The other day in class when the idea of addictive personalities came up there was no question in my mind that different people’s personality characteristics made them more or less susceptible to addiction. I struggled to believe that there was no research that supported this commonly held belief! One of my friends in high school had what we called an addictive personality: no matter what he was constantly moving from one addiction to another, from television, to pot, to exercise. However, maybe it wasn’t his personality that contributed to these addictive patterns. Since our discussion I have been thinking about other characteristics that could have been causing these reoccurring behaviors. Was there a biological basis? Could it be an increase in stressful life events, or different biographical characteristics, could there be a family component? Reflecting on these other possibilities, they seem a much more likely cause than his personality.
Then I found a paper that looked at biographical and personality features of alcoholics (Buhler, K. & Bardeleben, H., 2008). This paper was really interesting because it recognized family biography as an important predictor for alcoholism. For example 25% of adolescents with alcohol problems come from one-parent family. Also adolescents that consume alcohol describe their family conditions as more unfavorable. It is difficult to tell if the stress of family can cause the alcohol problems, or if the alcohol problems lead to different perceptions of family. Either way it is interesting to note the effect family has on addiction. This paper also examines neuroticism as a personality characteristic of alcoholics. The authors found that there was a group of patients that had high neuroticism, and these patients had more relapses over the long-term than other groups. Since this was not a personality characteristic that covered all alcoholics, it may suggest that personality affects the ability for patience to cope after initial addiction. Is it possible that different personality characteristics are linked to coping ability?
I am not ready to completely rule out personality as a variable that impacts addiction. Could personality determine long-term outcomes? Or maybe it determines initial coping mechanism that lead to alcoholism to begin with? There must be some sort of connection!!
On a different note I was talking to my friend the other day about a close family member who suffers from alcoholism, and she was explaining how this relative uses alcohol as a threat to her family. She holds her alcoholism over their head to suggest that they are causing this problem. Are they? Could it be that the stress of her family is indeed causing her to return to alcohol or is it the alcoholic’s decision? In therapy they say that it is the alcoholics own decision to return to her prior ways, and no one else is causing it. However, to what extent can a person really control this? Is it like asking a schizophrenic to stop hearing voices? Ok maybe that is a little extreme, but you get the picture.