The New York Times : The Addictive Personality : Common Traits are Found

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The New York Times : The Addictive Personality : Common Traits are Found



The New York Times | BRYCE NELSON |

Who is the addict? With addictive tragedies striking every community in the nation - with many millions of Americans addicted to alcohol and drugs alone - legions of scientists are asking: What aspects of psychological makeup contribute to addiction? Are there common threads that weave through all addictions, from hard drugs to cigarettes, from gambling to overeating?

It is part of a much broader effort that has already seen progress in understanding the chemistry of addiction, as biochemists isolate the chemicals and mechanisms by which the brain gives itself pleasure. And the whole panoply of addiction research has led to insights that buttress a profusion of therapies. Though some of them hold great promise, all would benefit from an increased understanding of the addictive personality.

Despite the wide gulf between an addiction to drugs and an addiction to gambling, some mental health experts find it useful to view addiction as including all self-destructive, compulsive behaviors. Some even go so far as to include the relatively benign activity of compulsive television-watching.

In bringing together much of the existing knowledge on the personality's role in addictions, with an emphasis on drugs and alcohol, a new study prepared for the National Academy of Sciences concludes that there is no single set of psychological characteristics that embrace all addictions. But the study does see common elements from addiction to addiction.

The report finds that there are several ''significant personality factors'' that can contribute to addiction:

- Impulsive behavior, difficulty in delaying gratification, an antisocial personality and a disposition toward sensation seeking.

- A high value on nonconformity combined with a weak commitment to the goals for achievement valued by the society.

- A sense of social alienation and a general tolerance for deviance.

- A sense of heightened stress. This may help explain why adolescence and other stressful transition periods are often associated with the most severe drug and alcohol problems.

The author of the study, Alan R. Lang, a psychology professor at Florida State University, believes that the continuing search for the personality traits that play a part in the development of addictions is an essential part of the broader fight against addiction, an opinion shared by others familiar with the field. ''If we can better identify the personality factors,'' he said in an interview, ''they can help us devise better treatment and can open up new strategies to intervene and break the patterns of addiction.''

Moreover, Dr. Lang believes that the insights provided by this kind of research could lead to much more effective preventive programs than those available today, to be used ''before problems reach the critical stage.'' Supplementing the personality factors listed in the academy's report, other behavioral scientists who have studied addicts point to additional often-found features of personality or background - a lack of self-esteem, marked depression or anxiety, physical or sexual abuse in childhood, and sharply conflicting parental expectations. The Inclusive Approach

The broad approach to addiction is taken by Lawrence J. Hatterer, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Cornell University Medical College who wrote in his book, ''The Pleasure Addicts'' (Barnes) that ''Addictive behavior has invaded every aspect of American life today. We all feel the cloud of concern about becoming addictive - preoccupation with weight, smoking, drinking too much, or being caught in an excess of spending, acquiring, gambling, sex or work.''

Among other activities which, done in excess, have been characterized as addictive behavior are caffeine consumption, eating of chocolates or other sugar-laden foods, television watching, playing video games and even running.

But not all addictions are equally harmful and not all behavior that could lead to addiction necessarily does. Although Dr. Hatterer is among those who argue that addictions of all kinds are similar, he finds it useful to classify the abuse of alcohol, barbiturates and narcotics as ''hard addictions'' because of the quickness with which such substances affect many aspects of behavior, and adversely influence many people around the abuser. Dr. Hatterer terms compulsive behavior such as excessive smoking, gambling, running, spending or work as ''soft addictions'' because the consequences are not immediately felt by the abuser.


None of these activities are considered to be addictions by Dr. Hatterer unless they involve excessive, repetitive use of pleasurable activities to cope with unmanageable internal conflict, pressure and stress. While such activity may begin pleasurably in a person's life, the process in the addict involves increasing activity to achieve the same effect and eventually results in injury to the person's health or to his work, family and social relationships. The addicted person typically denies that his activity is detrimentally affecting him. If the addict is forced to stop, he finds he suffers physical or psychological withdrawal pains, and often feels compelled to resume his excessive pattern. Compulsiveness Is a Key

Moderation is the distinguishing characteristic. Most drinkers do not become alcoholics, and most runners do not become running addicts. However, if the runner is compulsively using his activity to cope with unresolved internal conflicts to the extent that he keeps injuring his body or destroying his work and family relationships, then he too has fallen victim to addictive behavior. He has become so dependent on the physical ''high'' he gets from his allencompassing running that he cannot concern himself with the difficulties it is causing.

Seeing common features in compulsive behavior, the national academy's Committee on Substance Abuse and Habitual Behavior has recently explored dependence on opiates, alcohol, smoking, overeating, gambling and television watching.

The committee report, to be published in February, contains the section on the addictive personality by Dr. Lang. He based his review largely on studies of alcohol and drug abusers, the areas in which the preponderance of research has been done. On the basis of these studies and his own research, Dr. Lang concluded that ''there is no single, unique personality entity that is a necessary and sufficient condition for substance use.'' Same Drug, Different Addictions

Reasons for this include the fact that the same drug can affect people differently and that drugs fulfill various needs for different people. Among alcohol abusers, for instance, the academy's report found that research had focused on two types: first, the anxious, depressed neurotic who may drink to kill his psychological pain; second, the unstable antisocial personality who drinks for excitement or sensation-seeking.

Although Dr. Lang's contribution emphasized alcohol and drugs, the rest of the report did not shy away from insights into addictive behavior involving television-watching and overeating. According to Charles P. O'Brien, a committee member and chief of psychiatry and head of the addiction research center at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Philadelphia, the academy committee found that different types of addicts ''resemble each other in various ways.''

Dr. O'Brien said that people in all these addictions progressively needed greater quantities of stimulation to satisfy their needs and developed symptoms of withdrawal when deprived of the addictive activity. He also noted that addicts to one activity would often switch to another when deprived of opportunity to participate in the original addiction.

Dr. O'Brien said there are very important similarities in the personality characteristics of the addictions studied, including tendencies to depression, dependent behavior and difficulty in formulating long-term personal goals because of a concentration on short-term goals.

While personality plays a significant part in addictive behavior, behavioral scholars often note that addictions are a product of the subtle interplay between social factors and psychological factors, as well as the physiological components - and an understanding of the precise mix remains elusive. Switching Addictions

Certainly the availability of drugs, and social and legal attitudes toward them, play important roles in whether addictions develop and continue. For instance, research on veterans addicted to heroin in Vietnam indicated that only about eight percent of them continued the addiction after returning to the United States. But many of those who stopped using heroin had troubles when they returned home with a drug more widely available in the United States, alcohol. This observation lends support to those who see personality traits playing a part in crossing over from one addiction to another.

Drug availability and occupational stress help explain why ''physicians have the highest rate of opiate addiction of any group,'' according to Dr. O'Brien. He also notes that physicians have high rates of abuse of alcohol and mood-altering prescription drugs. Charles Winick, a sociologist at the City College of New York, has also linked availability and stress to high rates of drug dependence among physicians, particularly psychiatrists and surgeons.

Since most people do not become addicts, what is known about the ''non-addict'' profile? Dr. Robert B. Millman, director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Service at the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic at the New York Hospital describes the best candidates for this group as ''those people who have strong families, often with religious backgrounds and who have good social relations.'' Experts say that the youth who has positive relations with his peers and with adults is less likely to fall prey to drug addiction than the antiauthoritarian loner who is achieving below his potential.

Although no one can say with certainty which kind of family is most likely to produce an addict, many mental health experts have strong views on the subject. For instance, Leon Wurmser, a psychiatry professor and former director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, notes that the potentially addictive child may well have been physically abused by parents, who are often themselves dependent on drugs or alcohol. He notes that the child has often been lied to, shamed and humiliated by parents who act in a highly inconsistent manner.

''The mother may support something that the father strongly disapproves, or a parent may tell the child one thing today and the opposite tomorrow,'' he says.

This legacy of brutality ''leaves the child in a helpless rage,'' Dr. Wurmser says. He does not view authority, which has been represented by the parents, as something which should be respected, but as capriciously cruel. The child can feel completely out of control and is racked by feelings of violence toward those around him. For him, the use of narcotics can be a way of trying to suppress the highly aggressive feelings that have resulted from his early trauma.

Dr. Hatterer agrees that cruelty to children often contributes to later addiction; he says that most of the addicts of all kinds that he has seen in his practice have been physically abused as children. Dr. Hatterer also shares Dr. Wurmser's view that inconsistent parental behavior shapes many addictive persons. Dangers of Inconsistency

''Every addictive adult I have treated has told either of excesses or inconsistencies or of deprivation or overindulgence in early life. There were shifts from too much to too little love, protection or discipline,'' Dr. Hatterer has written. There were also frequent instances of ''marked swings from unrealistic praise to destructive hypercritical behavior.''

While behavioral scientists agree that the addiction problem is one of great breadth and depth, some point out that concern about all potentially addictive substances can be misplaced. For instance, Dr. Lang, the author of the academy study on the addictive personality, wrote that some of the evidence he surveyed ''suggested that total abstinence from alcohol may indicate rigidity of personality structure as maladaptive as problem drinking itself.''

J. DOe
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Thank you for sharing that

Thank you for sharing that interesting article with us. Although there are definitely generally common aspects among addictions, not only as described in that article but also in books such the one described in Book: The Addictive Personality, I believe that each type of addiction also often has some unique aspects to them. As described in the various threads in the Gaming in the News group of forums, there has been some research done into those for excessive video game playing, but unfortunately not too much yet.

- John O.

[em]Carpe Diem![/em] (Seize the Day!)

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It's unfortunate the poster

It's unfortunate the poster of this article came with an aggressive agenda, but the article is useful nonetheless.

The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions.
-Alfred Lord Tennyson

Desire to Stop
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From the standpoint of being

From the standpoint of being chemically addicted, I worry that articles like this perpetuate the misconception that being addicted to heroin means you could drink safely and vice versa. Chemical addicts should be avoiding non-prescribed chemicals, period. If I switch from alcohol to meth it's not because I've changed addictions, it's because I changed the chemical substance, and that would very much be a relapse for me.

I've watched alcoholics on anabuse do this repeatedly, as well as drug addicts responding to challenges from friends/family members to give up their drug of choice for a period of time. The alcoholics on anabuse can be found suddenly doing drugs (and in some cases, drinking as much as ever while still taking anabuse). The drug addict can be found suddenly consuming a pony keg by themselves. Neither are acting on their addiction in the manner they prefer, but simply "making do" with another chemical.

I've even seen AAs try to take the "soft" path to relapse where they start drinking cooking vanilla (shockingly high alcohol content when uncooked) as well as various cough syrups and cold remedies. These people aren't suddenly addicted to vanilla or cough syrup--they are "making do".

I hate to say it, I think science is still quite baffled when it comes to addictions--causes and cures. I'm not saying there is nothing useful to be found when seeking outside help, but when folks are still leaving treatment centers being told that at the end of the first year only 10% will still remain abstinent/sober (something I regularly hear in meetings), I would say that's indication this is an area of treatment that science is still largely guessing about, and has been guessing about for quite some time.

Cheers, Desire to Stop
ALL quoted text (unless otherwise stated) comes from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (with wording sometimes changed only to make it more relevant for gaming addiction). I will include page numbers.

Hoping & praying for a measure of recovery for all of us today.

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Desire to Stop wrote: I
Desire to Stop wrote:

I hate to say it, I think science is still quite baffled when it comes to addictions--causes and cures. I'm not saying there is nothing useful to be found when seeking outside help, but when folks are still leaving treatment centers being told that at the end of the first year only 10% will still remain abstinent/sober (something I regularly hear in meetings), I would say that's indication this is an area of treatment that science is still largely guessing about, and has been guessing about for quite some time.

...and a careful read of the article confirms your concerns. The individual who shared this gem with us yesterday conveniently ignored the bits where the author was saying the new study should be viewed as one piece of the puzzle where addiction is concerned. That's why we say that the disease of addiction is cunning and baffling. It cannot be neatly summarized and dismissed in eight or ten paragraphs.

The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions.
-Alfred Lord Tennyson

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It is hard to tell which is

It is hard to tell which is the cause of addiction, what gives us the feeling that it's impossible to stop consuming drugs even though we know they are harming us. Who knows, what i do know is that you would never stop your addiction until you realize by yourself that you have to stop, i believe it's one of the reasons why some people get back to their addictive habits, they are forced by their parents or relatives to follow the rehab program. I would rather want the parents talking to their teenager kid and make him understand the consequences of drug consumption, they should take them to talk with ex-addicts and see for themselves that doing drugs is no good for them or their family, i think they would get better results this way.

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To: Desire To Stop ~  I

To: Desire To Stop ~

I agree with all that you have written here. Your sincerity comes shining through!

I thought I would be benevolent in return and offer you and other readers this gift:

Having a dear friend addicted to Opiates and her sincere request that I help her find a healthy way out of her misery/ cold turkey, prompted me to do a lot of research to find a real cure.

First we tried sodium ascorbate (sodium based vitamin c powder) and it worked for some of her friends extremely well they had no cravings or cold turkey. They still need supportive therapy while taking the C powder ( not to be confused w/ reg. Vit C.) but it didn't agree with my friends body so we were back to square one.

I put our search on a shelf for a while as I felt a bit defeated. But then another friend told me to check out the Mercola site for basic alternative health info. At my friends prompting, I checked out the Mercola newsletter that day, and found something Very Interesting!!!

A review of a book called: "The Doctor Who Cured Cancer." (all about Dr. Revici ).

I was drawn to the review even tho I know of no one w/ cancer.

After, just a minute of reading - - there was the "Kernel", There was a chapter in the book about Dr. Revici's cancer patients who were addicted to their opiate pain pills. He devised a formula called Bionar to help them go off the painkillers effortlessly. Bionar - - from the 2 words (biology & narcotics), later renamed "Perse".

These patients were able to detox 100% effortlessly w/ this formula and Dr. Revici realized that any addictive substance could be detoxed the same way - - even alcohol, heroin etc. ( Methadone being so very alkaline, takes 7-8 days to detox off of, versus 5-6 days for Heroin).

At Tralfalgar Hospital in NY, which was Dr. Revici's hospital, hundreds, then thousands of patients detoxed without any discomfort / cold turkey.

Dr. Revici and his staff went before the FDA to get it to be the drug of choice for detoxing, and almost made it,

but Methadone was chosen in the 11th hour because Methadone (Lquid Hand-Cuffs) is a big time money maker as it is equally as addictive as the substance you want to quit. Whereas

Bionar / Perse is a one time, 1 week dose. And then you're done. Not a lot of profit for the Drug manufacturers.

Perse is not addictive at all or damaging to the Liver and vital organs and yet Methadone is extremely addictive and damagaing to the Liver and vital organs!!

You can go online and read the FDA court hearings all about Dr. Revici's amazing formula and his attempt to get it approved by the FDA. Unfortunately, the FDA was not run by compassionate people and they made a seriously wrong mistake to approve Methadone and not choose Bionar/Perse. (The millions of Methadone addicts can testify to this statement!).

If anyone is interested in finding out more about this, you can go online to amazon and read the chapter about this. Also Barrons' 9/11/72 article by Daniel Al Loehwing : Dr. Revici article is also very enlightening.

In addition, the NY Daily News printed an article that ran prior to the 9/11/72 article in Barrons.

I have yet to track it down. The NY Daily News suggested the Chicago Trib might have archive micro fiche as they used to own the NY Daily Newspaper or Northwestern Journalism Library might also.

Dr. Revici was such a humanitarian ~ he made house calls and visitied every patient needing him day or night.

I believe our Drug Rehab Method in America & the world is totally broken and yet the remedy has been here the whole time since 1972! Thanks to Dr. Revici who was a visionary and a truly healing Doctor.

You can purchase a Perse detox from The Revici Center in NY. less than $100. it must be injected.

(This is what my friend is planning to do and I will report here later as to the outcome).

Ph strips are needed daily to chart your urine PH so that the right doses are administered, as each persons PH is unique.

I thought someone might want to know about this wonderful option that is there for the taking when you are ready.

"Welcome to your Life ~ There's no turning back." - - from Tears For Fears.

" A life lived in fear is a life half-lived " - - From "Strictly Ballroom", a great film!

I do think therapy, (see Eric Maisels wonderful books for this) and counseling too of course to help you create your new life must go hand in hand with this treatment.

Also~ "The Detox Kit" ( a homeopathic detox) on a cellular level would be a good thing to do after the Perse Detox, to get rid of all substances residues on a cellular level. The co. said to do 2 kits back to back. Very nice staff for any help you need.

A lovely little garden of flowers, vegetables and herbs would be a great endeavor as you are healing so that you will get outside and bask in the lovely sunshine and just relax . . .

Great Book: Anthony Papa was arrested (first offense) for delivering drugs (first time). He received a sentence of 15 to Life for that one act. He wrote an amazing book on his experience and how he figured out that if he truly mastered the art of painting while imprisoned he could possible get out! And thats just what happened to him. The book: "Fifteen To Life" Anthony Papa is a great read and in addition he began to work in the community to get the law changed. A film was made about this whole broken drug law situation, I think the title is: The Greastest Taboo.

Best Wishes to everyone ! May you reclaim your real life filled with contentment and all the freedom that is yours for the taking.

Always maintain only a joyful mind - - Pema Chodrun


Dorothy Hayden
Last seen: 11 years 3 months ago
Joined: 08/23/2012 - 4:07pm
I've been a clinician

I've been a clinician working with addicts for over 25 years. I'll throw in my 2 cents from clinical experience and from clinicians I've read:

Yes.. Tendencies toward depression and anxiety

Yes.. Low tolerance for distressing affect

Maybe..dependency behavior; not so much with people, but with substances and certain activities;

Maybe..difficulty in formulating long-term goals due to concentration on short term goals; many alcoholics/addicts highly driven to achieve professional goals;

Yes...Child has been shamed and discounted; underlying current of aggressive rage that is difficulate to tolerate;

(Khantzian): addict self-medicates painful inner states; (Kohut): inability to self-soothe; ego deficits regarding inability to self-regulate, self-soothe, lack of self-efficacy; low self-worth; uses subtances and activities to achieve a modicum of internal emotional stability due to lack of internalization of lack of nurturing in childhood; in time, the addict uses only the addiction as a way to cope with life and so lacks efficient coping skills.

dan1's picture
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Goodness, Dorothy, you must

Goodness, Dorothy, you must be psychic! Seriously, the only stuff left out of here as far as my situation goes was the PTSD, although there are some hints of it. When I think of my struggles and the struggles I read about in the posts here, I can make check marks all over this list.

A couple of quotes from the original post stood out to me:

"the antiauthoritarian loner who is achieving below his potential."

That's me. Even though I'm very gregarious, inside I'm a loner. And although I love my family dearly, I do keep waiting for my real species of creature to arrive in spaceships and take me away from this society. Or maybe I just need a time machine set to about -20,000 years. A shorter life but a more integrated one. Who knows?

About my childhood:

'There were shifts from too much to too little love, protection or discipline,'' Dr. Hatterer has written. There were also frequent instances of ''marked swings from unrealistic praise to destructive hypercritical behavior.'' '

How about having such a shift every time one parent stopped talking and the other started? Aaargh!

What would be so very helpful also would be a list of things that research has found are helpful for recovering addicts--what are the commonalities in those who succeed in staying away from the addictive behaviors for long periods of time? Is there information on this? Just reading my diagnosis and knowing there are many, many others like me leaves me feeling a bit sad, though less alone....

I am a recovering computer game and gambling addict. My recovery birthday: On May 6, 2012 I quit games and began working a program of recovery through OLGA No computer games or slot games for me since December 12, 2012. No solitaire games with real cards since June 2013.

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dan939 wrote: --what are the
dan939 wrote:

--what are the commonalities in those who succeed in staying away from the addictive behaviors for long periods of time? Is there information on this?

From my own personal observations of myself and other friends who have remained sober for 15-45 years:

1. I found games at 18 years of sobriety; mainly because I had heard of NO information out there that gaming could be addictive (had I known that I wouldn't be here). People tend to supplant or incorporate activities that can become addictive: shopping, sex, over-spending, over-eating, over-doing, over-achieving, things other people do without problems but us addicts tend to over-do everything. Just because we stop gaming, or drinking or drugging, doesn't mean we are immune to other activities and obsessions.

I've known a lot of AA people who struggle with sobriety at 18 years (10-20 years)...the thought seems to be that the furthest away from the last drink (or drug or game) the closer we are to the next one. It seems that this "arrest of drinking [gaming, drugging] is only a "daily reprieve...and the further we get away from our addiction the more we need a strong program..."

I've found this to be very true. While I did not think of drinking during my gaming, gaming became the "addiction of choice". But gaming wasn't all of it either, after a thorough 4th step, I realize I was also obsessing about my husband, about finances and over-spending, over-working, and being obsessive about individuals in my family.

2. People who let their daily maintenance decline have a tendency to think they are "well" and no longer need a daily program.

3. People who to stop helping other, or don't show up at meetings, tend to relapse.

I realize this is my own experience, but I have seen this in many others. People who spend many years in AA/NA rooms of recovery can be at risk if they let up on their daily maintenance to have a balanced, healthy life.

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