and other damaging
substance addictions are often said to be symptoms of depression and other
|King Alcohol 1820|
The concept of the 'addictive
' has significant scientific support and is defined as a distinct
psychological trait that predisposes particular individuals to addictions.
While the nature and even the existence of this trait is debatable, there is
evidence that there exist factors in the brain that contribute to addiction.
Drug exposure on a repetitive basis does
indeed change brain function. Positron emission tomography
images demonstrate similar brain changes in dopamine receptors
resulting from addiction to different substances - cocaine, methamphetamine,
alcohol, or heroin. The striatum (which contains the reward and motor
circuitry in the brain) shows up as bright red and yellow in the controls
(non-addicted group), indicating numerous dopamine D2 receptors. The
brains of addicted individuals show a less intense signal, indicating lower
levels of dopamine D2 receptors.
The addictive personality
|Dopamine Receptors - Normal and 'Addicted'|
there really exist a set of traits which can define an individual as prone to
developing an addiction? While no one has succeeded in proving the existence of
a true addictive personality, many experts believe that the predisposition to
addiction is a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors.
But are there identifiable aspects of
behaviour that are common to addicts. If identified before addiction takes
hold, can these traits be said to be representative of an addictive 'tendency'?
Addiction has been defined as
a reliance on a substance or behavior that the individual has little
power to resist. Of importance as well, is the fact that addiction is a 'brain
disease' and a disease which is chronic and relapsing, reflected in those
visible changes which occur in the brains of addicted individuals, changes that
are long-lasting, sometimes permanent.
In describing addiction, it is important
to address the types of addiction and types of substance abuse that are often
accredited to the 'addictive personality'. There are two primary forms of
addiction, one being substance-based, the second being behavior-based.
People who are substance-dependent are
characterized by a physical or a psychological dependency that negatively
impacts their life. These substance-based addictions, such as alcoholism,
nicotine, prescription and narcotic addictions, are more easily explained and
identified neurologically. Particular drugs, such as crack and heroine cause
massive surges in dopamine
in the brain (see post: The Genetics ofAddiction
), with different sensations ranging from invincibility and strength
to euphoric and enlightened states. Use of these substances changes particular
aspects of the brain, making most individuals immediately susceptible to future
abuse or addiction.
gambling, shopping, eating, pornography, sexual activity and even exercise (see
post: Your Personal Narcotic
). These addictions are not as easily explained
neurologically as are the substance-abuse cases, but do appear to have a
similar susceptibility characterized by the 'personality trait'.
There is also a third type of addiction
called combined addictions, that is, addictions which include both
substance, as well as behavioral aspects, most commonly the addiction to
nicotine, either smoking or chewing. This particular addiction combines a
physical addiction to nicotine and a mental aspect, the repeated routine of the
behavior, such as a cigarette after meals.
The spectrum of behaviors seen as
addictive are described in terms of five interrelated concepts which
include patterns, habits, compulsions, impulse control disorders, and physical
An individual is considered to be at the risk of developing
addictions when he/she displays signs of impulsive behavior, nonconformity combined
with a weak commitment to the goals for achievement valued by the
society, a sense of social alienation, and a sense of heightened
stress. This individual may switch from one addiction to another or may be
addicted to multiple substances or behaviours at different times.
|The Running 'Addiction'|
In all types of addiction, there seems
to be a relationship with gender. Studies have shown that male adolescents are
more active in early drug and alcohol experimentation and that men in general
are four times more likely to become dependent on alcohol, twice as
likely to routinely use marijuana, and one and a half times more
likely to become addicted to cigarettes.
On the other hand, female adolescents
are more likely to experience activities associated with behavioral addictions.
Women outnumber men in addictions to eating, bingeing and purging
tend to develop eating disorders at a greater rate.
This gender difference in regards to
addiction type and rate may have a genetic component but are certainly related,
at least in part to societal values and the images presented to young men and
women. For instance, advertising for alcohol consumption is primarily aimed at
|The 'Boys Have Been Drinking'|
The symptoms of excessive alcohol
consumption and drunkenness (uncontrolled behavior, lessened inhibitions,
weight gain) are less acceptable for women than men in western society.
Many popular images associated with cigarettes have a markedly masculine
undertone, as the main face of the tobacco industry. One of the best examples
of this is the 'Marlboro Man'.
|The 'Girls Have Been Drinking'|
According to the notion of the
'addictive personality', these individuals are very sensitive to stress,
have trouble handling situations that they deem frustrating, even when that
event is for a very short duration. The 'addictive' person often lacks
self-esteem and shows impulsive behavior such as excessive
caffeine consumption, Internet usage, eating of chocolates or other sugar-laden
foods, television watching, or even running.
oneself) and loneliness
are also common characteristics found in
those who suffer from addiction and certain studies have shown that
those who score high on self-monitoring are more prone to developing an
addiction. High self-monitors are sensitive to social situations
and act how they think others expect them to act. The 'addictive'
individual craves to 'fit in' and are therefore easily influenced by others.
Most with low self-esteem also seek peer-approval and therefore
participate in 'cool' activities such as smoking or drinking simply as a
means to 'fit in'.
The 'addictive personality' has even, by
some, been classified as a disorder, the 'Addictive Personality Disorder
(APD). Those suffering from APD find it difficult to manage their stress
levels, lack of stress tolerance being a tell-tale sign of the
disorder. Stressful situations are difficult to face and avoided if
possible and, when caught up in a situation that is unavoidable, the individual
with APD often finds it difficult to extricate him/herself from that situation.
The stress that comes with getting through short-term goals makes long-term
goals difficult to achieve. These individuals will often switch to other
enjoyable activities quickly and on the spur of the moment that they are
deprived of enjoyment in their previous addiction or behaviour.
Insecurity with relationships, difficulty
in making commitments in relationships or trusting loved ones is common. The
person with APD constantly seeks approval of others, usually experiences
anxiety and depression and difficulty with managing their emotions through
the development of addiction to alcohol, other types of drugs, or
other pleasurable activities.
But are these personality 'traits' truly
indicative or predictive of an individual who will become an addict?
Or are these traits seen in addicts and 'retrospectively'
seen to be present during their pre-addict life?
The 'Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders
' (DSM) does not note 'Addictive Personality Disorder' as a
distinct entity. The DSM does, however, link addiction, at least in an indirect
way, to 'Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
', where the (often harmful) use of the
abused substance or activity is continued because of the compulsive aspect
of the patient's personality.
If someone does indeed have all or most
of these traits but has the proper support from family and community, will that
person avoid becoming an addict?
Or is it genetics, the 'destiny within
the DNA' that dictates the rules, that declares that if alcohol is not
available, you will instead use heroin or become a chronic gambler, searching
in any way possible for the surge of dopamine in your 'reward center'
that your genetically programmed brain demands?