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Do You Have an Addictive Personality?

By Cathy Patterson-Sterling – MA, RCC

Many people at one moment or another may consider whether they or someone they know has an “addictive personality.” This means that the person compulsively engages in activities at a level which becomes an obsession. For example, if an individual exercises and has an addictive personality then they would compulsively exercise to such a high degree that they may even risk injuring themselves. That same person with an “addictive personality” might then start gambling to such an extent that they are “chasing losses” by trying to regain money that they have lost rather than considering that they should quit the activity altogether. A common societal saying for such compulsion is the motto: “Go big or go home.” The person with a so-called addictive personality lives on an extreme edge of always engaging in activities to the maximum limit as they enjoy the “rush” or intensity of such actions along the way. Often this intensity comes from a sense that they are trying to avoid negative consequences and hoping that their actions “do not catch up with them.”

In an interview on Video Jug, Dr. Marc Kern describes the addictive personality as a person who has to:

– have good feelings all of the time

– organize their life around these good feelings

– disregard the negative consequences related to their compulsive actions and continues on with these “good feeling” activities anyway

As Dr. Marc Kern states in his interview, the addictive personality topic is highly controversial and many professionals do not believe in an addictive personality. Also there are people who may have a chemical addiction and then they do what is called an “addiction transfer” as they stop one addiction, such as alcohol, then picking up another addiction such as online gambling. 

No one can ultimately prove whether the construct of having an addictive personality really exists or not. Regardless, people who live at levels of high intensity and organize their worlds around always having to feel good need to learn how to “build themselves from the inside out” rather than waiting for some type of chemical, activity, or habit make them feel good from the outside in. Such mood-altering substances and intensive activities provide people with feelings that are only fleeting. Instead, when people engage in service work, give back at some level to society, create greater meaning/purpose in their lives, accomplish goals, etc. then they can develop a natural high from life that is fulfilling and truly satisfying at a soul level.

Therefore the “addictive personality” debate is almost pointless because people who live at a compulsive level really do have an opportunity to heal themselves. They are not happy and such problems are opportunities for them to transform their lives. Such individuals do not have a set personality that is determined. Instead, these people have a chance to find deeper meaning as well as purpose in their lives.

Recommended Reading

The Addictive Personality: Common Traits are Found (January 1983) The New York Times.

The Addictive Personality (1996) Craig Nakken

About the Author

Cathy Patterson-Sterling, MA, RCC, is Director of Family Services at Sunshine Coast Health Center, a private residential alcohol and drug rehabilitation program for men. In this capacity, Cathy is able to provide families of clients the support they need from the moment of the crisis before entering addiction treatment through to their entry into family programming and beyond (family aftercare is also provided). With a strength-focused addiction family therapy approach, substance-affected families are able to transform as they begin their own healing journeys alongside clients.

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