The addictive personality, part two
Much has been written about genetic predisposition and its relationship to addictive personalities. Having an addict in the family does not guarantee that everyone in the family will become addicted. But many believe that hereditary factors can increase a person’s vulnerability to substance abuse or other addictions. That may explain why some gamble sparingly and others compulsively, why some may drink for fun and others become alcoholics.
It seems that those with the genetic predisposition will engage in some type of excessive behavior but will not necessarily choose the same stimuli to which they have been exposed. Adult children of alcoholics may never drink, but they can become addicted to gambling. Children of drug addicts may exercise excessively or be addicted to work.
There is no single gene that determines a person’s susceptibility to addiction. Studies comparing identical and fraternal twins estimate that genetic factors account for 40 to 60 percent of the occurrence of genetic variation.
Researchers have discovered a number of genes linked to addiction through DNA testing. One gene causes dizziness and nausea from smoking and is more present in non-smokers than in smokers. Alcoholism is rare in those who have two copies of the ALDH2 gene. Other genes have been linked to narcotic dependence.
Variants in certain genes have been shown to suppress dopamine signals in the brain. Those who have these blunted receptors have a need to seek higher levels of stimulation to achieve the same level of pleasure as those without the variants. DNA testing can offer vital clues to combat addiction, but its use is highly controversial. The concern is that some may use this information for discriminatory purposes.
It all comes down to the nature vs. nurture argument. It is believed that the environment and education are equally important in the formation of personality. Our life circumstances and emotional experiences may have more influence than our genetic makeup. According to this theory, regardless of our chemical makeup, we still have the ability to choose and control our actions.
There are factors that may indicate an increased risk of developing a serious addiction. People who have difficulty thinking about the long-term consequences of their actions are more likely to develop an addiction. So are those who do everything in excess and/or to the extreme, and those who habitually substitute one compulsion for another. For example, stressed out workaholics may come home at the end of the day and start drinking to relax. They may use cybersex because they don’t have time for real relationships. They can eat for stress.
Those with addictive personalities are more vulnerable during periods of increased stress, such as adolescence and times of transition. People suffering from mental illness, emotional disorders, and personality disorders are also highly prone to addiction. Without being aware that they have a condition, they may self-medicate to manage emotions using substances or behaviors to ease any discomfort they may be feeling.
Mavericks, underachievers, and those with deviant personalities are also prime candidates for addiction. Many adult addicts report having been subjected to deprivation or excess in their childhood. Others report that they were negatively affected by their parents’ constant and unpredictable fluctuation between excessive praise and excessive criticism.
Addictions are unmanageable, excessive and repetitive. Addiction activity begins harmlessly with a pleasant experience, but over time it takes more and more activity to achieve the same effect. People become dependent on the high they get and find it difficult to stop the behavior. If they are deprived of their dose, they will find a substitute. If they are forced to stop the behavior, they will suffer physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms that will force them to resume the addiction. Over time they lose the ability to cope without addictive stimuli.
People with addictions will deny that what they are doing is negatively affecting them as work, family and social relationships suffer and their health worsens. Their desperation often leads them to go to extreme measures to get the solution, which ultimately creates financial and legal problems.
Addictions can be classified as hard or soft. Hard addictions, also known as substance addiction, are categorized by the rapid effect they have on many aspects of a person’s behavior, as well as the effect they have on everyone around them. The abuse of alcohol, barbiturates and narcotics is usually the origin of this type of addiction. This is different than substance abusers who use from time to time. Substance addicts spend every moment of the day finding ways to buy and use drugs or alcohol.
With soft addictions, the abuser uses activities that are harmless to most people. The consequences of those behaviors are not felt immediately. Cigarette smoking and coffee drinking are two commonly known examples of soft addictions. It is much easier to hide soft addictions and cover up the behaviors that result from them. But soft addictions tend to lead to more serious addictions in the future.
Gambling is another common example of a soft addiction. Players with addictive personalities go through three stages. In the first phase, also known as the winning phase, the person has control over their behavior. The second stage is known as the stall phase. In this phase, the person begins to gamble alone, betting large sums of money and borrowing money to pay off the growing debt. The third phase is called the despair phase. In this phase, the player engages in riskier, sometimes illegal behavior. Desperate, he or she may borrow money from unconventional sources. Depression and suicide attempts are common in the third phase of the game.
Other examples of soft addictions are eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive overeating. Although there are other factors that contribute to this type of behavior, it can become pathological behavior very similar to addiction. The anorexic is set on the goal of losing weight. Once a person starts dieting, it is very difficult for them to stop. People with bulimia pursue the same goal as anorexics, but the mode of operation is different. Instead of limiting their diet, they eat large amounts of food and then purge it before their bodies have a chance to digest it. Compulsive overeaters are not concerned with weight gain or loss, although the disorder often results in obesity. They have a compulsive need to eat, whether they are hungry or not.
Something as beneficial as exercise can become a concern or an addiction for those who are predisposed to do it. Running is the most frequent; Runners have been known to get a runner’s high and can become dependent on it. This is attributed to mood-enhancing chemicals called endorphins that are released during exercise. An addiction occurs when the exercise activity is used as an escape or coping mechanism. It is a problem when it becomes so excessive that the body is injured and when it negatively affects relationships.
Compulsive buying falls into the category of soft addictions. Those who do are addicted to the buzz it gives them. It has nothing to do with what they are buying, it is simply their drug. They buy just for the sake of buying without intending to use it. People with this disorder often suffer from other disorders such as depression, mood swings, and anxiety. Shopping gives them temporary relief, but after doing so they feel increased anxiety and intense guilt. One study showed that twenty percent of compulsive shoppers also suffer from an eating disorder.
The two most recent additions to the soft addiction category are Internet abuse and cell phone abuse. They are more prevalent in the younger generations, although there are a significant number of older people who also develop these addictions.
Those who have an Internet addiction, also known as pathological Internet use, find that they cannot control their use. They may be drawn to online games, social networking sites, or other online sites and will spend an inordinate amount of time there. Use becomes addictive when you experience withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings when you are away from it.
Some people become addicted to cyber relationships. A problem occurs when these relationships are used to avoid face-to-face interpersonal interactions. This addiction can lead to social, psychological, work or school problems.
A recent study shows that those who are addicted to cell phone use display very similar behaviors to those with addictive personalities: low self-esteem, approval seeking, insecurity. Mobile phones have become indispensable in our lives, but they can reinforce the over-attachment tendency of people with addictive personalities.