In recovery, I’ve learned that my addiction goes far beyond my substance abuse. That’s not to say, even while I’m sober, I am doomed to an endless cycle of addictive behaviors—there is simply some scientific truth behind the addictive personality.
For a long time in recovery, I’ve seen these personality traits as bad things in my life. Even with the drugs taken away, I’m still left with me. My obsessive thought patterns, my acting on impulses, my risk-taking, and my refusal to conform to society kept me in a cycle of drug use for a long time. In sobriety, I worried these pieces of me would become huge obstacles to my recovery if I couldn’t get rid of them.
But, recovery has also taught me about acceptance—being brave enough to change, understanding that I cannot change some things, and ultimately embracing who I am. Though my addictive personality has caused me major problems in the past, maybe these traits aren’t all bad. Can these parts of my personality be useful to me?
Obsessive a.k.a. Never Gives Up
Addiction is commonly associated with obsessive behaviors, especially our incessant thoughts about alcohol and drugs. When can I have a drink? How will I get my next hit? Is there any more left?
There are many links between substance abuse and obsessive thinking. About 25% of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder also suffer from substance abuse disorder or addiction. About 20% of people with an anxiety disorder also have a substance abuse disorder. Both of these mental health conditions are characterized by powerful fears along with ritualized behaviors, often the very things that drive us to continue drinking or using drugs.
The word “obsessive” has negative connotations, implying abnormal and unreasonable behavior. But, we can channel this energy in us and look at it in another way. Our hyperactive minds offer us some evolutionary advantages.
Our constant train of thought makes us more alert, helps us to weigh out possibilities when we make a decision, and makes us more cautious and careful. Beyond this, our tendency toward ritualistic behaviors can help us to settle into healthy routines in sobriety that keep us on track: going to work, going to meetings, exercising, cleaning the house, getting enough rest. Our energy can be channeled into perseverance, staying devoted to our recovery.
My “obsessive” thinking also makes me passionate. It helps me to care deeply for my loved ones. Obsessing over drugs and alcohol won’t help us in our recovery. But, we can use our mental energy to change our lives and to be warriors in our recovery.
Impulsive a.k.a. Opportunist
As an addict, I’ve been known to act impulsively. Every time I tried a new drug, it was a decision I made in the moment. Hm, I’ve never tried that—sure, why not! Impulsivity is taking action suddenly and without careful thought.
Maybe impulsivity led us to new substances we never expected to try, maybe it led us to do things we never could have imagined. Early in my drug abuse, my impulsivity led me to keep getting more and more and more until I was getting high compulsively. Impulsivity can cause us to not think enough about other people, nor the consequences that might affect us. It can lead us to seek instant gratification. So what’s it offer my recovery?
There are ways to harness our functional impulsivity. The impulsive parts of us can take advantage of unexpected opportunities in life, like trying a new job or making a new friend, when someone less impulsive might say ‘no.’ We can quickly put our thoughts into words, we think on our feet, and these qualities often make us an asset to other people in our lives.
Our impulses can be dangerous, yet, in recovery, we can learn to temper our urges towards instant gratification. We can learn to consider consequences and reach out to our sober supports for input. With functional impulsivity, we can be spontaneous, fun-loving, and interested in our new lives without substances.
Risk-Taking a.k.a. Fearless Dreamer
Much like impulsivity, my tendency towards risky behavior was a huge factor in my initial experimenting with drugs. Many times, I did not accurately gauge the risk I was taking when I tried a new substance, when I mixed substances or increased doses, when I drove under the influence.
Yet, risk-taking is the act of doing something that involves danger or risk in order to achieve a goal. My old goals used to center around getting higher and getting away with it. When we reshape these goals, our risk-taking behavior becomes a massive asset.
Especially in our careers and the business world, risk-taking is often a major factor in success. If we are willing to take risks, we open up unforeseen opportunities, we are ambitious in our pursuit of our goal, and we learn in the process. Risk-taking doesn’t have to be haphazard or endanger our bodily and mental well-being. Our reputation as risk-takers can shape us into fearless dream-chasers in recovery.
Sensation-Seeking a.k.a. Loves Life
For a lot of addicts, we continued to use drugs and alcohol because we liked how they made us feel. I know I was always seeking new, more intense sensations, always looking to amplify my high in some way, and there was a thrill amidst all of the chaos.
Sensation-seeking is s psychological term for excitement-seeking, the tendency to pursue sensory pleasure. Though most of us associated this sensory pleasure with our addictions, I know, for me, that pleasure eventually went away when the drugs stopped working. But, this trait can still serve us well in living fulfilled, sober lives.
Sensation-seeking is also associated with an enjoyment of new things. We are people who love experience for its own sake. As we let go of our lifestyles of substance abuse, we open our eyes to a whole world of potential experiences. Again, our excitement doesn’t have to come from self-destructive behaviors.
We tend to be people who want to go to new places, try new foods, jump off of the high-dive, stick our feet out the window while we’re in the passenger seat. We are passionate people, and we have the capacity to find deep enjoyment in life, in some of the simplest things.
Nonconformist a.k.a. Creative Rebel
My resistance to conform to society’s norms drove me to drugs in the first place and propelled me forward in my addiction. I didn’t want to grow up, join “the rat race,” get a job, and work for The Man until I die. This may sound cliché or extreme, but it was a real mindset for me.
My cynicism festered to such a point that I thought most of life, as other people knew it, was meaningless. Instead, I found my meaning in drugs. My nonconformity, and maybe yours, went to such an extreme that I justified my addiction as a piece of my identity—the artistic rebel who was meant to be secluded from society.
Yet, our nonconformity and rebellion can play a huge part in self-discovery on a deep level. Nonconformity is not cynicism, it’s a failure or refusal to behave the way most people behave. When we resist the structure that society gives us, we have more freedom to explore what we think and feel, who we really are. That same freedom allows us to think innovatively, to express ourselves creatively, to be problem solvers at work and in our own lives.
There was a study that reports people who make a conscious decision to deviate from the norm are seen as more confident and demand greater respect. Even other people can notice when someone truly believes in something and lives by their principles. Considering our culture of partying, isn’t our decision to live in recovery one of the greatest forms of rebellion?
Recovery is a time to learn about ourselves, which includes our addictive personality traits. Some of our behaviors need to be monitored or tempered, but some simply need to be channeled into other areas of our lives. Use your old ritualism to build new, healthy routines. Let your spontaneity keep life interesting. Take risks in pursuit of your passions. Redirect that inner rebel to protect your authentic self.