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Is addiction the result of personal weakness, or could a personality disorder be the culprit? We take a look at addictions to drugs, gambling, shopping, sex, alcohol, food, work, and exercise and look at how you can identify, treat, and help yourself or your loved ones that may be suffering from an addictive personality disorder.
What is Addictive Personality Disorder?
For many people the very mention of addiction brings to mind the heroin addict who has lost their home, family and all of their personal possessions as a result of their drug habit. The truth of the matter is; however, that someone with addictive personality disorder does not have to have a substance abuse problem to be classified as having this disorder. In fact, the presence of a substance abuse problem is not even a classification factor when it comes to identifying someone with this type of disorder. Someone who has an addictive personality disorder is someone who has difficulty managing the stress in their lives and rather than coping with stressors in a “normal” way, they turn to behaviors that are often destructive in nature to help to release the stress that they are feeling. In addition to being hypersensitive to stress, these individuals are often also prone to impulsive behavior and show a significant lack of self esteem. For these individuals, engaging in addictive behaviors is a way to help to try to alleviate the negative emotions being felt as a result of all of these factors.
What Are Addictive Behaviors?
Being able to identify addictive behaviors is an important part of being able to help a loved one who appears to have an addictive personality disorder. As mentioned above, many people often believe that addictive behaviors are limited to extreme drug abuse; however, this is simply not true. Addictive behaviors are wide-ranging and incorporate a significant number of actions which are not always easily identified by family members as being “problem behaviors.”
Drug Abuse/ Addiction
Since it is the addictive behavior that comes to mind most when considering addictive behavior, we will cover drug abuse first. Drug abuse is one of the most recognized types of addictive behavior because it is one of the most destructive in terms of its impact on the user as well as the family of the user. Drugs include illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine and meth amphetamine in addition to prescription drugs such as pain killers. Drug abuse can even include the abuse of household substances when used to illicit a feeling of being “high.” Individuals with addictive personality disorder often begin using drugs as a method to overcome feelings of low self esteem and as a way to escape pressures felt as a result of stress. When turning to drugs individuals with addictive personality disorder are easily swayed by peer pressure but often know what they are doing is wrong but the temptation to release the pressure felt from stress is more tempting than the possibility of becoming a drug addict is dissuading. For those with addictive personality disorder the health and financial impact of drug addiction is not enough to outweigh the addiction to drugs itself.
Gambling is a behavior that many individuals with addictive personality disorder get sucked in to. What may begin as a friendly game of poker or a first visit to a casino, can quickly spiral out of control. Individuals who suffer from addictive personality disorder and who get sucked in to a life of gambling often feel that they are “lucky” and that their next “big win” is just around the corner. While drug addiction can be extremely detrimental to the health of these individuals, gambling can be equally as devastating to the financial life of these individuals. Many times individuals with addictive personality disorder who get sucked in to a gambling habit find themselves losing everything they own, including their house and car. Where many drug addicts get their high in terms of a physical process when their drug of choice takes effect, gamblers get their “high” in a number of ways. Placing the bet is enough for some gamblers to feel good, but for others it can be pulling the slot machine handle, winning a good hand or simply sitting at a casino table. For those with addictive personality disorder the financial ruin that can often result from an addiction to gambling is not enough to deter the pursuit of the “high” that is felt from any one aspect of the gambling process. Often times even gamblers who have lost everything they own will seek to place just one more bet out of the belief that they will “strike it rich.”
Shopping may seem like a fairly harmless type of behavior; however, when shopping becomes a tool for someone with addictive personality disorder it can become a rather destructive behavior. Where a drug addict seeks relief in the high that they feel from their drug of choice, the shopping addict feels relief from the high that they feel when they make a purchase. Often times for these individuals it is not even what is purchased so much as the act of purchasing something that brings the “high” that is chased by these individuals. While shopping addiction may not bring about the negative health effects that come along with drug addiction, shopping addiction can quickly lead to financial ruin and as a result lead to abandonment and homelessness. Individuals who turn to shopping as a form of addictive behavior feel an incredible sense of release of stress when they make their purchases; however, soon, these purchases begin to pile up as does the level of debt and it doesn’t take long before both of these things become incredibly overwhelming. Individuals who indulge in shopping as a stress release behavior often turn to shopping when they feel overwhelmed with other aspects of their life such as the pressures of being financially responsible. It is ironic in a way that shopping can provide a release from the strains of financial responsibility because this form of release only adds to the financial strain.
One of the least talked about types of addiction is sex addiction. Many people do not recognize sex as being an addictive behavior to someone who has addictive personality disorder, namely because they do not want to address the subject of sex or consider it being used as a way to relieve stress. The truth of the matter is, however, that many individuals turn to sex as a method for stress release, but in individuals with addictive personality disorder, this engagement in sexual behavior often becomes dangerous. Individuals with addictive personality disorder who engage in sex as a means of stress release often do so in such a way that they pose a significant risk to themselves. These individuals often take part in sex in group settings where their traditional inhibitions are abandoned, they often take part in unprotected sex and they often take part in spontaneous sex with partners whom they have never met before. Individuals who pursue this type of behavior to quell their personal turmoil put themselves at risk in a number of ways including: the risk for pregnancy, the risk for contracting a sexually transmitted disease or infection, the risk for encountering a violent partner and the risk for damaging existing relationships. The risks that lie in sexual addiction however, are not enough to deter individuals with addictive personality disorder from engaging in dangerous levels of sexual interaction. One of the most significant risks to consider these days is the potential for contracting HIV or AIDS from careless sexual behavior, but for individuals with an addictive personality, the thrill of the experience far outweighs the consequences that may follow.
Many times alcohol addiction is combined in the category of drug addiction; however, since drug addiction mostly involves the use and abuse of controlled substances and alcohol addiction does not, we will separate the two. Addiction to alcohol is a particularly easy addiction for someone with an addictive personality disorder to fall in to because of the availability of alcohol. For the true addict there is a variety of alcohol for every budget and since the high lands in the “numbness” that comes with drinking, it rarely matters what type of alcohol is used. There are a number of dangers that lie behind alcohol addiction. The most often considered is the potential for cirrhosis of the liver as alcohol builds up in the body and begins to stress the liver as it attempts to constantly process high levels of alcohol. Other consequences of alcohol abuse that should also be considered include: the potential for harming or even killing someone else in a drunk driving incident, the financial ruin that often accompanies alcoholism and the effect that alcoholism has upon the family of the alcoholic. Alcohol may not be as controlled as a number of other drugs; however, the impact that it has upon a family can be equally as devastating.
Eating Disorders and Food Addiction
One of the least recognized types of addictive behaviors that a significant portion of individuals take part in is eating disorders. Eating disorders are varied but they all have one thing in common – taking control of one or many aspects of live by controlling another – in this instance, food. Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive overeating. All of these behaviors provide the “release” or “high” that addicts are chasing; however, they all come at a cost. The most significant impact that eating disorders have on the life of an individual with addictive personality disorder is the impact on health. Regardless of what type of eating disorder is being discussed, the negative impact is always one which hits hard in the area of physical health. Both under eating and overeating have significant impacts upon the individual engaging in these behaviors and in both situations these behaviors can lead to death. Depriving the body of the basic number of calories it needs to maintain proper function is just as damaging as stuffing the body full of calories in order to experience a “numbness” that comes with being full for overeaters. While many people still do not recognize eating disorders as a type of addictive behavior, they almost certainly are because they are pursued for a specific feeling which alleviates some of the stress that is naturally felt but unnaturally magnified for those with an addictive personality.
Overworking and Work Addictions
The concept of being a “workaholic” is often something that is made light of in today’s society where everyone has to work hard to make a living; however, being a workaholic is just as dangerous as being any other type of addict. An individual with addictive personality disorder may find that they experience a high or a feeling of great release when they are working and as such they are always working in an attempt to chase that high. While the negative effects of overworking are often not as apparent as the negative effects of an eating disorder or a drug abuse problem, they can be just as significant. An individual who chronically overworks can find themselves neglecting their own personal health, their own family members and their basic human needs such as food and socialization. It may not seem like such a significant impact to be a workaholic, but workaholics can quickly find themselves without a family member to turn on, with significant health concerns as a result of a lack of medical care and without anyone to turn to when things become too rough because they have neglected all of their friends and family.
Over-Exercising/ Exercise Addiction
Over exercising is often included in the eating disorders section of addictive personality behaviors; however, many people also feel that it is its own category of addictive behavior. Whether or not over exercising is included with eating disorders, it can have many of the same effects on the life of the person affected. Over exercising leads to poor health in many cases and includes a lack of adequate nutrition, the breakdown of joints, mental anguish when exercising is not completed to schedule and neglect of family and friends. Over exercising can be just as detrimental to your health as a number of other addictive behavior types.
Addictive Personality Disorder [Video]
The mental health guru brings you a video on addictions. Anyone can suffer from addiction, but there are certain factors which may increase a person’s chance of becoming addicted.
How to Spot Addictive Personality Disorder
For those who have never been exposed to addictive personality disorder before it may seem that identifying the disorder is as simple as observing these addictive behaviors. While spotting addictive behaviors in some may be relatively easy, in most it is considerably difficult due to the fact that these behaviors are often hidden out of shame. There are some signs that can be spotted in those with addictive personality that can help to alert family and friends to the presence of the disorder. Some signs of addictive personality disorder include:
- Low self-esteem
- A tendency to impulsive behavior
- An antisocial personality
- Difficulty delaying gratification
- A disposition toward sensation seeking
- Someone who values nonconformity to an extreme
- Someone with a weak commitment to the goals for achievement that are generally accepted by “normal” society
- Someone who is tolerant of deviant behavior
- Someone who is socially alienated
- Having an increased sense of stress
While all of these symptoms can be indicative of a number of life stages, when present in groups and accompanied by certain behavior patterns they can be indicative of addictive personality disorder.
Treating Addictive Personality Disorder
Treating addictive personality disorder is difficult because of the wide-ranging symptoms that are produced in this disorder. The biggest focus for the most part when treating this disorder is on the symptoms as they are observed, for example treating drug addiction rather than treating the cause for drug addiction. A select few rehab programs do, however, focus on the entire process of addiction and treat the contributing factors that lead someone with addictive personality disorder to pursue their addiction of choice. While treating the symptoms of addictive personality disorder can be challenging, treating the reasons why these individuals seek addictive behaviors is even more challenging. Without addressing the underlying causes for behavior though, an individual who successfully recovers from a cocaine addiction may turn around and replace that addiction with alcohol or gambling, simply trading one addiction for another. By addressing the underlying factors that cause addictive behaviors individuals are taught how to control their behavior and understand why they seek such gratification so that they can attempt to control themselves.
Treating the root of addictive personality disorder means engaging in a rigorous regime which involves a personalized therapy program in which individuals are taught why they feel the need to take part in such destructive behaviors, how to recognize triggers to such behavior and how to replace unhealthy behavior with healthy behavior. Unfortunately, most individuals who do get recognized as having some type of addictive personality disorder only undergo treatment for their primary addiction which leads to future incidences of addictive behavior, whether this is a repetition of the primary addiction or simply a substitution of this behavior for another.
What Can You Do if Someone You Love Has an Addictive Personality?
Living with someone who has an addictive personality can be difficult because it involves monitoring and hand holding at times that many family members are not prepared to offer. The first step in helping a family member with this type of disorder is to recognize the symptoms and enroll them in a program designed to tackle not only their addiction but also their addictive personality disorder. Finding a good therapist and program that can work with your loved one may be time-consuming, but tackling the root of the problem is the only way to set your loved one up for success.