Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Addictive Personality

     Alcoholism and other damaging substance addictions are often said to be symptoms of depression and other emotional distress.

King Alcohol 1820
     The concept of the 'addictive personality' 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 (PET) 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.

Dopamine Receptors - Normal and 'Addicted'

     The addictive personality: Does 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.
Nicotine Addiction

     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.
     Behavior-based addictions include 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'.
Gambling Addiction

     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 addiction.
     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 and 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 young males.
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.
     Self-monitoring ('second guessing' 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.
Cannabis Use

     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.

A 'Shopoholic'?
     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?
     *The addictive personality: subject of research for the novel Whip the Dogs - Amazon Kindle

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