Josh Chandler | August 4, 2017

5 Misconceptions About the Addictive Personality

Can someone truly have an addictive personality? This is one of the most talked about topics in addiction recovery. Read on to get the facts once and for all.

You’ve probably encountered several different schools of “common knowledge” about what an addictive personality is, what it entails, and how it drives addiction, not to mention how it negatively affects everyone in the user’s orbit.

These misconceptions have been built up over time, largely through a dim understanding of the science behind addictive personality disorders and also from an unfortunate trend in popular culture towards “otherizing” addicts and isolating them from the rest of society.

This requires a profile that’s meant to fit all addictive personality types.

The Addictive Personality Profile We’re Used To

You’ve seen it portrayed: the classic story of someone who’s destroyed all his family, friend, and work relationships. He hit “rock bottom,” endured an excruciating rehabilitation program, and then came out the other side ready to be a productive member of society again — though still haunted by his poor choices.

Sadly, most of this story simply doesn’t match up with what we know about addiction and the people who suffer from it.

Far from being homogeneous, they represent a large swath of people who otherwise have no common defining characteristics. Addiction is a chronic disease of learned behavior that can take many different forms and appear in almost any type of person for a number of subtle and complex reasons.

The proof of that lies in the statistics. 15,000 people died in 2015 from the latest epidemic of prescription opioid addiction; stats also show 17 million US adults are “problem drinkers,” which usually means that they slip under the radar of those who know them.

In other words, there’s a very good chance some people you otherwise respect and admire suffer from a debilitating addictive personality disorder — and they’re probably not living the lives you think they are.

Following are five of the most common misconceptions about the addictive personality.

1. Addiction Is Just a Choice

This is the most common trope that gets trotted out when attempting to explain addiction, and it’s a very convenient way to shift all blame and responsibility on to the person with the problem.

However, the truth is quite different. Decades of research have shown addictions are genuine chronic mental disorders brought on by repetition.

While they may have started as an individual choice, the progress to actual addiction is an actual physical act of unconsciously rewiring the brain itself.

There any number of reasons for someone to become addicted to drugs or alcohol or other substances, and the factors are myriad and complex: mental disorders, troubled childhood or home life, the famed “peer pressure,” and even genetic dispositions.

2. Addiction Breeds Sociopaths

Once this supposed profile of the addictive personality has been created, it is usually expanded. What might be seen at first as sympathy for a medical condition is actually an indictment of a “weak” personality with “no self-control.”

This myth paints a portrait of all addictive personalities as being nearly sociopathic in their quest to get what they want, including lying, cheating, and stealing — and while that can happen in extreme cases, there are many patients suffering from addiction that have very clear and firm moral lines that never get crossed.

They may very well be able to feed their addiction with minimal impact to those around them.

3. Addictive Personalities Are Tragic

In the story we’ve all come to know from movies and television, addictive personalities are easy to spot: they’ve gradually worn away their family ties, their friendships, and their careers, and have now hit “rock bottom,” which ironically allows them to finally enter rehab.

Saving rehabilitation for some mythical last-act status produces two devastating effects: it keeps those who have developed an addiction from getting help until it’s almost too late, and it places an onus on one-time addicts not to return to rehab because of the shame involved.

Actual symptoms of addiction can be seen in many people who are leading otherwise successful lives. These include gradual changes in attitude or behavior, socialization with others suffering from the same addiction, and convoluted excuses or defensive postures whenever they are approached about the problem.

4. Every Addictive Personality Is a “Type”

By attaching a certain type of user to our mental image of an addictive personality, we develop blind spots to the many ways in which addiction affects us all every day.

One of the reasons the opioid epidemic was allowed to grow as large as it did was the common misconception that pharmaceuticals, because they weren’t illegal, were somehow less addictive.

Similarly, drugs both illegal and legal ring fewer alarm bells than alcohol abuse, even today.

Statistics show that a number of addictive personalities are perfectly capable of combining addictions of different kinds.

There is no one type of addict.

5. Relapse Means Failure

Having gotten help with their addiction, many recovering addicts see the recovery as an all-or-nothing situation — backsliding and even returning to rehab are seen as signs of failure, some sort of endless cycle.

This has its basis in certain ideas about rehab itself, which was once thought to be a punishment of sorts; using shame and ego deconstruction to fix the “coddling” that supposedly came from the user’s inner circle.

The fact is, rehab is part of a process, and not a cure in itself.

A certain percentage of recovering addicts will need to return to rehab, but stigmatizing it as a return to “square one” only makes it seem more futile, and less attractive to someone who’s already been through the “shame spiral.”

Science now knows that, contrary to earlier opinion, “tough love” is more likely to lead to relapse, and that nurturing and not judging are the quickest ways to get to the source of the mental disorder that causes the addiction.

Brains can be retrained and unlearned, but never by inflicting emotional distress. Many people with addictive personalities or substance abuse problems will avoid rehab and recovery programs simply because they don’t want to be boxed into this toxic profile.

Anyone Can Develop an Addictive Personality

The plain facts are that addictive personalities can develop in the successful, the unsuccessful, the rich and the poor, the old and the young.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction it’s imperative to break this mental image of the addict and get started on the process of recovery today!

There is no real “rock bottom” — and even if there was, there’s no reason to wait for it to come around. Take action now, before the problem gets even more destructive. People are waiting to help you!

Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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