What Are the Traits of an Addictive Personality?

Published On: February 22, 2023

It is common to hear people say ‘I have an addictive personality’ in response to questions about their behaviour, but what does this mean? The label of ‘addict’ has negative connotations, often associated with moral failings and a lack of willpower.

There are many myths that surround the concept of addiction, and one is that there is a single personality that is prone to or destined for addiction.

There is no one personality that will lead to addiction, but factors and traits that may mean someone is more prone to developing a dependency.

Whilst numerous types of traits have been identified in individuals who develop substance use disorders, they are not always present all at once. However, the traits identified mean that those people with these traits have a higher risk of becoming addicted to substances. [1]

So why do people believe in an ‘addictive personality’? The vulnerability of someone is not always perfectly correlated to their environment, meaning there have to be other factors contributing to addiction.

Some individuals with substance use disorders engage in cross-addiction, meaning they are addicted to more than one substance and therefore engage in a range of addictive behaviours.

Finally, when trying to give up a substance, some addicts become addicted to another substance, a process called ‘reciprocity’. [2] [3] [4]

There is an assumption that personality traits explain addiction and the reasons individuals become addicted to certain substances and behaviour. It has been argued that an addictive personality is the consequence of addiction, rather than predisposing factors.

These theories provide no understanding of how or why people become addicted. [5] An addictive personality is not created after addiction but is a factor that leads to addiction.

There is one definition provided by Mark D Griffiths that states: “‘addictive personality(if it exists) is a cognitive and behavioural style which is both specific and personal that renders an individual vulnerable to acquiring and maintaining one or more addictive behaviours at any one time”. [6]

In short, an addictive personality is someone that is highly likely to become addicted to something like sex, the internet, video games, drugs, or alcohol.

The course usually starts out with someone becoming obsessed or fixated with something and then overindulging in that one thing with poor control over the matter.

Addictive Personality Traits: What Makes You Vulnerable?

A man turning away

Kotov et al examined the correlation between substance use disorders and personality traits. He specifically looked at the ‘big five’: openness to experience, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and extraversion.

He found that addicts scored highly on neuroticism and low on conscientiousness. The rest of the personality traits were found to be unrelated to addiction or addictive behaviour [7].

Other addictive traits suggested to increase addiction risk are:

1. People related to others who are addicted

These ‘addictive personality traits‘ are a mix of genetic components and learned environmental factors. Genetic makeup has long been a factor relating to the risk of addiction.

The journal of Psychiatry states that you are more likely to develop an addiction if you have a close family member or loved one struggling with addiction.

Specifically, if children grow up with parents who struggled with addiction, they are predisposed to addiction disorders. This is both genetic (passed down through genes) and environmental.

There will be familial beliefs about substances and addiction that will shape a child’s inclination towards addiction. [8] [9] [10]

2. Mental health disorders

Pre-existing mental health disorders can lead people to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. This is done to manage symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

Without medical guidance, those with mental health disorders attempt to deal with physical pain or mental discomfort through substances, leading to the risk of addiction.

This is only a short-term solution. Whilst self-medicating may relieve some symptoms immediately, drugs and alcohol will only exacerbate mental health issues and possibly lead to addiction or dependency.

3. Risk-taking, adventurous and spontaneity

Individuals who seek risks and adventure, or act spontaneously, tend to have a lack of impulse control. They are at a higher risk of experimenting with dangerous activities.

This may start out as activities such as bungee jumping, random tattoos, mountain climbing, or free climbing. Individuals that enjoy the thrill of risks and adventure are more likely to try drugs and alcohol without thinking or caring too much about the negative consequences.

Risk-taking always offers the potential for harm, but some individuals find this exciting and thrilling. This excitement requires more and more of risk each time, as the previous thrill from the activity has been satisfied.

Whether it is the legal consequence, health risk, or merely the unknown, risk takers are tempted into trying addictive substances and may find it difficult to stop.

4. Obsessive and compulsive

Those that lack impulse control suffer from an inability to say no. Some people become obsessed with harmless things: the same breakfast every day, drinking lemon water, cycling the same route, or checking on their garden plants. These habits often provide a feeling of comfort and safety.

However, obsession can cross the line to health concerns: smoking, OCD, sex, porn, and the internet. These obsessive-compulsive behavioural patterns can lead people to try something new, and then make a habit of it.

There is a vital difference between compulsion and addiction, despite similar underlying causes. The difference lies in motivation and pleasure; addicts are often initially motivated by pleasure, whereas compulsion often lacks this pleasure.

5. Inability to self-regulate, motivation, and impulse

These traits all include the lack of ability to regulate one’s own behaviour. This includes the thoughts and feelings that lead to these behaviours – meaning people cannot moderate their use of alcohol or drugs.

Recent models of addiction have invoked the use of motivational mechanisms to explain addictive behaviours. [11] The most common explanation of addiction is the result of a ‘high’, or the ‘low’ achieved with the aim of escape or self-medication.

These are common traits of addictive behaviour, leading factors contributing to addiction. The risk of addiction is higher when an individual displays these traits, making them more likely to develop a substance use disorder.

Personality traits have always been associated with addiction, but the traits themselves and what they mean have changed over time. Recently, impulse has appeared in much of the research conducted on substance abuse research. [12]

Impulsivity is the “rapid, unplanned behaviour with little forethought of the consequences”. [13] This has been optimal for decision-making and occasionally advantageous in some situations, but high levels of impulsivity may lead to addiction.

There are three forms of impulsivity: [14] [15] [16]

  1. Trait impulsivity
  2. Impulsive action
  3. Impulsive choice

Impulsivity and impulsive behaviour are elevated in adolescence but decrease as people grow older. Impulse is likely to lead to compulsive behaviours if the person in question is obsessive, has the inability to self-regulate, is self-medicating, or seeks the thrill and danger of adventure.

An addicted person may not have all of these traits, but with each one comes a risk of:

These traits are by no means the complete risk of addiction, there are other factors that will contribute to addiction.

The traits mentioned above can be identified through types of behaviours, but the following behaviours do not necessarily indicate addiction:

The term ‘addictive personality’ indicates a set of personality traits and behaviour traits that predispose someone to develop an addiction.

Not all of the traits have to be present for someone to develop an addiction, and there appears to be a lack of universally agreed opinion as to what defines ‘addictive personality’. [17]

However, it has been proven that some traits appear in most addicts or people dependent on a substance.

The ability to stop something that is harmful or risky is an indication of healthy boundaries and a ‘normal’ level of attachment.

If you are having trouble cutting back or down on something, and you believe you show traits of addiction, don’t hesitate to get in contact and talk to someone.


[1] Griffiths M D. The Myth of ‘Addictive Personality’. Glob J Add & Rehab Med. 2017; 3(2): 555610. DOI: 10.19080/ GJARM.2017.03.555610.

[2] Sadava SW (1978) Etiology, personality and alcoholism. Canad Psychol Review 19(3): 198-214.

[3] Griffiths MD (1994) An exploratory study of gambling cross addictions. J Gambl Stud10: 371-384.

[4] Griffiths MD (1996) Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? J Workplace Learn 8(3): 19-25.

[5] Nakken D (1996) The addictive personality: Understanding the addictive process and compulsive behaviour. Hazelden, Center City, MN.

[6] Griffiths M D. The Myth of ‘Addictive Personality’. Glob J Add & Rehab Med. 2017; 3(2): 555610. DOI: 10.19080/ GJARM.2017.03.555610.

[7] Kotov R, Gamez W, Schmidt F, Watson D (2010) Linking “big” personality traits to anxiety, depressive, and substance use disorders: a meta-analysis. Psychol Bull 136(5): 768-821.

[8] McGue M, Iacono WG, Legrand LN, Elkins I. Origins and consequences of age of first drink. II. Familial risk and heritability. Alcoholism Clin Exper Res 2001;25(8):1166-1173.

[9] Dinwiddie SH, Reich T. Genetic and family studies in psychiatric illness and alcohol and a drug dependence. J Addict Dis 1993;12(3):17-27.

[10] Meller WH, Rinehard R, Cadoret RJ, Ton ET. Specific familial transmission in substance abuse. Int J Addictions 1988;23(10):1029-1039.

[11] Köpetz CE, Lejuez CW, Wiers RW, Kruglanski AW. Motivation and Self-Regulation in Addiction: A Call for Convergence. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2013 Jan;8(1):3-24. doi: 10.1177/1745691612457575. PMID: 26069472; PMCID: PMC4461059.

[12] Ersche KD, Turton AJ, Pradhan S, et al. Drug addiction endophenotypes: impulsive versus sensation-seeking personality traits. Biol Psychiatry. 2010;68(8):770–3.

[13] Mitchell MR, Potenza MN. Addictions and Personality Traits: Impulsivity and Related Constructs. Curr Behav Neurosci Rep. 2014 Mar 1;1(1):1-12. doi: 10.1007/s40473-013-0001-y. PMID: 24772382; PMCID: PMC3996683.

[14] Moeller FG, Barratt ES, Dougherty DM, et al. Psychiatric aspects of impulsivity. Am J Psychiatry. 2001;158(11):1783–93.

[15] Winstanley CA. The utility of rat models of impulsivity in developing pharmacotherapies for impulse control disorders. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;164(4):1301–21.

[16] Evenden J. Impulsivity: a discussion of clinical and experimental findings. J Psychopharmacol. 1999;13(2):180–92.

[17] Müller, K. W.; Koch, A.; Dickenhorst, U.; Beutel, M. E.; Duven, E.; Wölfling, K. (2013-06-25). “Addressing the Question of Disorder-Specific Risk Factors of Internet Addiction: A Comparison of Personality Traits in Patients with Addictive Behaviors and Comorbid Internet Addiction”BioMed Research International. 2013: 546342.


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