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Do You Have an Addictive Personality? How to Tame Your Drives

While not an actual diagnosis, it’s widely believed that some people do have addictive personalities. We assume this of known drug addicts and alcoholics but when a person is able to hide their addiction or is addicted to relatively benign things (exercise, food, codependency, work) we may sooner see them as driven, caregivers, career oriented, or as having a 'type A personality.'

Do You Have an Addictive Personality?

In the absence of established criteria to identify 'addictive personality', I ask my clients a few simple open ended questions:

  1. How much is enough?
  2. Are you impulsive or easily irritated?
  3. Is there an emptiness you find difficult or impossible to fill?
  4. Do you find it very hard to relax?
  5. Do you frequently seek distraction?
  6. How may speeds do you have?
  7. Do you tend to see the world in black and white terms?
  8. What makes you feel most alive?

Indicative Answers

  1. “All of it.” Or, “It’s never enough.”
  2. “I’m very spontaneous.” Or, “I don’t like to think about things forever I like to get them done!”
  3. “How’d you know?”
  4. “Yes. I go until I can’t go anymore then I drop.”
  5. “I have a lot of interests.” Or, “I get bored easily”
  6. “I never really find the middle.” “Moderation is boring” (all out & dead stop)
  7. “Yeah, I know there’s gray but I’d rather do stuff and sort it out later” (later never comes)
  8. “Pushing the limits.” Or, “Seeing what I’m capable of.”

The Good, The Bad, & The Unmanageable

People with addictive personalities live at the extremes and consequently folks tend to be drawn to us. Some seek us out due to our passionate nature, our charisma, our charm, or simply because we tend to have the best stories. If we allow them to get close they generally either love us or hate us. From a distance they envy or admire the results we achieve but it’s easy to overlook the cost of a great physique, rapid career advancement, or a seemingly perfect family.

In layperson terms, addictive behavior is characterized by a loss of control and repeating a set of behaviors despite negative consequences. As my friends in AA say, “We found we needed more and more of what doesn’t work.” Addictive personalities are generally relentless. We don’t accept defeat and when things don’t turn out well we tend to simply redouble our efforts.

The unmanageability of our way of being is evident in many ways. We get lost in our pursuits and can’t find our way back. Some of us experience profound losses. In spite of all we do and all we hide the bottom line is: we’re okay as long as we’re running but every time we stop and take stock we still feel empty.

Doing Enough Vs. Being Enough

Those of us with addictive personalities allow our pursuits to overshadow our lives. We aren’t human beings in a sense - we’re human doers. We don’t know how to just be and we tend to associate our worth with our productivity and results. What really drives us is the desire to become something greater through attaining progressively greater goals but it’s just never enough. The worst thing that can happen to us is reaching the top rung.

So Then What?

People with addictive personalities often struggle to be loved. We tend to take others for granted. We neglect the people we love as we chase our next dream. The best thing that can happen to us is we come to the same realization for the ten thousandth time: “It” (the latest goal, scheme, dream) just doesn’t matter as much as we want it to and will never give us what we truly want. Only then can we become open to the possibility that we matter – that we are enough.

When we realign our priorities we become free to invest in things that are far greater than ourselves.

  • Family, kin & friendships
  • Community
  • Important causes
  • (And most of all) spiritual growth

We can realize that others have great ambition and dreams and we can play a part in bringing them to fruition. We can learn to feel a part of instead of apart from. We can know a sense of belonging that has always eluded us and we can come to accept the truth others hold of us instead of clinging to a belief system that has the net effect of making us miserable.

In this way the emptiness becomes filled. Folks in AA often refer to it as a “God sized” or “God shaped” hole. It’s not about religion (unless that works for you). It’s about maintaining loving connections to things greater than self whether they be things in nature, groups of people we love, or something we can choose to call “God.”

Clinical Social Worker/Therapist
My story is I'm forever a work in progress and I love connecting with REAL people who are doing great things. I'm blessed to be making a living doing something I love. I'm a proud dad and the luckiest husband ever. I'm an aspiring author - check out my recovery blog at: Thanks! Jim

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