Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Better Understanding of ‘The Addictive Personality’

Human Behaviors

Unbroken BrainMaia Szalavitz, writes: “Addictions and other neurodevelopmental disorders rely not just on our actual experience but on how we interpret it and how our parents and friends respond to and label the way we behave. They develop in brains designed to change with experience—and that leaves us vulnerable to learning things that create damaging patterns, not just useful habits.”
Image Credit & Source: ScientAmer

An excerpt published in Scientific American taken from the book, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, by Maia Szalavitz, says that there is no scientific evidence, no general collection of personality traits, to label someone with an addictive personality. Such a diagnosis is a myth, and in no way based on current scientific research. Moreover, Szalavitz adds that many of the behaviors associated with addictions are often a result of problems associated with learning and interpreting one’s experience, whether positive or negative.

Such individuals are not born with what is deemed as anti-social personality disorders, which suggest a genetic component, but might have learning disorders, primarily in how they process information—often in a way that can distort their thought processes and lead to the formation of bad or destructive personal habits.

In “The Addictive Personality Isn't What You Think It Is” (April 5, 2016), Szalavitz writes:
Although addiction was originally framed by both Alcoholics Anonymous and psychiatry as a form of antisocial personality or “character” disorder, research did not confirm this idea. Despite decades of attempts, no single addictive personality common to everyone with addictions has ever been found. If you have come to believe that you yourself or an addicted loved one, by nature of having addiction, has a defective or selfish personality, you have been misled. As George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told me, “What we’re finding is that the addictive personality, if you will, is multifaceted,” says Koob. “It doesn’t really exist as an entity of its own.”
Fundamentally, the idea of a general addictive personality is a myth. Research finds no universal character traits that are common to all addicted people. Only half have more than one addiction (not including cigarettes)—and many can control their engagement with some addictive substances or activities, but not others. Some are shy; some are bold. Some are fundamentally kind and caring; some are cruel. Some tend toward honesty; others not so much. The whole range of human character can be found among people with addictions, despite the cruel stereotypes that are typically presented. Only 18% of addicts, for example, have a personality disorder characterized by lying, stealing, lack of conscience, and manipulative antisocial behavior. This is more than four times the rate seen in typical people, but it still means that 82% of us don’t fit that particular caricature of addiction.
It is worth your while to read the full article. In essence, what Szalavitz argues, and does so rather persuasively I might add, is that there is no collection of personality traits that easily define an addictive personality. While extreme traits like risk-taking, poor impulsive control and novelty-seeking can lead to addictive behaviours, it can also be found in persons who are compulsive and fear novelty. Or in persons who are lonely, without friends and who are generally alienated from society.

Over time, persons can easily become locked into negative habits, and once formed find it difficult to change. Successful treatment is often found in cognitive based therapies, I would suspect; and not so much in pharmaceutical drugs, which do not effectively change patterns of thinking and of learned behaviours. Not surprising, religion and spirituality have also shown to be highly effective in breaking bad habits, including harmful addictions.

For more, go to [ScientAmer]

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