Most people can identify drunken behavior signs after alcohol has affected a drinkers’ central nervous system. There’s the slurring of words, reeling or staggering gait, bloodshot eyes, and generally impaired motor skills. But can we take our observations a step further and identify personality characteristics or traits that might lead a person to drink heavily or use drugs?
It appears that there are actual personality traits that are common to people who struggle with addiction that can be detected before taking their first drink or using their drug of choice. Though these six traits are also present in people who never drink or do drugs, they are highly representative of addiction.
1. Impulsive Behavior
The inability to detect shades of gray in any situation and the tendency to consider every instance as an "all or nothing" situation is one reason why people with problems with drugs and alcohol find it so hard to stop their substance use. They don't do anything halfway—it’s either always in or always out. This type of personality allows for no middle ground.
2. Antisocial Tendencies
The antisocial personality feels that he or she does not fit within the bounds of normal society and so withdraws from it. This behavior can lead to dependence on alcohol or drugs to fill the emotional emptiness.
Feelings of insecurity and a fear of failure may have a part to play in all this. Antisocial types have difficulty reaching beyond themselves, so drugs or alcohol give them a sense of belonging. Since it’s difficult to open up to others, they are reluctant to seek help even when they are aware of their addiction and the problems it creates in their lives.
3. Poor Stress Management
Everyone has stress in their lives. Most of us learn coping skills along the way and can deal effectively with all but the most extreme circumstances. When a normally well-adjusted person’s coping skills fail, they generally find ways to deal with the stress healthily. This is not so with addictive types. They turn to drugs or alcohol to relieve the stress and numb the intense emotional disturbance. They rather bask in the feeling of warmth and self-worth created by alcohol or other substances than problem-solve the situation at hand.
4. Instant Gratification
Interestingly, most therapists will tell their patients to live in the present, to be in the here and now. This makes instant gratification seem like a healthy expectation. But people afflicted with instant gratification behaviors are deterred from setting important long-term goals. They are also prone to impulsive and risky behavior to get that immediate rush of pleasure, excitement, or reward.
Instant gratification leads to compulsive behaviors in the search for power over one’s life. Such actions can easily lead to substance use, sex addiction, or an obsession with another person.
5. Lack of Intimacy
This trait is different than antisocial behavior in that it refers to one-on-one relationships rather than just one’s perception of his or her place in society.
The person’s inability to accept intimacy makes it difficult or impossible for him or her to relate to another person in a way conducive to a successful, long-term relationship.
This type of personality suffers feelings of isolation and alienation from other people. They see intimacy with another as unattainable because they are not worthy of it. This can lead to a series of one-night-stands, rebellious or non-conforming behaviors that preclude a healthy, lasting relationship.
The brief relationships that do form are usually full of emotional turmoil for all parties concerned. The lack of a healthy relationship leads people to connect with others who are also struggling with addiction and who are equally incapable of sustaining a relationship. Such partnerships can be abusive, putting both parties on a downward spiral to suffer ever-intensifying feelings of low self-worth.
6. Low Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem cannot be separated from the other five traits above. It runs through each personality trait listed and is most likely the foundation of them all. People who have low self-esteem are typically unsure of themselves and often operate with fear and anxiety. They don't cope with life and its daily stresses and their counterparts who have a stronger sense of value and self-worth.
People need to be more aware of these characteristics to deal more effectively with the addictive personalities around them and within them. Being aware is the first step to understanding the problem of addiction. If it also helps stem the stigmatization that keeps people from admitting they have a serious affliction and getting treatment, so much the better.