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Addictive Personality-Social vs Biochemical Causes

Updated on September 14, 2017
k@ri profile image

Kari was an operating room nurse for 25 years before she retired. Uplifting quotes are always needed to get through the daily toil of OR.

Mental Stress, Biochemical Imbalance and Social Habits

We all have some addictive tendencies. Every time we find an activity or substance that helps us relieve stress or internal conflict we run the risk of invoking our addictive tendencies. But, there are certain personality traits that make enjoyable activities more risky for some. Addiction is a combination of mental stress, biochemical imbalances and social habits.

Almost all stress is a psychological response to to both internal and external stimulus. Stress can be a very healthy thing. Initially it can increase our learning capacity, increase productivity and heighten awareness. Prolonged stress can become detrimental both to our physical and emotional health.

Biochemical imbalances lead to the increasing amount or intensity necessary to keep the activity or substance producing the same feeling. This increasing need is known as tolerance. What gave you a thrill once becomes same old, same old. Suddenly you need increasing amounts of that action to get the same response.

Habits are actions you develop over time that become subconscious. Smoking, nail biting, even thumb sucking are habits developed because they make you feel better. Repeatedly doing the same action causes it to become a habit. Soon, you don't even think about it. When you get nervous, you bite your nails. At this point you may have crossed the line between habit and addiction.


Neurotransmitters help the nerves (neurons) talk to each other.
Neurotransmitters help the nerves (neurons) talk to each other. | Source

Addictive Tendencies, Norepinephrine and Serotonin

Why is it that some people don't develop harmful habits and some people develop one, two or many. You may have seen it in your own children, one was impossible to get to stop sucking their thumb; the other never had that problem. How can two people of the same genetic material be so different?

All addictions are coping mechanisms that the individual has found useful in the past to relieve unwelcome feelings of unhappiness or inadequacy. The harmful coping mechanism causes a release of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Stressors cause a release of another neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. These two neurotransmitters cause the brain to have very different feelings. Serotonin causes the brain to feel good. Norepinephrine is responsible for causing the brain to feel panic, anxiety and fear.

How the body controls serotonin and norepinephrine uptake in the brain is very unique. Each person is different and unique, and so is our uptake abilities. Current theory feels that changes in neurotransmitter uptake and reuptake may cause changes in mood and behavior. Most anti-depressives consist of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine.

Deficiencies of serotonin in the brain can lead to overwhelming anger, anxiety, depression, panic and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Serotonin also transmits messages between cells in the brain. Serotonin helps to maintain happiness. Lack of serotonin is also linked to feelings of worthlessness, fear, insomnia and apathy.

Self Control

This dog exhibits self-control, but does not look happy about it.
This dog exhibits self-control, but does not look happy about it. | Source

Addictive Tendencies and Self Control

This release of chemicals happens in all people. So why can some people exhibit self control and some people can't. An important fact to remember at this point is that although addiction and self control has been studied by the psychiatric community for years, very little of their conclusions are fact. Psychology is a science based on theory. We understand very little about how the human mind works in reality.

A new study by scientists at the California Institute of Technology have found differences in the brain function of people who exhibit self control easily and those who have problems with this. Everyone uses a certain area of the brain to make decisions based on values such as health. People who exhibit good self control also employ a second area of the brain. Activity in this second area seems to be lacking in people who exhibit poor self control. This second area of the brain seems to help people consider additional factors when making choices.


Sometimes it is hard to be different.
Sometimes it is hard to be different. | Source

Social vs Biological

Could this study help us to learn why some people develop adaptive coping strategies and some people develop harmful coping strategies. We all have stress in life, why can some of us cope and some of us self-destruct. The social-psychological explanations do not make sense to me. Two children of the same biological parents, raised by the same rules, loved the same way may turn out so differently personality wise.

I do not believe you can say that personality is mainly a social conditioning. I believe it more like hair or eye color, more like height. It is interesting to note that a common theory feels that the same part of the chromosome that controls hair color and height, also controls serotonin uptake. Families do not feel bad if one child has brown hair, but another blonde. It is not considered abnormal if some children are taller and some children are smaller. Why then do we beat ourselves up when one adapts healthily and one does not.


Depression | Source

Social Conditioning

Current theories in addictive personality state that these personality types have some common traits. Depression, feelings of worthlessness, social isolation, poor self control, fear, compulsive behavior are all considered traits of the addictive personality. Are these starting to sound familiar? Many of these are related to neurotransmitter deficiencies, however society has led us to believe that we have been bad parents.

I do not condone removing the social element completely from this mix. It has been observed that people who come from strong families, most often with a belief in a higher power develop better coping skills and are less prone to addiction. I would just like to bring up the fact that most of these are unproven theories. Just as two parents with blue eyes are more likely to produce offspring with blue eyes, wouldn't the same be true of parents who have normal neurotransmitter function.

Never Give Up on Yourself

Never Give Up
Never Give Up | Source
Never | Source

What Does All of This Mean for You?

The good news is that one day there may be a cure for addictive personalities. The bad news is until that day life will be harder on those of us with these traits. As my father often told me, life is not fair. Just as some people have to work harder at learning academics, some of us need to work harder at learning how to deal with life.

I do not mean this hub to give anyone an excuse. We cannot say, "oh well, it's my brain malfunctioning and I can't do anything about that." I just want people to know that it very well may not be that they are too weak, their upbringing was bad, or any of the other current excuses society employs to explain what it doesn't want to face.

We each owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to do everything in our power to become well adapted and productive members of society. Just as people with other physical disabilities do not give up and strive to overcome their restrictions, so must we. Many people have and many people will. The most important part is to not give up hope. If we fall, we must get back up. The present is just that, a present. Appreciation of that present involves getting back on that horse that threw us.

I recently wrote a hub Addictive Activities vs Addiction. In it I list some ways to help prevent addictive activities from turning into addictions. While researching this hub I found another interesting technique. It is called "dicing". It is presented as a way to cope with compulsive eating and other activities that we indulge in when we are bored. I think this technique would also work when internal stressors become overwhelming. It is a good way to divert yourself without employing the same diversion each time.

Dicing is done by writing a list of 21 things you can do when you are bored, not including eating, drinking or TV. When you are bored, you roll dice. Add up all the dots showing on the dice. Find the corresponding action on your list. This is what you will do. Kind of reminds me of when I was a child. If I ever complained of boredom my Mom would happily say, "Oh, are you bored? Well, I have several things you can do".

For the time being I am sending all of you with these addictive tendencies love and good wishes. I understand very well how little things can become overwhelming and how certain circumstances will bring back unpleasant emotional memories. Try to employ awareness and variety, do all things in moderation and get out and make some new friends, find some new interests. Finally, God Bless!


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    • sen.sush23 profile image


      7 years ago from Kolkata, India

      Also sharing with some friends

    • sen.sush23 profile image


      7 years ago from Kolkata, India

      k@ri, this Hub is interesting, well written. Yes, but more than that there is that soft tone of compassion and understanding. I admire the way you have taken up such a difficult task of writing an entirely scientific and medical explanation of addiction and yet remained a counselor all along. Voted up interesting and beautiful.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great job. Most informative site about this topic on the internet!

    • Iceman1987 profile image


      9 years ago from Washington

      interesting hub, well writen!

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      10 years ago from Ohio

      Charia, How we behave is a combination of our environment and our personality. The environment does have some effect on behavior. Thanks for the comment. :D

    • Charia Samher profile image

      Charia Samher 

      10 years ago

      I guess our environment really had a great effect on ones behavior, we can develop it at home, in school at work or in any other place; although might be biological as well.

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      10 years ago from Ohio

      James, It is so human nature to seek the easiest path. We have to guard against that, and even then.... Thanks! :D

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      10 years ago from Chicago

      It is easy to develop bad habits and hard to develop good habits. Many people have a natural tendency to seek the easy ways. Nicely done Hub. Thanks.

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      10 years ago from Ohio

      Dolores, That is a very good question. I will have to look into it! Thanks for your comment,

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      10 years ago from East Coast, United States

      If there is a problem with serotonin in people with addictions, I wonder if there is a natural way to beef up serotonin levels in our brains.

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      10 years ago from Ohio

      ethel, Yes we are aren't we, LOL! :D

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      I sometimes feel I am borderline OCD. Still we are all odd bods in one way or another

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      10 years ago from Ohio

      Mighty Mom, Yes, to varying degrees, we all have these tendencies. I don't really understand why an addiction to shopping is OK, while an addiction to gambling is is really the same thing in my book.

      I am glad you believe that it is not a "learned" behavior. I forgot about the liver issue, but that is very true. It would have fit here well, also.

      Thank you for your comment, I too look forward to the day, but do not think it will be in my lifetime...however, maybe in my children's!

      AM, If this is becoming you addiction, it is a good one! We need people who can speak out against some of the outdated theories present today in psychology. They have existed too long. Have we forgotten how to think outside the box?

      The mind is the last "great unknown". To me it is amazing that we spend so much time and money trying to understand the universe, when we don't even understand ourselves...but then again, denial is amazingly strong! LOL! And, lots of people find outer space much more interesting.

      I remember when I was in psych in college. Some of the people had such a hard time with it. There were theories they just couldn't believe, but how we were taught is as if these theories were fact. They understood better when I reminded them that these were theories, no proven facts.

      I really think if we begin to think ourselves instead of trying to prove outdated theories we will progress. That is what I liked about the study on self control. I feel we need to think of new ways to "prove" things, not just fall back on the fact that Freud or Beck said it. My goodness, Pavlov won the Nobel Prize in 1904. Certainly we have learned something since then with all of our new technology!

      I sometimes get tired of people who are addicted to work, video games, or HubPages, thinking they are better than someone addicted to another activity or substance. Addiction is addiction, and it can happen to any of us!

      badcompany, Thank you for your comment. This is an issue I also relate well to...I have several addictive tendencies, and am just beginning to learn them all! LOL In my research, I am finding more than I am comfortable with, but I am going to continue my research...and my learning!

    • profile image

      A.M. Gwynn 

      10 years ago

      K@ri, your presentation here is very well rounded.

      Perhaps, only our "poisons" are different? I think people tend to disbelieve that things other than drugs are so addictive because they aren't as "harmful"; food, shopping, gambling, those little tics we form, etc. But all of those things can be addictive and harmful. Also, serotonin does have it's role to play. I know that young people here are educated on Seasonal Affect Disorder because of our majority of "grey days", and it's very real effects and symptoms. But what about those who live in the constant sunshine or have sufficient serotonin levels? So of course other things must also come into play.

      This issue is a crucial one for us and there is compelling research results from all the aspects of addiction and addictive personality study. I make it no secret that I personally have issues with much of the psychiatric community and also their claims of holding the cornerstone on the true and definitive cause, and their oft times inability to climb outside of the rabbit hole they many times fall into. And I defend my opinion of that community to the point that it may be my own "addiction." That said, I do have many friends in that community who themselves feel a disillusionment with their profession's rigid and sometimes outdated outlook. But as you have said, someday and I pray it comes soon, we may find concrete evidence and therefore be able to alleviate or put an end to, the addictions of so many who feel tortured and sometimes die because of them.

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 

      10 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Do we really all have addictive tendencies? I'm not sure. If our brains are producing the right quantities of seretonin, there's no need for us to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol or pleasure-inducing activities.

      It is fascinating that science is finding genuine evidence that addiction is genetic. I believe it absolutely is NOT learned behavior in that you become an addict by emulating an addicted parent. More often, children of alcoholics/addicts vow to NEVER be like that parent. But if they are predisposed to having the "ism" they will end up addicted. There is also medical evidence that the livers of alcoholics actually process alcohol differently than normal people's livers.

      Anyway, another great hub, k@ri. I truly hope that one day science can find a cure for addiction. It is a heartbreaking and ubiquitous problem.

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      10 years ago from Ohio

      AM, we all have addictive tendencies...why are we different from the addicts? This is just my theory. As good as any theory in psycholgy, don't you think? No excuse, but an explanation maybe?

    • profile image

      A.M. Gwynn 

      10 years ago

      Wonderful Beautiful Hub!! I loved the video, very apropos. There is so much to learn and understand with this. Thanks K@ri.

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      10 years ago from Ohio

      VioletSun, I used to take St John's Wort, but I still take the B complex...I understand about the change. It can be very disconcerting!

      sham, It seems that this may be related to serotonin uptake. I hope you find your way! Thank you very much. Let me know if I can help!

    • shamelabboush profile image


      10 years ago

      I always seem to lose control at the smallest flicker! I tried and still trying to adapt and adpot new techs so I can be in control of my emotions... I hope this works? Great Hub dear, thanks.

    • VioletSun profile image


      10 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

      Very informative article, thanks for writing this. I take St. John's Wort and a good B complex with Inosotol to keep my brain nourished and I feel pretty good. Noticed changes when I entered menopause and it was disconcerting.


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