Addiction and Novelty Seeking

The personality of addicts can help and harm them.

Addicts can be very charming, driven and intelligent people. As staff and family members it is often painful watching our loved ones throw their talents away through their addiction. New research shows that an addict’s talents and personality may contribute to their addiction and life in positive and or negative ways depending on how you spin it.

Recently, the connection between addiction and Novelty Seeking (people who engage in high –risks, as in extreme sports or drug use) has been researched. One may first assume that Novelty Seeking maybe what leads addicts to engage in risky life threatening drugs, true. However there might be some benefit to a risk seeking personality. The large population studies from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism have found three quarters of ever-alcoholic person becomes stably sober, and a majority of those continue to drink, which called for some kind of personality explanation.

The explanation comes from alcoholism researcher, Robert Cloninger, a psychiatrist who has studied the impact of the personality trait Novelty Seeking (Neophilia) on people over their lifetimes. Initially, it appeared that the trait was implicated in all sorts of anti-social and aggressive behavior, such as alcoholism and criminality. But the perspective on the role of Novelty Seeking shifts from a longer vantage point.

“Novelty-seeking is one of the traits that keeps you healthy and happy and fosters personality growth as you age,” says Cloninger. The problems with Novelty Seeking showed up in his early research in the 1990s; the advantages have become apparent after he and his colleagues tested and tracked thousands of people in the United States, Israel and Finland.

“It can lead to antisocial behavior,” he says, “but if you combine this adventurousness and curiosity with persistence and a sense that it’s not all about you, then you get the kind of creativity that benefits society as a whole.” Which means the same personality trait that promotes someone to be an addict, can also promote someone to live a successful and fulfilling life. Researchers have found that people’s tendency for Novelty Seeking also depends on their upbringing, on the local culture and on their stage of life. By some estimates, the urge for Novelty drops by half between the ages of 20 and 60.

But the irony is people who maintain their novelty-seeking in maturity move to the front of the class because they become more capable with age, in many instances, of developing purpose and concern for others. Which is quite a 180 from the selfish nature of an addict. The three traits Cloninger discovered in successful people “scored high in novelty-seeking as well in persistence and ‘self-transcendence. Becoming more social, as in creativity, seeking new ways to do things and solve problems (including personal and family ones), as well as generating new opportunities and frontiers in life.”

In other words, addicts are incredible multi-faceted people who if given the opportunity to get recovery can live quite incredible and fulfilling lives.

Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– - Anonymous