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What your personality type says about your vulnerability to substance abuse

What your personality type says about your vulnerability to substance abuse
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Through an examination of some relevant personality type theories, this article will discuss the relationship between personality and substance use, that is, exploring some personality traits as predisposition factors to substance abuse.


Our attitudes, choices, likes, decisions and all other aspects of our behaviours and mental constructs largely depend on individuals’ personality. In fact, our susceptibility to any kind of disorder is to a significant level affected by our personality. Personality basically refers to the characteristic behaviour, thoughts and feelings that are consistent over time and across situations which is peculiar and unique to every individual. Meanwhile, substance refers to a chemical element which affects the physiological state by altering the neural activities. Substances in this article include: alcohol, stimulants, depressants, some cough syrups, marijuana, heroin, cocaine etc. Every substance has both harmful and relieving effect. It brings about a relief when used under prescription, in the right quantity and right situation, that is when we are ill. It becomes harmful and dangerous when used for wrong reasons and in an exceeding quantity. But people generically refer to substance use as taking illegal substances or the legal ones excessively or without prescriptions. Substance use disorder occurs when a person’s use of alcohol or another substance (drug) leads to health issues or problems at work, school, or home. This disorder is also called substance abuse (National Library of Medicine, 2019).

Personality has a major influence on substance use. Since our opinions, thoughts, decisions, interpersonal skills etc. make up our personality. For instance, some approaches to understanding substance addiction have been to differentiate substance abuser according to their degree of vulnerability to continuous use of substances based on specific substances and events during which the substances are ingested by a typology that distinguishes alcoholics on the basis of early versus late onset of the substance abuse disorder. Before substance use turns to a critical abuse, such attitude towards substance use is informed by the personality we have developed. Sometimes people believe that using substance causes a negative change in our personality but it is noted that initially ever to decide to give substance use a trial, it is in part influenced by our personality.

Our ability to resort to using substances and psychogenic substances is determined by our personality kind, which also determines the defence mechanism we adopt especially when we face crises. A person who is distressed may not be emotionally strong to deal with the stress and thus seek pleasure in taking substance or alcohol. People with certain personality traits may have increased risk for substance use problems, and studying personality may help researchers better understand and treat these problems.

Temperament, which refers to those aspects of an individual’s personality, such as introversion or extroversion, that are often regarded as innate rather than learned, also plays a significant role in substance use attitude. People with introverted or inhibited personalities, and who tend to have fewer positive feelings, or be attracted to rewards in life, are more likely to abuse substances. For instance, a person with an inhibited personality trait may feel insecure in a situation and to better fit in they may decide to use substance. These set of people are often found using stimulants to boost their confidence. In contrast, extroverted people who have more positive emotions are less likely to abuse substances because they easily relate to social situations and have more confidence whilst facing a crowd. Although with their outgoing type of attitude, they may fall victim of first-time users but its always not peculiar to them resorting to substances for dealing with any form of crises. The introverts, however, may depend on substance to ameliorate crises or distresses.

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Technically, Gray (1987) proposed a neuropsychologically based two-dimensional model of personality and motivation with the trait of impulsivity being based on an appetitive behavioural approach system (BAS) and the trait of anxiety being based on an avoidance behavioural inhibition system (BIS). As earlier, people who are impulsive may easily become an addicted user of substances. They are unable or find it very difficult to delay gratification; therefore they do anything at any time just to gratify their needs as soon as possible. This explains how some people would go out with their friends and easily get influenced by their friends’ attitude toward drinking. Therefore, when they are being offered a drink, it is difficult to say no. Also, impulsive people upon feeling a psychological imbalance may try to balance their inner states by taking substances. However, continuous use could lead to dependence and tolerance. When this happens, it becomes difficult or almost impossible for the abuser to do without the substances.

Extroverted also share similar traits with impulsive people in that they are happy-go-lucky; they act on impulse and always feel pleasurable band desire pleasure. This set of people may as well be prone to a substance use disorder. One reason for this may be that people with more positive emotions and who are extroverted are more sensitive to all kinds of rewards, be it rewards from social situations, winning a game, or getting a promotion and these other rewards “compete” with the positive feelings that can come with using a substance. On the other hand, people with low positive emotionality/extroversion have less interest in other rewards, and are more easily pulled in by the effects of the substance.

Also, lower agreeableness, decreased conscientiousness, openness, low socioeconomic status, and male sex might make university students more inclined to substance abuse.

Again, an anxious person, someone who quickly feels anxious may alleviate this psychological distress by using substances that tranquillizes or regulates their emotions through a complex neural process effected by the ingestion of the substances. It would be important for studies to be dedicated toward assessing personalities of substance abusers and addicts, the result will most likely reveal that a large percentage of them are very impulsive and or often anxious (Isaac, 2014) .

Biologically based theory of personality by Eysenck gives a good view of how personality relates to individuals using substances. Personality is conceptualized as three biologically-based traits of temperament: extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism.

Extraversion is characterized by being outgoing, talkative, high on positive affect, and in need of external stimulation. According to Eysenck’s arousal theory of extraversion, there is an optimal level of cortical arousal, and a person performs when such a person becomes more or less aroused than this optimal level. Thus, at very low and very high levels of arousal, performance is low, but at a more optimal mid-level of arousal, performance is maximized.

Extraverts, according to Eysenck’s theory, are chronically under-aroused and bored and are therefore usually in need of external stimulation to bring them up to an optimal level of performance. Introverts, on the other hand, are chronically over-aroused and restless and are therefore in need of peace and quiet to bring them up to an optimal level of performance.

Neuroticism, according to Eysenck’s theory, is based on activation thresholds in the sympathetic nervous system or visceral brain. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for the fight-or-flight response in the face of danger. Neurotic people, who have low activation thresholds, easily become upset by minor stressors, they experience emotional instability and are often moody. They as well experience negative feelings, such as anxiety, low self-esteem and depressed mood, and respond poorly to stressors. People with substance use disorder, and other mental health disorders, often have high levels of this personality trait. They believe the substance use produces the state of feeling they want, and that it solves their mental issues, not realizing that it only aggravates the problems they are dealing with. And usually, it is important they seek help before they ultimately depend on the substances for their functioning, which often result in destructive consequences.

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In general, Neuroticism is characterized by high levels of negative affects, such as depression and anxiety.

“A person that is very sensitive to punishment finds, in substances, something that allows them to escape,” Ferré said. Finally, low levels of a trait known as constraint, which is the ability to stop a behaviour or action once you start it, is also linked with an increased risk of substance abuse. Researchers stressed that whether people abuse substances depends on many factors, not just their genes and personality, but also their environment and past substance use.

In psychoanalytic theory, development of a person is greatly influenced by childhood experiences such as a child that is oral fixated may always regress back to oral satisfaction during an intense/stressful situation by taking substances, or a child that is anal repulsive may be more vulnerable to anti-social behaviours.

In other words, people who rate high in neuroticism may likely seek solace in substance use to alleviate their emotional distress which they often experience. A melancholic type of personality may as well fall under this category. Melancholy is marked by low moods, being pessimistic and easily stressed, avoiding social situations etc. When these people are dealing with emotional pains which they often do, they might become easily addicted to substances upon trials (taking it once or more than once) because the substances elevate their moods.

More studies have also revealed that men are more prone to substance use than females, that is because their personality reflects higher anger trait since the males have been conditioned to be aggressive through socialization. Therefore the males are motivated to meet up with these expectations even if it involves them having to abuse substances. Females, however, have lesser anger trait. Also, males are high sensation seekers and thus find it stimulating taking substances (indicates self-fulfilling prophecy) (Patricia, Sherry, Robert & Maurice Dongie 2000). Meanwhile, they underestimate the risks associated with substance use.

Psychoticism is characterized by tough-mindedness, non- conformity, hostility, and impulsivity. The physiological basis suggested by Eysenck for psychoticism is testosterone, with higher levels of psychoticism associated with higher levels of testosterone. The arousal state may, therefore, motivate an individual to use a substance to bring about that effect (optimal state) they desire.

Eysenck’s theory has theoretical and practical value because it specifies some of the biological mechanisms believed to underlie personality traits that have been posited to be risk factors for substance use. Eysenck’s theory is also significant because it has inspired other noteworthy biologically-based theories, such as those of J. A. Gray . All of these theories converge on the relevance of impulsivity as related to substance use disorder, sometimes using different names for impulsivity, such as behavioural approach (Gray), novelty seeking and reward dependence (Cloninger), and sensation seeking (Zuckerman). Despite minor differences, these theories are representative of a family of related biological models that took Eysenck’s theory as their starting point.

Many studies have attempted to link genes to the condition researchers call substance use disorder, but they’ve largely failed to do so, even though the condition can run in families, said Dr Sergi Ferre, a senior scientist and section chief at the National Institute on Substance Abuse (Robin & Stephen, 2011), that may be because the connection between genes and substance use is not straightforward, and personality traits may serve as a bridge between the two, Ferré said. Personality traits have already been linked with the risk of having substance use disorder, and with certain circuits in the brain. And also it’s a risk factor which precedes all other factors such as peer pressure, stress, modelling, cultural beliefs, etc. which may lead to the direct cause of substance use.

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In fact, substance abuse disorders have been observed to comorbid with other psychological disorders. For instance, when substance abuse develops after another psychological disorder has developed, clinicians may infer that the person is using substances in an attempt to alleviate symptoms of the other disorder which is self-medication (Ronald & Gary , 2011). “John Lennon struggled with depression at different points in his life; even at the height of Beatlemania, he had about of depression (revealed in his lyrics for the song “Help!”). It is possible that his drinking and later heroin use were his attempts to alleviate his depression (Ronald & Gary 2011).

The humanistic approach also identifies people who develop a “healthy” personality and become self-actualized, such people are satisfied with life and no stress or environmental influence will cause them to involve in something they feel will cause damage to their well being. They cultivate habits that are beneficial to them and the society, whereas the incongruent person whose actual self is farther from ideal self may start using substances in order to feel temporary ease. These people may easily be influenced or may decide on their own because they believe it makes them feel good despite their incongruence and lack of fulfilment.

Most people who use substances illegally usually do so for bringing about a psychological effect which is generally pleasurable. They may, therefore, adopt a denial mechanism and disregard the fact that such substance is causing damage to their health because they are already addicted to it.

In conclusion, problems with personality development usually predispose an individual to use substances and personality is the key risk predisposing factor to substance use. It provides an explanation as to why some people get addicted to substances after use whilst some take the substances moderately. In fact, substance addiction can reflect symptoms of some personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder etc. There may be other factors but the unique behavioural and mental constructs are usually the base. And to alleviate substance disorders, it is crucial to assess the root problem.


Acton, S., (2003) Substance use and misuse. University of California SanSan Francisco. Retrieved from:

Gary, J. (1987) Perspectives on anxiety and impulsivity. Journal of Research Volume 21, Pages 493-509

Hans, E., (1956). Reminiscence, drive, and personality theory. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 53 (3), 328

Isaac, R.,(2014). High Risk Behaviors & Addiction. Kowsar Medical Institute 

MedPlus Line (2019) Substance use disorder. United States of America. Retrieved from:

Patricia, J., Sherry H., Robert O. & Maurice Dongie (2000) Validation of a System of Classifying Female Substance Abusers on the Basis of Personality and Motivational Risk Factors for Substance Abuse. New York

Robin, R., & Stephen, K., (2011) Abnormal Psychology. United States of America

Ronald, L.,& Gary J., (2011). Social learning theory and the explanation of crime. Transaction Publishers

Rukayyah Abdulrahman

Rukayyah Abdulrahman

I am motivated by activities that involve solving problems that relate to human functioning, I love to learn, I am open minded and I love to explore.View Author posts

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