The Truth About Addictive Personalities

January 8th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

To what extent does your personality influence your relationship with addictive substances?


The term "addictive personality" is a bit misleading.

There are certain factors — including personality traits — that are more commonly associated with individuals prone to addiction.

But the idea that there's a singular personality type that predisposes a person to a substance use disorder isn't backed by science.

Alan Lang, a psychology professor at Florida State University, first examined so-called addictive personalities in a 1983 study published by the National Academy of Sciences. At the time of its release, Lang told The New York Times that the objective of the study was to "better identify the personality factors" in order to "help us devise better treatment and open up new strategies to intervene and break the patterns of addiction."

doctor's office

Lang's research was meant to help psychologists better understand the psychology of addiction.

But rather than a personality type, Lang's team found four "significant personality factors" linked to an increased risk of addiction.

  1. Impulsiveness and "difficulty in delaying gratification."
  2. Strong preference for nonconformity.
  3. Feeling socially alienated.
  4. Prone to high levels of stress.

These traits don't necessarily lead to addiction, and having all four doesn't mean you'll inevitably develop a substance abuse problem.

But researchers determined that these traits are disproportionately represented among those who do suffer from addiction.

Taken together, however, these traits don't add up to an "addictive personality."


Lang himself acknowledged that "there is no single, unique personality entity that is a necessary and sufficient condition for substance abuse," according to Vice.

That said, there are other risks factors — outside of a person's personality — that make it more likely she will face an addiction, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Genetics (a family history of addiction, for example) and other mental health disorders such as depression or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also commonly associated with the development of substance abuse disorders.

But as far as "addictive personalities" are concerned, there's scant evidence that a person's personality overall determines his likelihood of developing a problem.