For Families of Addicts


Personality traits related to addiction Although there is no one set addictive personality type, researchers who study the causes of addiction have found a number of traits that are closely linked to an increased risk of drug or alcohol abuse.

1. Impulsivity

Impulsive people are often viewed as fun to be around due to their spontaneous nature, but this personality trait has a serious dark side. People who are impulsive often don’t stop to think about the potential risk associated with a decision. They will go with whatever course of action seems like a good idea at the moment, which can often place them in risky situations involving drugs and alcohol.

The link between impulsivity and substance abuse can be seen in the high number of people with an ADHD diagnosis who also struggle with drug or alcohol addiction. Impulsivity is one of the defining personality traits associated with ADHD. Researchers have found that about 25% of adults in treatment for alcohol and substance abuse have been diagnosed with ADHD. This makes addiction five to 10 times more common in people with ADHD.

2. Nonconformity

People who are seeking addiction treatment often describe themselves as nonconformists. They consider themselves as fundamentally different from their peers due to their interests, values, and goals.

While the desire to embrace your individuality should be celebrated, feeling like you’re an outsider can lead to social isolation. This lack of perceived support from friends and/or family can increase the desire to turn to drugs and alcohol when faced with challenging situations.

3. Anxiety

People who suffer from anxiety can find themselves plagued with worries about personal relationships, fitting in, and managing everyday situations. They can suffer from physical complaints such as insomnia, panic attacks, stomach problems, dizziness, shortness of breath, and muscle tension that make it hard to focus on their daily activities. To calm the constant chatter in their minds, they may turn to drugs and alcohol.

People with high levels of anxiety often begin their journey to substance abuse by using cigarettes to calm their nerves. After they develop tolerance to nicotine, they start to add alcohol or benzodiazepines into the mix. The problem with this approach is that they eventually end up needing extremely high levels of all of these substances to approach the state of mental calm they crave.

4. Low Tolerance for Stress

Stress is a natural part of life. However, some people find it significantly more difficult to handle stressful situations, such as an argument with a romantic partner, a high stakes project at work, or an unexpected health crisis. People who don’t learn to develop positive coping mechanisms to handle their stress may turn to drugs and alcohol for temporary relief.

A low tolerance for stress is often associated with high anxiety levels. However, people can learn to increase their tolerance to stress with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

5. Sensation Seeking

Sensation seeking refers to the desire to constantly seek out new experiences when placed in situations without a lot of sensory input. Everyone engages in sensation seeking behavior to some extent, but people who report high rates of this activity are most prone to addiction.

Sensation seekers are risk takers who enjoy pursuits such as engaging in adventure sports, attending loud concerts or parties, and traveling to meet new people. They are also more likely to drive recklessly and prefer having multiple sexual partners over stable relationships. In general, men and young adults have the highest rates of sensation seeking behavior—which can help explain why these groups also suffer from substance abuse issues at the highest rates.

6. Blame Shifting

Blame shifting refers to finding it difficult to take responsibility for your own mistakes. Substance abusers tend to exhibit this personality trait in higher than average numbers, often arguing that their drug or alcohol use isn’t a big deal or that they could quit using if they really wanted to.

Extreme blame shifting accompanied by a lack of empathy for others is associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). One recent study suggests that about 12% of people with substance abuse problems also meet the criteria for NPD.

What It Means

Most personality type research suggests that basic personality traits are inborn and can’t be changed. However, this doesn’t mean that someone with traits that are linked to addiction is destined to develop a drug or alcohol problem. It simply means that he or she is at a higher risk for addiction and needs to learn ways to channel the negative aspects of certain personality traits into a more positive direction.

By Dana Hinders

To learn more about our programs, please visit our website.

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Principles of effective addiction treatment

Every addiction treatment program aims to help clients stop using drugs or alcohol, stay sober, and become productive members of society. However, this doesn’t mean that all treatment programs are the same. If you’re considering addiction treatment for yourself or someone you love, it’s important to be aware of the basic principles that an effective treatment plan should be based on.

Addiction Is a Disease
Addiction isn’t a moral failing. It’s a disease that affects both brain function and behavior, with many studies indicating that addiction can be linked to specific genes and inherited personality traits.

Effective addiction treatment should stress empathy and compassion. Just as you wouldn’t chastise a patient for being diagnosed with cancer, people with drug and alcohol addiction don’t need to be judged for their past mistakes. They need treatment that heals their mind, body, and spirit.

Treatment Doesn’t Need to Be Voluntary to Be Effective
Ideally, someone suffering from addiction would realize the need to seek treatment and make positive life changes. However, treatment can still be beneficial even if an addict is in denial about the severity of his addiction.

Involuntary treatment can be court ordered or it can be arranged by a concerned family member, such as a spouse or parent. For young people in particular, early intervention can prevent an addiction from destroying a promising future.

Treatment Requires a Personalized Approach
When it comes to treating drug or alcohol addiction, there is no single treatment that’s right for everyone. Some people respond well to talk therapy individually or in a group, while others prefer to explore the issues surrounding their addiction in art therapy, music therapy, or other experiential therapies. There may also be special concerns, such as anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder, that need to be addressed in addition to drug or alcohol addiction.

Part of the personalized approach to addiction treatment requires that care plans be periodically reevaluated to ensure their effectiveness. For example, a counselor might determine that a client who is experiencing difficulty transitioning back to work may have moved through the steps of their plan too quickly and would benefit from additional time to develop positive coping skills for handling stressful situations.

Detox Is Just the First Step
Addiction treatment typically begins with a detox to help clients remove drugs and alcohol from their system. During this time, clients are monitored and given medication to help minimize painful or potentially dangerous withdrawal systems.

While detox is a necessary part of the treatment process, the initial experience of getting clean is just the beginning. Multiple studies have shown that people who receive no treatment following detoxification typically resume their drug or alcohol use a short time later.

Behavioral Therapy is Key
Behavioral therapy is a cornerstone of any effective addiction treatment program. Behavioral therapy aims to help substance abusers modify their attitude towards drug or alcohol use, increase healthy life skills, and provide the motivation necessary to persist with a long-term treatment plan.

In the early stages of residential treatment, clients may be scheduled for daily sessions. However, as they graduate to outpatient treatment, sessions will gradually become less frequent and focused on building an independent recovery.

Medication Can Help
Medication can be very effective when combined with behavioral therapies. Medications can be used during the detox process or to help prevent relapse, as long as their use is carefully monitored by trained professionals. For example, Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose), naltrexone (Vivitrol), and buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex, Probuphine) can be used to treat opioid addiction.

When substance abuse is linked to a desire to self-medicate a mental health disorder, medication can be used to get these underlying conditions under control. For example, antidepressants can stabilize the mood swings associated with depression and thus help reduce cravings for drugs and alcohol.

There’s No Quick Fix
Treating addiction takes time. Nobody develops an addiction overnight, so it’s unreasonable to expect that a treatment center will be able to work miracles in a few days. An addiction treatment program typically lasts at least 30 days, with extensive follow up care afterwards.


A person who struggles with drug and alcohol addiction won’t be “cured” when they leave a treatment facility. Addiction is a chronic illness that requires vigilance to prevent relapse, much like diabetics must pay careful attention to their blood sugar each day. Someone in recovery will still experience cravings and be faced with the temptation to use, but the skills they learned in treatment will allow them to make positive choices and set the stage for a brighter future.

By Dana Hinders

Causes of alcoholism

Many of the people who seek alcohol addiction treatment have parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or siblings who’ve also struggled with alcohol abuse. However, alcoholism isn’t inherited in the same way you’d inherit blue eyes and blond hair. Addiction develops as the result of a complex interaction between genes and environmental risk factors.

Genes That Affect Alcoholism Risk

There is no single gene responsible for developing alcoholism. However, research does suggest that certain combinations of genes are responsible for increasing the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. For example:

Personality traits: Genes linked to personality traits such as impulsivity and disinhibition are also associated with an increase in substance abuse disorders.

Predisposition to mental health disorders: The same genes that are linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders are also associated with an increased risk of alcohol abuse, but this is often attributed to the tendency of people suffering from mental health disorders to try to self-medicate.

Changes in how alcohol affects the body: Some gene combinations create changes in the body’s dopamine reward systems, leaving people to experience greater levels of reinforcement or reward from alcohol use and thus increasing the likelihood of problem drinking.

Race: Genetic variants in people of different races have been linked to an increase in alcoholism, with Native Americans have the highest number of alcohol use severity phenotypes.

Although the average person doesn’t have access to sophisticated genetic testing, you can reasonably determine your genetic risk for alcoholism by counting the number of blood relatives who also suffer from alcohol use disorders.

Environmental Factors That Affect Alcoholism Risk

Certain environmental factors can increase the risk of a child developing an alcohol use problem, even if there are minimal genetic risk factors at work. For example:

Societal acceptance: Regularly seeing television shows, movies, and music that portray drinking as a harmless way to have fun normalize the behavior.

Parental modeling: Seeing parents deal with everyday stress by becoming intoxicated sets this behavior up as normal in child’s mind.

Peer pressure: Friends who encourage regular drinking promote a pattern of overindulgence.
Exposure to outside trauma: Children who are exposed to verbal, physical, or sexual abuse are more likely to experiment with alcohol.

Age at first drink: Multiple studies have shown that the younger you are when you take your first drink, the more difficulty you’ll have regulating your alcohol intake. These studies proved instrumental in setting the legal drinking age to 21.

Genetics Aren’t Destiny

When discussing the causes of alcoholism, it’s important to keep in mind that many diseases are caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. For example, someone with a parent, grandparent, or sibling who suffers from Type 2 diabetes is considered genetically predisposed to the condition. Even with this added risk, a commitment to eating a well-balanced diet and getting regular physical exercise can drastically reduce their risk of becoming diabetic. Lifestyle changes made after a diagnosis can also be beneficial, sometimes creating enough of a change in blood sugar levels to allow diabetics to reduce or discontinue their insulin all together.

Children of alcoholic parents have two to four times the risk of becoming alcoholics as adults. This risk factor remains even in cases where the child is adopted and raised in a family where neither parent has an alcohol use disorder. However, despite this increased genetic risk, less than half of children with an alcoholic parent grow up to abuse alcohol themselves. Some protective environmental factors that can prevent alcohol abuse include:

Receiving education on the negative effects of alcohol use: Having a full understanding of genetic risk factors and the health effects of alcohol abuse is associated with lower levels of problem drinking.

Developing strong social connections to family and friends: Feeling loved and supported by the people around you makes you less likely to want to turn to alcohol for comfort.

Developing positive ways to cope with stress: People who use exercise, meditation, music, art therapy, or other stress-relieving activities to handle everyday pressures are less likely to abuse alcohol.
Seeking help for mental health disorders: Counseling and support from a trained mental health professional reduces the desire to self-medicate with alcohol.

You can’t control your genetic makeup, but genetics alone won’t determine your fate. If you’re ready to break the cycle of addiction, help is available. St. Joseph Institute’s addiction treatment facility can address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual issues underlying your alcohol abuse and set you on the path to a lasting recovery.

By Dana Hinders

 

To learn more about our programs or for a campus tour of St. Joseph Institute, please visit our website.

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