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There’s No Such Thing As Addictive Personality

The idea of an “addictive personality” arises from time to time as a way to explain the attraction to addiction. Books have been written about the addictive personality, and hundreds of magazine articles speculate about it. But the scientific literature is pretty much unanimous: There is no “addictive personality” that contributes to addiction.

Writing in the journal, Nature, science writer Maia Szalavitz notes that scientists have searched for the addictive personality for decades, “yet they have failed to isolate a single genetic factor that reliably distinguishes between the 10–20% of people who try alcohol or illegal drugs and get hooked and the majority who do not.”

The paper argues that a threshold has been reached, and rather than locating the addictive personality, it has shattered it into dozens of factors, from childhood trauma to enzyme metabolism that all contribute to addiction:

Research into genetics and epigenetics is finally starting to shed some light on the causes of addiction — and it turns out that the idea of an addictive personality is a myth.

Genetics certainly plays a role in addiction. DR. George Koob, director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, estimates that children of people with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) are three to five times more likely to become dependent on alcohol and that the disorder is about 60% heritable.

People who suffer from anxiety and depression are prone to Substance Use Disorders (SUD). About half the people tested with alcohol use disorder also have a mood disorder. People at the personality extremes of thrill-seeking with dangerous sports or retreating from human contact with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) have off-the-charts rates of addiction.

Szalavitz concludes, “The stereotype of the addictive personality badly mischaracterizes many people who have a substance-use disorder.” It might be possible that there is one common pathway for addiction, such as the displacement mechanism, but there is no “addictive personality” and addiction afflicts people with wildly different personalities and backgrounds.

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published December 13, 2023.


“The myth of addictive personality,” podcast from ABC Australia.

“Genetics: No more addictive personality,” Nature, June 2015.

“The Truth About Alcohol with Dr. George Koob,” YouTube video from the Alliance for Aging Research, April 2023.

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