of addiction than evidence of a personality type.

So does an addictive personality exist?

"The interesting thing about it is there isn't an addictive personality," says Dr Henriette Bowden-Jones, spokesperson for behavioural addiction for the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

"People have been trying to find it forever. Although it could be a curse on some people to know they have got it, other people might have their lives saved by knowing that they have got it," she says.

But while no clear description of an addictive personality exists, she says, there are some traits that can be identified which are "primary indicators" in addiction.

Impulsivity at a young age is a clear way of knowing that a person is going to develop addictions in adulthood, say Dr Bowden-Jones.

"Impulsivity in young people is higher anyway because of the late maturation of the frontal lobe - the frontal lobe is the brakes that stop you from following your instincts. So young people take more risks and use drugs and drink.

"As they get older a lot of people mature out of it. But in our addictive population we see much higher levels of impulsivity than the general population." Says Dr Bowden-Jones.

The other clear factor in identifying addicts, she says, is the inability to delay gratification.

"People with an addictive tendency go for the smaller immediate rewards rather than longer term greater rewards. They are the people who may not stay in in the evenings studying for their degree because they want to go to the party," Dr Bowden-Jones says.

Clinical director for addiction for the Priory Group, Dr Richard Bowskill agrees that an addictive personality type does not really exist.

"People get into addiction for all types of reasons. People may have trauma or abuse issues and they find that their substance - alcohol or cocaine - provides a solution. When they start feeling more normal when they are using than when they are not using, that's a sign of addiction."

Traits, which he says are often associated with addiction are impulsive risk-taking, compulsive obsessional type behaviour or high anxiety - a characteristic which can be inherited, he says.

"A thrill-seeking type and an anxious type are obviously very different and that is why finding an 'addictive personality' is not that helpful. Someone that is a reckless thrill seeking person with poor impulse control is more likely to develop addictions. But also the very anxious, socially withdrawn type who is not a thrill seeker, but when they start drinking they feel more relaxed - that type of personality will often go on to develop addictions as well," he says.

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