I asked our counsellors to draw upon their vast experience in treating addicts and alcoholics and list the most common traits. These may be categorized as the typical traits of an “addictive personality”.
AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) stress the need for a “complete personality change”.
During therapy at Hope Trust, we find ourselves very often addressing these traits and those who recognize these in themselves and make an effort to manage these “personality shortcomings” have a much better chance of achieving long-term sobriety.
Here’s the list:
1 Impatience and Impulsivity (“I want it and I want it now”)
Addicts aren’t alone in their insatiable desire for immediate gratification or their appetite for risk-taking. However, they appear to have a significantly exaggerated sense of hurry to get what they want – now!
They have an inability to wait, to work toward a goal and expect things to materialize merely because they wish so. And if they don’t get what they want, when they want, they tend to blame people, places and situations.
Just about everyone has a hole to fill or a pain to soothe, but not everyone has the internal resources to manage those impulses, but an addict goes for a quick fix.
2 Perfectionism (“Failure is not an option – I deserve the best”)
Moderation is not an option, in whatever they do or desire. They must get the best, do the best. They tend to have high expectations from life – such as family will immediately forgive and begin to trust them since now they are sober for a little while, they expect to get financially successful fast, and they will definitely expect to remain sober no matter what…the list of unreasonably high expectations goes on. And when their expectations are not met, once again the tendency is to blame others for their perceived ‘failure’.
3 Grandiosity (“If I’m OK, the world is OK”)
Addicts tend to think they are really the centre of the universe. Everyone and everything should revolve around them. In all their reflections at the rehab, we notice that their thoughts are mostly about themselves – what they want, what they deserve, what they need, what they expect. Rarely do they think about others’ feelings – this apathy drives others away.
Of course, we as therapists recognize that grandiosity often arises from low self-esteem and is usually a mask for their fears and insecurities – but it leads to further isolation as others don’t appreciate the apparent arrogance and self-centred behaviour of the alcoholic or addict.
4 Difficulty Connecting with People (“I’m OK without you”)
“An addict alone is in bad company” says an NA slogan. But that’s the situation addicts land up in. Unlike ‘normal’ persons who feel a strong need for attachment and connection with other people, addicts and alcoholics deny this need by isolating themselves. They make excuses for skipping social gatherings, blame others for their struggles and would rather stay home than face the world. As a result, they (often unknowingly) search for connection through drugs, alcohol or other destructive behaviors.
5 Power and Control (“I’m in charge.”)
We have often seen families in complete control of the addict – while they are trying their best to control the behaviour of the addict. The addict manipulates others by blackmailing, threatening and intimidating. Driven by their own fears, the family members inadvertently give up control and are skillfully controlled by the alcoholic.
Of course, the addict is doing so because he is compensating for his acute sense of powerlessness and does not take responsibility for his own actions and choices. Here too he shifts the blame and this gives him more control over others.
The irony is that while nothing is under his control (especially the drinking and drugging); he tries to get a feeling of being in control by trying to control everyone and everything else.
6 Difficulty Managing Emotions (“Feelings are so painful, I’d rather feel nothing.”)
Addicts and alcoholics will do everything possible to avoid the pain of emotions. ‘Normal’ persons are able to recognize and identify their emotions (“I am angry” “I am feeling hurt”) and process these emotions by expressing or sharing them with another person.
An addict however, tends to suppress these emotions. He will use suppressants such as alcohol to deal with uncomfortable emotions. Obviously, when an emotion is not processed, it will stay within the person. And so many emotions, on so many occasions, over so many years when stay unprocessed within a person, it becomes a huge, very uncomfortable burden to carry. The addict further protects himself by building a wall around this – this wall is ‘denial’. He denies his feelings and the incidents associated with it.
A lot of work is done at Hope Trust in this area – helping clients first identify the emotion and then learning to express them appropriately.
This later leads to empathy – the ability to understand others’ emotions – and helps in rebuilding and maintain relationships.
Rahul Luther, Hope Trust India.
Rahul Luther is Executive Director of Hope Trust and leads the therapy team at their facility in India.