Despite the wide gulf between an addiction to drugs and an addiction to gambling, some mental health experts find it useful to view addiction as including all self-destructive, compulsive behaviors. Some even go so far as to include the relatively benign activity of compulsive television-watching. Among other activities which, done in excess, have been characterized as addictive behavior are caffeine consumption, eating of chocolates or other sugar-laden foods, television watching, playing video games and even running.
The report finds that there are several ''significant personality factors'' that can contribute to addiction:
- Impulsive behavior, difficulty in delaying gratification, an antisocial personality and a disposition toward sensation seeking.
- A high value on nonconformity combined with a weak commitment to the goals for achievement valued by the society.
- A sense of social alienation and a general tolerance for deviance.
- A sense of heightened stress. This may help explain why adolescence and other stressful transition periods are often associated with the most severe drug and alcohol problems.
A national group of addiction experts has redefined addiction as a "chronic brain disease," emphasizing that it's not just a result of bad choices or behaviors. ASAM calls addiction a "primary disease," one that arises spontaneously, not because of a previous disease or injury such as emotional or psychiatric problems. Because addiction is considered chronic by the definition, like diabetes or heart disease, it requires lifetime monitoring and care.
Many doctors now believe that these character traits develop in addicts as a result of the addiction, rather than the traits being a cause of the addiction.
When we think of the qualities we seek in visionary leaders, we think of intelligence, creativity, wisdom and charisma, but also the drive to succeed, a hunger for innovation, a willingness to challenge established ideas and practices. But in fact, the psychological profile of a compelling leader -- think of tech pioneers like Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison and Steven P. Jobs -- is also that of the compulsive risk-taker, someone with a high degree of novelty-seeking behavior. In short, what we seek in leaders is often the same kind of personality type that is found in addicts, whether they are dependent on gambling, alcohol, sex or drugs.
The studies found that, on average, people with a particular version of the gene score about 10 percent higher for novelty-seeking on personality tests than people who lack that version. People who are above average on novelty-seeking are impulsive, fickle, excitable, quick-tempered and extravagant, while those scoring below average tend to be reflective, rigid, loyal, stoic, slow to anger and frugal.
Scientists say they've identified a gene that influences how impulsive, excitable, quick-tempered and extravagant you are, a possible step toward unraveling the genetics of personality. Two studies provide the first confirmed association between a particular gene and a normal personality trait in this case, a characteristic scientists call "novelty-seeking," which includes impulsiveness, excitability and the like. About half the novelty-seeking variation between people is thought to be due to genes, and the gene in the study accounts for about one-fifth of this genetic component, Ebstein said.
From studies comparing identical and fraternal twins, it is estimated that genetic factors account for 40 to 60 percent of the variation in the risk for addiction. Crucially, genetic variants that suppress dopamine signaling in the pleasure circuit substantially increase pleasure- and novelty-seeking behaviors -- their bearers must seek high levels of stimulation to reach the same level of pleasure that others can achieve with more moderate indulgence. Those blunted dopamine receptor variants are associated with substantially increased risk of addiction to a range of substances and behaviors.
Dr Collier's survey of recent research also tentatively draws the conclusion that there may be a genetic link between thrill-seekers, 'adrenaline junkies', and addictive personalities.
The personality pattern displayed by these women combines both "neurotic" traits such as generalized anxiety, moodiness, emotional sensitivity, and poor self-esteem, with more antisocial types of traits such as anger, resentfulness, instability in terms of employment, dysfunctional relationships, and difficulty meeting societal expectations. Furthermore, this personality pattern does not fit into any one, or even several, of the currently diagnosed personality disorders. This suggests that there is an addictive personality distinct from other personality types.
Dr. O'Brien said there are very important similarities in the personality characteristics of the addictions studied, including tendencies to depression, dependent behavior and difficulty in formulating long-term personal goals because of a concentration on short-term goals.
Though alcoholism and other damaging addictions are often be traced as symptoms of depression and other emotional distress, the relatively new notion of the "addictive personality" has a significant community of supporters. According to its supporters, the addictive personality is a distinct psychological trait that predisposes particular individuals to addictions. While the nature and the very existence of this trait is still actively debated in the medical, neurobiological and psychology communities, there are definite implications in the brain that contribute to addiction.
The majority of deaths and damage associated with drugs and alcohol are suffered by people who would not be classed as addicts at all, but just go on the odd binge now and again.