Addiction is complex. The factors that contribute to its onset (genetics, environmental factors, traumatic experiences, co-occurring mental health disorders, and more) are multifaceted and different for everyone. Substance use disorders then change the brain, and while it heals throughout recovery, this further complicates things.
People with Addiction and Addictive Tendencies
I’m not a big fan of the term “addictive personality,” because addiction is not a personality trait. Believing it is one can make a person feel stuck—as though “addicted person” is the core of who they are.
However, there are often things that those of us in recovery share. For instance, people with addiction are more likely to have had reduced dopamine receptors prior to ever using substances; then in active addiction, the brain further reduces dopamine receptors as an adaptive response to the dopamine floods from drugs or alcohol. This means that people in recovery may be more prone to seeking a quick dopamine fix.
Paying Attention to How Behaviors Make You Feel
In my six years sober, I’ve learned that I might always have addictive tendencies—but I’ve also learned that there are constructive ways to channel it. While some things are not healthy for anyone, what is healthy can be highly personal. If something feels all-consuming to me, I question how it makes me feel. Is it chaotic and destructive? Do I feel bad afterwards? Or do I feel energized—not just while I’m engaging in the activity, but afterwards?
While people in recovery may be more likely to struggle with addictive tendencies, it’s this awareness that might actually make people in recovery less likely to develop another substance use disorder. A study in JAMA Psychiatry found that people in recovery from one substance use disorder were significantly less likely to develop another.
Channeling Addictive Tendencies Constructively
In my first year sober, I was obsessive about setting goals. I strongly believe channeling some of my addictive energy there helped me stay sober. Other times I had tried to quit or cut back, I’d seen it as losing the ability to feel good, which meant I was just grinning and bearing sobriety.
Setting and reaching goals releases dopamine. It also gave me something to focus on—in the same obsessive way I’d focused on alcohol (and to a lesser extent, drugs)—that actually added to my life and brought positive outcomes. Those results motivated me to stay sober so that I could reach more goals. I’m still a goal-oriented person, but by the time I calmed down a bit on that front, being sober had improved my life significantly. That in turn motivated me to continue.
Addictive tendencies don’t have to be seen as a weakness; they might be the same traits that make you really passionate about your job/hobbies, or a great, devoted friend and partner. It’s just helpful to be aware of how the things you do make you feel—the better you feel, the more motivated you can be in recovery.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for mental health disorders and addiction in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you find the recovery program that works for you so you can thrive sober. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.