Not everyone with an addictive personality becomes an addict, and those who do aren’t necessarily addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or tobacco — the usual suspects.

An addictive personality refers collectively to a group of personality traits that may make a person more likely to develop an addiction to something. This can include someone becoming extremely passionate about something and developing an obsession or fixation. Think compulsive buying, game-playing, even exercise.

Tanning addiction
Addictive Personality
Tanning Addiction

The root causes of addiction include trauma, mental health struggles, and genetic predisposition.

“Addiction can be viewed as a form of self-medication that works against psychological suffering.”

Marc Lewis, Neuroscientist

There’s a longstanding myth that some people simply have an addictive personality — a personality type that increases their risk for addiction. However, medical professionals cannot officially diagnose (or even officially define) an addictive personality. Experts generally agree that addictions are rooted in brain disorder, personal history or trauma, genetics, and environment, rather than being a diagnosable psychiatric issue.

In the 1990s, marketers for pharmaceutical companies in the US started using the term addictive personality as part of a campaign to promote painkillers. Representatives for Purdue Pharma told doctors that OxyContin would only cause addiction in patients who already had an “addictive personality.” Blaming patients for becoming addicted to highly addictive painkillers helped to remove the blame from the pharmaceutical industry.

Many people today use the term “addictive personality” as a catch-all to refer to certain personality traits that may increase the chances that a person will develop an addiction of some kind. For example, those who like to take risks and who have little impulse control around experimenting and playing with new experiences and dangerous activities are more likely to try drugs. Nevertheless, no one can perfectly predict who will become addicted after substance use and who will not.

Contributing Factors to Addiction

Plastic Surgery Addiction
Addictive Personality
Plastic Surgery Addiction

According to, addiction is a complex brain disorder that is the result of a variety of factors. Genetics play a large part in susceptibility to addiction (see above), but other variables including family history, upbringing, environment, socioeconomic status, and drug availability also play a role in a person’s risk of addiction.

The American Psychological Association (APA) stated in a 2008 hearing before the US Congress that “at least half of a person’s susceptibility to drug or alcohol addiction can be linked to genetic factors.”

There is some overlap between an addictive personality and the symptoms of ADHD. Though there is no genetic link between ADHD and addiction, people with ADHD are at a higher risk of developing addictions. Dr. Sarah Johnson, medical director at Landmark Recovery, attributes this to the difficulty people with ADHD have with regulating neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine

Some estimate that 10-15% of the population has personality traits that may contribute to an addictive personality. This percentage of the population doesn’t know when to stop and has a more difficult time coping with drugs and alcohol. If you think you or a loved one may have an addictive personality, consider the following addictive personality traits.

Some Signs of Addiction/ Risk of Addiction

Pet Hoarding Addiction
Addictive Peronslity
Pet Hoarding Addiction
  • Always wanting more
  • Continuing despite negative outcomes
  • Inability to follow self-imposed rules
  • Not being able to stop
  • Obsessing
  • Replacing relationships
  • Secrecy
  • Impulsivity
  • Value nonconformity
  • Anxiety
  • Low stress tolerance
  • Sensation seeking
  • Blame shifting
  • Insecurity
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Poor coping skills
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Selfishness
  • Social isolation or withdrawal
  • Thrill-seeking

Could Addictive Traits Be Helpful?

Some researchers have hypothesized that the risk-seeking tendencies prevalent in addicts played an important role in early human evolution.

According to 12 Keys Rehab, an addictive personality isn’t necessarily a bad trait. Awareness of troubling behaviors and the possibility of negative consequences can actually be very positive when channeled into positive activities and results.

Identifying productive alternative activities that give a pleasure burst is key to channeling an addictive personality into a positive direction. This does not mean substituting one vice for another.

One can channel compulsivity, impulsiveness, and sensation seeking into positive results, for example, by learning new skills, getting in shape, making friendships, and more.  Impulsive people are often viewed as fun to be around due to their spontaneous nature,

An addictive personality can help one achieve goals as long as one is on guard for potential negative impacts. In fact, some experts say that the personality traits of an addict also make for great leaders and business people.

BOTTOM LINE: Many personality traits—including some generally seen as positive—are correlated with the likelihood of developing an addiction. Be self aware!


When “addiction” comes up, it’s most often in the context of the “Big Three”: alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. But gambling can be an addiction, too. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling (2020), in the United States approximately 2 million adults have a “gambling disorder” (i.e., addiction) and another 4-6 million struggle with problem gambling.  As of May 2, 2022, according to, that figure is as many as 10 million. 

We watch lots of TV sports in this house, especially MASN (Mid-Atlantic Sports Network), CBS Richmond, and who knows how many other channels. And what I’ve noticed is that sporting events are riddled with commercials for “risk-free” on-line betting. During baseball games, they pop up every half inning!

By risk-free, I mean that upon enrollment, the bettor gets anywhere from $200 to $2000 to gamble without fear of losing actual money. Just imagine the scene: a bunch of people watching the game, knocking back a few, and deciding as a group, “Why not?” 

Internet access and online betting platforms and games of chance can only increase the likelihood of developing gambling problems. According to a combination of national studies, 1 in 20 college students are compulsive gamblers, more than twice the rate of the overall adult population.  “Some studies indicate that 23% of college students report gambling online, with 6% doing so weekly.” ( The American Psychiatric Association has identified Internet Gaming Disorder as a “condition warranting more clinical research and experience” before including it in the next edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Candy Crush isn’t a gambling game, but the micro-transactions in it (buying extra lives) have a similar effect on the brain as gambling and may be priming players for development of later gambling addictions.

The trend of micro-transactions in video games has also contributed to online gambling addictions. Players exchange real-world money for virtual rewards in the game, often starting at less than a dollar (hence the micro-” descriptor). Studies show that players who purchase loot boxes or in-game currency and engage in risky behaviors within games are more likely to develop gambling addictions. This might be a case of correlation rather than causation, and the limited sample size makes research difficult.

Probably not coincidence: per a 2018 study by WalletHub, the most gambling-friendly state in the US, Nevada, also had the highest rate of gambling addiction. (Once upon a time I was shocked to find slot-machines right next to the condom machines in women’s toilets.)

As with alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs, gambling is usually not illegal (laws vary greatly among states, and online gambling is even more complicated). And as with the Big Three, many people who are diagnosable as addicts don’t recognize/rationalize their behaviors. Only 21% of incarcerated people assessed as having gambling addiction thought their gambling was  problematic.

Also like the Big Three, 69% of adolescent gambling addicts started gambling before age 12, and the earlier the onset, the greater the severity.

Types of gambling

  • Games of chance (e.g., lottery, roulette)
  • Games of skill (e.g., poker)
  • Blended betting (my term, e.g., horse racing)

Male vs. Female

  • More men are compulsive gamblers
  • Women start gambling at a later age
  • Women become addicted to gambling more quickly

The gambling personality (

  • The more one gambles, the harder it is to stop
  • Gambling alters many of the same brain circuits in the same way as drugs
  • Pathological gamblers display genetic predispositions for impulsivity and reward seeking
  • Gambling releases dopamine
  • Gamblers lose sensitivity to their highs leading to riskier behavior
  • Between 2% and 7% of Parkinson’s patients are compulsive gamblers

Why be concerned? 

Unlike the Big Three, gambling doesn’t directly cause physical health problems. So what’s the big deal? Aside from the risk of financial ruin, gambling addiction is also associated with: 

  • Domestic violence
  • Children who are more likely to develop depression, substance abuse, and behavioral problems
  • Criminal activity to get money for gambling, reported by 80-90% of people attending Gamblers Anonymous, including stealing from family and work and writing bad checks
  • Being arrested seven times as often as on-gamblers
  • Increased risk for alcohol or drug dependency
  • Overall worse mental health

Warning signs

  • Gambling as a distraction from problems 
  • Gambling to feel better (There’s actually a chemical basis for this in the brain’s reward systems.)
  • Hiding gambling from loved ones
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed after gambling

Treatment options are parallel to the Big Three:

  • Residential
  • Outpatient
  • Self-help (Gamblers Anonymous)
  • Medications used to treat substance abuse, some anti-depressants
  • Cognitive-behavior therapy

More info

Bottom line: Yes, life is a gamble, but the gambling life is hazardous to your health!