Reclusive, depressed writers becoming alcoholics, self-indulgent rock stars hooked on heroin and jet-setting, wealthy corporate types snorting cocaine. Though often a mythical stereotype, the concept of personality and substance abuse intrigued many professionals over the years. Some delve into the subject further by suggesting that certain personality types develop an affinity for abusing specific substances.
During the middle 1900s, German/British psychologist Hans Eysenck innovated psychology by venturing into the study of personalities. Connecting personality types with substance abuse became the physician’s primary project. Eysenck proposed that individuals choose substances based on what drug might return thought processes to a balanced state. Introverts being cerebral, he believed, veered toward substances producing depressant properties that calmed the constantly thinking mind. Extroverts, on the other hand, suffer from boredom and require the exhilarating properties associated with stimulants
Eysenck oversimplified personalities and offered theories without providing scientific evidence. During the 1980s and 90s, researchers embarked on extensive research that explored personality and discovered that traits, in part, originated in genetics. They also concluded that five traits in particular contributed to personality and scientists called these the “Big Five.” In addition to extroversion or introversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism accompany a willingness to embrace new experiences.
Researchers uncovered that individuals have multiple traits to varying degrees and these components may determine the likelihood of substance abuse and the drug of choice. Individuals displaying higher levels of neuroticism compared to other traits, for example, exhibited a greater likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse. In fact, assessments revealing high scores for any individual personality trait revealed a higher tendency toward substance abuse.
Professors at the Michigan State Department of Psychology also found that the more negative traits an individual exhibits, the higher the likelihood of that individual toward abusing “hard drugs.” Individuals prone to hard drug abuse also displayed anti-social, rebelliousness and pessimistic tendencies. Boredom and extroversion also commonly appeared, which may mean that these traits contribute to putting individuals into situations where drug abuse occurs.
Unfortunately, in the majority of research conducted, individuals studied as test subjects typically have a well-established pattern of substance abuse. The body’s dependence on a particular substance combined with the behaviors addicts exhibit to satisfy the addiction also contribute to personality traits. Meaning, the drug of choice, addiction and long-term use alter an individual’s personality. The complexities of personality, substance abuse and addiction will undoubtedly serve as research topics for years to come with many new theories continually emerging.
Hayley is a drug counselor, author and blogger living in Florida. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, Delray Recovery Center may help.