What is an Addictive Personality Disorder?

March 18, 2022

It is not uncommon to hear someone state that they (or a loved one) have an addictive personality. But what does that mean? And is an “addictive personality” a real thing? The idea of someone having addictive tendencies is not new. However, it is essential to remember that labeling someone as having an addictive personality can have notable and harmful impacts on their ability to achieve lasting recovery from addiction or behavioral mental health conditions.


What is an Addictive Personality? 

The term addictive personality is used quite frequently in today’s conversation. Whether discussing one’s personal relationships with a particular behavior or those of a loved one or friend, people often refer to a disposition towards a specific activity or behavior as an addictive tendency or addictive personality. But is there a diagnosis for addictive personality? 


The idea of an addictive personality often brings to mind someone who struggles with addiction. There are many things people can be addicted to, but perhaps the most common behavioral challenges that accompany addictive personality beliefs are drug and alcohol additions. The person who is likely to develop or have an addictive personality is the individual who is at a greater risk for abusing substances. 


The idea of a generic or broad-reaching addictive personality is not a widely accepted concept by researchers or the mental health community. Most researchers believe that no singular personality is more likely to develop an addiction or an addictive personality disorder. This lack of acceptance is (partially) because addiction is a disease, not a trait or personality characteristic. 


Perhaps the best way to describe an addictive personality is someone who is at a greater risk of becoming addicted to anything they take an interest in. Addictions, in this case, do not stop at drugs or alcohol. Your teen may develop an addiction to video games, food, gambling, shopping, or any other behavioral addiction, including smoking, drugs, or alcohol. 


Understanding the Traits and Signs of an Addictive Personality

While there is not a specific addictive personality “type” that increases your teen’s risk for addictive personality disorder, there are certain addictive personality traits that may suggest they are more likely to become addicted than someone else. Also, certain symptoms of addictive personality are often present in those who struggle with addictions. 



People with an addictive personality tend to exhibit obsessive behaviors. When they struggle with a particular addiction, they will obsess over satisfying the cravings associated with it. For example, someone addicted to food will obsess over their next meal, and someone addicted to shopping will obsess over when they can buy something next. 


Criminal behavior

When someone struggles with addiction, finances can quickly become a problem. As a result, a sign of an addictive personality disorder often includes increased criminal behavior such as stealing or other illegal activities that can lead to increased cash to support their addiction.


Adventurous and risk-taking

Being adventurous and taking risks can feel “exciting.” The search for excitement and new adventure often fuels an addictive personality. For some, a concerning addictive personality trait is actively engaging in potentially harmful or even known dangerous behaviors. Doing so increases the dopamine rush that causes pleasure.


Disconnected and cautious

When addiction develops, a struggling addict often disconnects from and starts keeping secrets from friends with loved ones. Because it is not uncommon for their behaviors to be dangerous or even illegal, caution and secrecy are often hallmark signs of an addictive personality. Keeping secrets from friends and loved ones is vital for your teen to continue with their behaviors. In most cases, they can’t continue with their addictive behaviors (drug use, drinking, eating, gaming, etc.) if their loved ones, guardians, or friends know. Therefore, secrecy is of the utmost importance.


Obsessive and compulsive behaviors

In addition to obsessing about the source of their addiction, another addictive personality trait is engaging in compulsive behaviors. Your teen may continue to do things related to their addiction that lead to feelings of pleasure despite knowing their behaviors are harmful. Unfortunately, the overwhelming desire to satisfy their addiction outweighs the desire to stop engaging in activities that lead to dangerous results.


Apathetic behaviors

Another sign of an addictive personality is apathy or apathetic behavior. In this case, a struggling addict is often concerned only about satisfying cravings or urges; other obligations or responsibilities become far less important than participating in behaviors that will fulfill their addiction. This particular addictive personality trait can be difficult for friends and loved ones as it seems their family member or friend cares about nothing other than their addiction.


Revolving or difficult relationships

Unfortunately, the common addictive personality traits such as lying, stealing, and manipulative behavior often lead to a string of failed relationships. Also, many people with addictive personalities struggle with consistency. Therefore, seeking out new and exciting things often leads to short-lived personal and social relationships.


Potential Risk Factors or Causes Behind Addictive Personality Disorder

Several risk factors increase one’s vulnerability to addictive behaviors. Similarly, many of the same risk factors could increase the risk for addictive personality disorder. As with substance use disorders and other addictions, there is no single answer to the question “what causes addictive personality disorder?” However, several research studies suggest there are several potential risk factors. Unfortunately, unlike some other medical conditions, there is no “test” for an addictive personality. Your teen’s team of treatment providers at Hillcrest will assess all possible factors and characteristics that could indicate the presence of addictive personality disorder. 


Pre-existing or co-occurring mental health conditions

Your teen’s mental health may contribute to addictive behaviors. When someone struggles with mental illness symptoms, it can lead to using drugs, alcohol, food, or other harmful behaviors as a way to self-medicate and cope with unpleasant or painful symptoms. Several mental health diagnoses may increase your teen’s risk for developing addictive behaviors, including anxiety, trauma, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and depression. 


Family history and genetic factors

Research studies suggest a strong possibility of a genetic connection to addiction. Several studies show that various genetic factors may account for up to 50% of your teen’s potential to develop addictive tendencies. 


Environmental factors

Your teen’s home, school, or social environment may also have a significant impact on all aspects of their health. Environmental factors can also contribute to the development of addictive behaviors or addiction. Common examples of environmental contributions to addictive personality disorder might be peer groups, the environment at home, social pressures, academic pressures, and the level of social (both peer and family) support your teen has. 


It is essential to mention that labeling someone as having an addictive personality fails to highlight the potential dangers of addiction. When teens struggle with any type of addiction, they are at risk for significant and potentially dangerous (even fatal) physical and psychological challenges. Suggesting that someone exhibits particular behaviors simply due to a personality trait is a broad and dangerous underestimation of the risks associated with addiction. 


Another important note about the term addictive personality is that it reduces the drive to change. For some, the belief that their behaviors arise out of a personality characteristic, not a disease process, reduces the need or desire to seek help to change. If your teen believes they are destined to portray specific behaviors because of a predisposed set of personality traits, they may never think they can heal and overcome addictive behaviors. 


Seeking Help for Addictive Personality Disorder

If your teen struggles with an addictive personality disorder or addictive behaviors, they may believe there is no way to overcome their struggles. This is not the case, and with help and treatment at a teen-focused treatment center like Hillcrest, it is possible to overcome addiction and move forward free from difficult symptoms. While there is no specific test to “diagnose” an addictive personality disorder, seeking an assessment and getting help to address addictive behaviors is a vital first step on the path to recovery. 


Overcoming addictive personality disorder is possible. There are several things your teen can do (on their own or with help from a parent or guardian) to put struggles with addiction and addictive behaviors in the past. Seeking help from the supporting and compassionate team at Hillcrest is the first step towards understanding the root causes behind addictive behaviors. Participating in a therapeutic program can help your teen better understand their emotions and why they use addictive behaviors as coping tools. Developing an understanding of why they feel what they do can help begin the healing process. It can also open the door to learning safer and healthier coping tools that do not involve potentially addictive behaviors such as alcohol or drug use. 


There are also lifestyle changes your teen can make at home (in addition to therapy) that can help distract from or relapse addictive behaviors before they evolve into something harmful. Common examples include self-care techniques like mindfulness meditation, journaling, getting regular exercise, and following a balanced diet. It is also important for your teen to understand how particular social groups may contribute to the stressors and psychological difficulties that frequently contribute to addictive behaviors. Setting safe boundaries and developing relationships with like-minded peers who can help your teen focus on healing may also help reduce the impact of addictive tendencies. 


The path to overcoming an addictive personality disorder for your teen will likely be vastly different than anyone else. It is important to remember that addictive tendencies or an addictive personality revolve around addiction. Addiction is a disease that affects everyone differently, and individualized treatment plans are a crucial component for effective treatment. At Hillcrest, we will work with your family to develop a treatment plan that works for your teen. Let us help your teen and family take the first steps towards freedom from addictive behaviors. Contact our Southern California teen rehab center today for more information about our programs.

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