Addictive Personality: Biology Or Environment?

Do some people’s brains have specific receptors that make them more likely to develop an addiction to a substance than other people — or are a person’s decisions to engage in an addictive behavior completely part of their personal responsibility? Perhaps some of both.

Theories and debates about the nature of addiction, and whether or not some people are born with an addictive personality, continue to impact societal attitudes about addiction and treatment plans. On one side of the argument, it can be said that no one forces a person to begin using a drug or alcohol; that it’s all a matter of free choice.

On the other side, however, are some expert opinions and scientific exploration into the “addictive personality,” meaning a person’s biological make-up influences their decisions to become addicted to a substance, and that developing an addiction is partially out of their control.

There are additional factors when considering who may, or may not, be more vulnerable to developing an addiction to an unhealthy behavior or substance. People who live in high-stress environments may be triggered into addiction in order to cope with their circumstances, such as demanding jobs, family crisis or other situations. Children and adults who live in low-income households or homes where violence occurs may also resort to addiction as a way to cope or escape negative emotions.

Other theories say certain categories of personality make addition more likely, such as having anti-social characteristics or being overly anxious. People with personality traits toward self-punishment, or those who are especially indulgent or immature, may also be more prone to form substance addictions. People who display several types of compulsive or impulsive behaviors are also believed more vulnerable to addictions.

Brain chemicals may also have a part to play, say scientists. For example, the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of self-worth and well-being, a person produces have been linked with a tendency for addiction. Differences in levels of norepinephrine, another neurotransmitter and also a hormone, are found in people with depression and substance abuse problems.

Research from the California Institute of Technology strengthens one belief that self-control is closely related to the presence of addiction problems, and that differences can be seen at the brain level. People who exhibit healthy levels of self-control seem to have activity in specific sections of the brain that people with poor self-control do not. Researchers believe this difference makes an impact on a person’s decision whether or not to engage in choices that could bring self-harm.

Still other social conditioning theories toward addiction state that children who grow up with feelings of low self-esteem and poor coping skills, especially when present with impulsive behaviors, may be more likely to become addicted to a substance than children who develop strong feelings of worth and abilities to cope.

To date, no one theory or type of thinking toward addiction has emerged as the total answer. As science looks more closely at brain functioning of people with addiction, some experts hope a “cure” for the addiction-prone personality could be found, while others say this research is only one piece of the complex nature of addiction.

Ultimately, as theories and research continue to both compliment and contradict each other, new multi-faceted approaches toward preventing and treating addictions could bring hope to millions.

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