It's important to know the signs of addiction. Incredibly important. Regardless of what you believe about addictive personality. After all, many say addictive personality is nothing more than a myth. Addiction, however, is no myth. In fact, it's a very real disease.
Deadly too. In 2018 alone the U.S. had 67,367 drug overdose deaths says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Granted that number is down a fraction from 2017 (by 4.6%), but it's still high. Sky high. And it doesn't take into account a pandemic. It's frightening to even consider how many drug overdose deaths we had in 2020.
But what does addiction have to do with addictive personality? Well, the majority of recovery professionals say not much. Actually, they seem to say addictive personality doesn't even exist. That might make it a bit difficult to tell just who is more likely to become addicted. But it doesn't interfere with diagnosing the problem itself. For that you simply look for the signs of addiction.
The give-and-take is nevertheless worth addressing. That's obviously why Insider's Lindsay Kalter did a deep dive into the issue. It's importance is also obviously why she had her report medically reviewed by the PhD-wielding Dr. David A. Merrill. The well-respected psychiatrist happens to be the director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute's Pacific Brain Health Center at Providence Saint John's Health Center. In other words, he knows of what he speaks. Kudos to Kalter for tracking down Merrill and putting her work up for such scrutiny.
Even after all these years there's no consensus on addictive personality. In fact, it's very definition remains murky and somewhat obtuse. Does addictive personality really exist? Or is it an excuse some use to justify their addictions?
Kalter found the definitions often included the presence of anxiety or depression, along with genetic predisposition and past trauma. She also found the phrase "frequently used to describe someone's likelihood of becoming addicted to a substance or activity, such as drugs, alcohol, shopping, eating, gambling, or sex."
But why can some folks simply walk away from substance use or risky behavior while others "form swift and potentially destructive habits"? Is such a condition truly in our genes?
"There are addictive traits that are highly heritable," says Mass General Resident and Harvard Medical School Associate Professor Dr. Gary Sachs, "but there is more to it than that, including life experiences and circumstances. At the end of the day, anyone could become addicted to something."
Does that mean we've all got addictive personalities? Yes and No. It really means we're all at risk of addiction. And, as Kalter discovered, those risks have a variety of factors.
Risks of Addiction
Genes: Addiction has genetic components. However they seem to be only part of the puzzle. Genes influence the way the body responds to addictive drugs and behaviors, especially the regulation of dopamine, which of course is the brain chemical that controls reward, pleasure and motivation. In fact, "several studies on twins have served to further solidify this theory."
Environment: Dr. Sachs says early life circumstances can also play a major role in the development of addictions. An addicted family member, for example, may provide easier access to addictive substances, not to mention serve as a harmful model for children.
Physiology: The way our brains are wired also comes into play. There's "strong evidence that naturally occurring disruptions in three major brain areas – the basal ganglia, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex – can make addiction more likely." Why? Because these areas affect emotional regulation, stress, reward pathways, and behavior.
Trauma: The American Psychological Association found that over half (55% to 60%) of all post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sufferers develop some form of addiction. Dr. Sachs says traumatic experiences (i.e. childhood abuse) substantially increase the risk that people will self-medicate or try other dangerous behaviors.
Depression and anxiety: It's long known that depression and anxiety often spark addictive behaviors. You may even say these disorders represent the gold standard for addiction risk.
Signs of Addiction
Tell-tale signs of addiction itself are many and varied. Here are some of the most prominent.
- Always wanting more of a certain substance
- Continuing a behavior despite negative outcomes
- Inability to follow rules you have set for yourself
- Not being able to stop a behavior or using a substance
- Obsessive thoughts
- Replacing relationships with addictive behaviors
- Borrowing or stealing money with no explanation
- Mood swings
"The number one sign of addiction is loss of control," Dr. Sachs says. "It isn't just an interest. If you're an avid gardener, you're not tending to your plants so much you're letting your children starve."
Addiction begins with a behavior that makes the person feel good, Dr. Sachs says. Over time, however, the behavior no longer elevates a person's mood; it becomes something they require even to function.
"When you're in classic addiction, you're just doing it to basically be stable," Dr. Sachs adds. "You've lost the pleasure. That will happen with anything – gambling, sexual addictions, substances."
While signs of both behavioral and substance addiction do largely mimic one another, substance addiction generally also includes some tell-tale physical signs.
The most common physical signs of addiction include:
- Enlarged or small pupils
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Bloodshot eyes
- Unusual body odors, either from the substance itself or poor hygiene
- Poor physical coordination
- Looking unkempt
- Slurred speech
- Blackouts or memory loss
See the Signs -- and Seek Help
Once you see the signs of addiction -- on yourself or on someone close to you -- it's imperative to seek professional professional help. Remember, addiction is a chronic disease. And it's best attended to by qualified medical professionals. That may include Detox and Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP). It may include a simple Outpatient Program (OP) or Aftercare (i.e. sober home). Then again, it may require all of the above. Whatever it takes, please take the time. You're worth it. And so is everyone else in your life.
In fact, Recovery Boot Camp would very much like to help. Please get in touch so we can point you in the direction best for you. And let's not let addiction win.