Do We All Have It in Us to Be Addicts?

Are some people biologically programmed to become addicts? Is it down to the addictive substance itself or do some people have what is known as an ‘addictive personality’? Addiction expert Dr Gabor Maté offers us a technical definition: “Addiction is manifested in any behaviour that a person finds temporary pleasure or relief in, and therefore craves, but suffers negative consequences as a result of and cannot give up.”

Certainly, the scope of what humans can become addicted to seems to have increased exponentially in recent years. From social media to shopping, sugar and even phones, as well as food, sex, alcohol and drugs, it is often said that everyone is addicted to something these days. The UK’s first NHS internet-addiction clinic is opening its doors this year, whilst the World Health Organization has now declared gaming disorder a mental health condition, listed in its official addictions diagnosis guidelines. Given the current situation, it isn’t surprising that some people think the ‘addictive personality’ is in us all.

It’s clear that there’s evidence to suggest some individuals are programmed to need constant highs, whether from drugs or alcohol, or something else entirely. Speaking recently on Radio 5, our CEO Paul Spanjar explained how: “There are those that are able to have two drinks on a Friday night, and go home and they’ve had enough, and there are those that when they start simply can’t stop. That can apply to alcohol, to drugs, to gambling, to food, it can apply to a range of things, and very often, our clients are highly intelligent. This clearly isn’t a case of intelligence, or control, or even willpower, because very often we are treating very wilful individuals, that just can’t stop.”

What causes addiction?

Many factors can play a role in developing an addiction, and people often display biological, genetic, emotional or psychological predispositions. Social factors can also play a part. Award-winning comedian and former addict Mae Martin would agree that it is down to the person rather than the addictive substance itself:

“Drugs are not the villain of this story because I think a lot of people can do drugs casually, but then there’s this camp of people who have a hard time doing them casually.” She describes being part of the latter camp, and the powerful force of addiction on her life: “you start to feel this nagging anxiety when you’re not high or you don’t have drugs immediately in your vicinity…all the colour drains from the world”.

What is an addictive personality?

So can it be said that some people possess an ‘addictive personality’, or an inherent genetic predisposition to develop an addiction? Dr Mark Griffiths, professor of behavioural addiction at Nottingham Trent university disputes this. He believes that people use the term addictive personality to excuse the behavioural cycle that they are engaging in, and that “there is no single trait that predicts addiction, and addiction alone, from a personality perspective.” Whilst he does agree that there are many personality traits associated with various addictions, such as high levels of neuroticism and low levels of conscientiousness, he argues that personality factors alone, are not predictive of addiction.

Often, people replace one addiction with another, leading some to believe they are programmed to crave constant highs throughout their life. Dr Griffiths explains this as displacement addiction, whereby you give up one thing and then find something else to take its place. This isn’t necessarily evidence of people having addictive personalities, he explains. It is because, when addicts get clean and sober, they naturally try to fill the void that had previously been filled with their addiction. They find other activities which provide the same short-term benefits that they had received initially from their addictions – short term mood changes, escapism, and a sense of forgetting all of one’s problems. They take up a new habit to distract them from cravings for their drug of choice. Examples include coffee or cigarettes, food or exercise.

How to live with addiction

Karen Tyrrell, at addiction charity Addaction, suggests that the healthiest option is to take the energy and effort that one puts into their addiction, and channel it into something positive, that can give one’s life meaning and a sense of purpose. This could be work, spirituality, artistic or charitable endeavours, travelling or sport – the possibilities are limitless. What is important is that those recovering from addiction are engaged in activities that are constructive, positive and focus their mind.

At the end of the day, there is no definitive right or wrong answer to the question of whether we all have it in us to be addicts, just a lot of different opinions. What really matters, is that if you or your loved one is struggling with addiction, please know that there is help available. You don’t have to suffer alone anymore.

How can private rehab help addiction?

Our CEO Paul Spanjar has outlined our holistic approach to addiction treatment here at the Providence Projects drug and alcohol rehab. “The first stage is a detox if an individual is physically dependent on alcohol or drugs, but the really important phase is the rehab programme, which is designed to address the underlying issues and to help the individual develop the skills to stay stopped. Most people with an alcohol or drug problem can stop, they just find it very difficult to stay stopped. We use a variety of treatments at the Providence Projects, including 1-1 counselling, group therapy, workshops, lectures, assignments, alternative therapies, acupuncture and physical activity.”

Crucially, the focus of these treatments is not simply on drugs or alcohol or gambling. Instead we treat the addiction from all angles, and our focus is bespoke to the individual’s unique complexities. Alcohol and drug addiction treatments are tailored to focus on self-esteem, stress and anger management, families and relationships, shame and guilt, and grief and loss. It is important to address the underlying issues, and to explore the root causes of a client’s chosen destructive behavioural cycle. Addiction is, after all, often a symptom of a deeper problem.

If you think you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction, a residential stay at an addiction treatment centre will most likely offer the best chance of a stable and long-lasting recovery. If you would like more information about drug or alcohol addiction, or are considering a private rehab programme for yourself, a family member or a friend, please contact one of our experienced team of counsellors at The Providence Projects in Bournemouth or complete our quick contact form.