1. Sensation seekers have an increased addiction risk.
Why do some people become addicted-to alcohol, gambling, sleeping pills-while others who use the same substances or engage in the same activities don’t fall prey? It’s a puzzle that seems to involve genetics, environment, personal history and temperament.
One of the personality traits under investigation is “sensation seeking,” which denotes an appetite for new, varied, intense experiences-and a willingness to take risks to get them. This characteristic increases the likelihood of substance abuse, but it’s also associated with hobbies such as scuba diving, mountain climbing and travelling to far-flung places. Some experts encourage sensation seekers to focus on these healthier habits as an addiction-prevention strategy.
2. Impulsive people have an increased addiction risk.
A tendency to act based on instincts or immediate desires rather than longer-term outcomes is known as impulsivity. Health researchers around the world have observed that people who are dependent on certain drugs-including cocaine and alcohol-frequently have abnormalities in parts of the brain that are connected with restraint. “What’s not clear at this point is to what extent the impulsive personality trait pre-exists and predisposes someone toward drug use, versus how much of it is caused by the drug use,” says Karen Ersche, a lecturer on drug addiction at the University of Cambridge in England who is exploring this question. In the case of alcohol, experiments suggest that abstinence helps regrow damaged neurons and reverse impairments to self-control.
3. Anxious people have an increased addiction risk.
Also among those who run a heightened risk of addiction: anxious people. This is because alcohol and other substances can offer temporary stress relief. Ironically, drinking can aggravate anxiety over the long run by, among other things, interfering with the normal functioning of the brain’s neurotransmitters. Finding other ways to relax-talking to friends, exercising or eliminating stressors, for example-is a good way to avoid potential problems.