The dictionary definition of Addiction states:

Addiction is the physical or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, such as a drug or alcohol. In physical addiction, the body adapts to the substance being used and gradually requires increased amounts to reproduce the effects originally produced by smaller doses. See more at withdrawal.

Personality Traits That Can Lead to Addiction

Research suggests that certain personality or behavioral traits can predispose someone to develop an addiction. Traits can vary between substance and addiction type, or even by age of the individual. Certain traits have been associated with drug abuse and/or addiction in general, including:

  • Impulsivity: is commonly associated with a wide range of psychological problems, including addiction. Sometimes described as spontaneous or erratic behavior with little thought of the outcomes or consequences, impulsivity can lead to risky behaviors.
  • Sensation-seeking behavior: This trait is similar to impulsivity in the sense that sensation-seeking individuals might be more spontaneous or also seek out risky situations to fulfill the need for new or varied experiences.
  • Negative affect: Negative affect refers to a set of unpleasant emotions, such as anger and sadness that can lead to maladaptive behaviors, including substance abuse. Those with negative affect are more likely to abuse substances to cope with stress.
  • Negative urgency: Negative urgency is how rashly a person responds to distress. Those with negative urgency who have difficulty managing stress in a healthy way are more likely to turn to substance abuse to cope. Neuroticism: People with high neuroticism often respond to challenges or threats with negative emotions, such as anger, sadness, anxiety, and irritability. Research has revealed that people with high neuroticism are more likely to suffer from a substance use disorder.
  • Disagreeableness: People who are disagreeable are more likely to be selfish, unfriendly, and uncooperative. Studies have shown that a low level of agreeableness is correlated with alcohol or drug addiction.
  • Narcissism: Research has suggested a link between narcissism, or an inflated sense of self-importance, and online gaming addiction.
  • Aggression: Aggression is characterized by hostility and violent behavior toward others. Research suggests it is positively correlated with online gaming addiction.

Not everyone who has the traits will develop a substance abuse problem.

Many worry that having these traits will lead to addiction. However, as mentioned above, many other factors influence the development of an addiction. Not everyone who has a set of traits or genes that predisposes them to addiction develops problems with substance abuse. Protective factors, such as a strong support network, an ability to handle life stressors, and resilience can prevent addiction.

For example, someone who is sensation-seeking and impulsive may be more likely to engage in risk-taking activities but may pick up sky-diving or mountain climbing instead of drugs. Conversely, someone who does not display any of these traits can develop an addiction.

If you are worried you may develop an addiction, or if you know that addiction runs in your family, educate yourself on substance abuse and the risks of using. Learn to use coping skills when experiencing negative life events or emotions, and surround yourself with positive and sober people.

Predictors of Adolescent Substance Abuse and Behavioural Addictions

Common traits found in adolescents who abuse drugs and alcohol and exhibit problematic gambling include: 7,8

  • High impulsivity.
  • Depression.
  • Extraversion.
  • Sensation-seeking.
  • Anxiety.
  • Neuroticism.

Some of these traits show up in early childhood, while others may develop later in adolescence. Although not every adolescent who exhibits these traits will develop an addiction, it's important to know the predictors so that drug abuse education and early intervention can be provided.

Additional adolescent traits that are associated with computer gaming addiction include:

  • Low self-esteem.
  • Irritability/aggression.
  • Social anxiety.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


An "addictive personality" is a colloquial or informal term based on the belief that certain people have a particular set of personality traits that predispose them to addiction and other problematic behaviors, such as drug abuse or gambling.

Addiction can be influenced by various factors in one's life, including social environment, family, psychology, and biology. Personality, which reflects the confluence of a number of individual traits, is one of these factors.

Risk and Protective Factors in Children and Adolescents

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), risk factors increase the likelihood of negative consequences later in life, while protective factors decrease the likelihood. Some risk and protective factors remain the same throughout a person's life, and some are variable, depending on life circumstances.

Those who have more risk factors, such as neglect or abuse, are more likely to have adverse outcomes. On the other hand, those with more protective factors, such as a stable home, family, and school, are likely to have better outcomes.

Risk Factors

  • Prenatal exposure to substance use
  • Parents who abuse drugs or alcohol
  • Child abuse
  • Child neglect
  • Violence against mother
  • Mental illness in the household
  • Parental divorce or separation
  • Incarcerated family member
  • Neighbourhood poverty
  • Neighbourhood violence
  • Racism
  • A lack of economic opportunity
  • Early aggressive behavior
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Drug availability

Protective Factors

  • Positive self-image
  • Self-control
  • Social competence
  • Parental involvement and monitoring
  • Availability of after-school activities
  • Academic competence
  • Anti-drug policies in school
  • Access to quality education
  • Stable housing
  • Stable family relationships
  • Positive peer relationships
  • Positive community relationships
  • Economic opportunities

It should be noted that there are other factors at play, such as resiliency. Resiliency is one's ability to overcome life events and maintain a positive well-being. More research needs to be done to determine what makes one child more likely to be resilient than another. However, some evidence suggests that all children can be resilient and grow up to be successful.