While anyone can become addicted to a substance or behavior with sufficient exposure, there do seem to be common risk factors for addiction. Not everyone who drinks alcohol becomes an alcoholic. Even more physically addictive substances such as cocaine don’t always produce full-blown addiction after use. We’ve all heard about the “addictive personality,” and, while there are still questions as to whether such a phenomenon exists, most addicts appear to have certain traits in common.
The “Addictive” Personality
As with most emotional disorders and diseases, temperament has an influence on the development of an addiction. Those who exhibit aggression, lack of self-control, and a socially difficult temperament in childhood are likely to develop addictions later. Also, individuals who experience anxiety and depression are likely to develop addictions as a way of managing their emotions. Addicts tend to be people who are very sensitive to stress, cannot delay gratification, and cannot tolerate frustration for even short periods of time. Perfectionism, low self-esteem, and anger management issues also drive many addictions.
Addiction and Environment
Several environmental factors contribute to addiction. Children who were raised by addict or alcoholic parents are more likely to develop addictions themselves. Children who were raised in abusive environments are also more likely to develop addictions as a way to cope with negative emotions surrounding the abuse. Individuals who live in impoverished or economically depressed areas often develop addictions, and teens who experience peer pressure in their social environments often succumb to the temptation to use drugs or abuse alcohol.
Addiction and Disorder
People suffering from anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorderor social anxiety disorder often self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, food, over-exercise, or other addictions. They may not know that they have an emotional disorder, or they may not have received the treatment they need to learn to cope with their disorder in a healthy, functional way.
The Genetic Connection
Individuals with a family history of drug addiction or alcoholism are at a greater risk for addiction themselves. While scientists have not found an “addiction gene,” the genetic connection appears clear. Children of addicts or alcoholics who were adopted by another non-addict family often develop addictions, even in the absence of an addicted environment. This may be because of other emotional disorders present in the genetics of the family line, or there may be a number of genetic factors that work together to create a propensity for addiction.
Certain substances are more likely to create physical dependence. Heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine will generally produce physical addiction within a few uses, even in people who aren’t genetically predisposed to addiction or who lack the personality traits of an addict.
If you or someone you love is coping with a drug addiction, alcoholism, or some other form of addiction, there is help available. Addiction treatment programs, rehabilitation therapy, and 12 step groups may be able to help.