What is the Connection Between Addiction and Impulsive Behaviors?

Connection Between Addiction and Impulsive Behaviors

What is the Connection Between Addiction and Impulsive Behaviors?

Connection Between Addiction and Impulsive BehaviorsFor many people, impulsivity or impulsive behavior and risk-taking behavior go hand-in-hand with substance use disorder or “addiction”. This means that, even when completely sober, people with substance abuse problems are more likely to engage in impulsive decision-making, risk-taking behaviors, and otherwise very quickly jump to things. However, impulsive behaviors have a complex relationship with addiction and substance abuse.

For example, impulsive behaviors are one of the leading risk factors behind substance abuse. People who are impulsive are less able to say no, more likely to make risky decisions like substance use, and more likely to take actions that could put them in danger. At the same time, substance abuse can increase impulsivity and sensation-seeking by changing how the brain works, which means that impulsivity will get worse as you continue to use.

That’s further complicated by the fact that people who are very impulsive often have complications from trauma, stress, and adverse childhood experiences. This means that the same factors which increase the likelihood of addiction are also likely to increase impulsive behaviors.

Impulsivity and Pleasure-Seeking

The thing that most people think of when they think of impulsive behavior is pleasure-seeking. Here, impulsive people may have a hard time saying no to things that make them feel good. They may quickly and with little thought do high-risk activities that result in adrenaline and a rush of feeling good. Think impromptu car races, binge drinking, binge eating, skipping school or work, etc.

These kinds of behaviors are often driven by a desire to feel good, usually as a result of learning poor coping mechanisms, trauma as a child, or brain development.

In some cases, pleasure seeking can look fairly normal. In other cases, it can look like seeking out extreme experiences, akin to going after roller coaster rides and bungee jumping. More often, it means someone who drinks or uses drugs, goes out too much, and indulges in fast food, sugary drinks, and other chemical ways to feel good.

Eventually, that puts you at risk of substance use disorder, because it means you’re exposed to substances, sometimes very regularly.

Sensation Seeking after Exposure to Drugs and Alcohol

The more you use drugs and alcohol, the worse sensation seeking is likely to get. For many people, this means that substance abuse results in the brain reducing its production of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. That means you feel less in response to whatever you’re doing. Therefore, you need more of the drug, the alcohol, or an even more gratifying experience to feel the same amount of pleasure from it. That quickly deteriorates into a pattern of escalation that can become dangerous.

As a result, using substances for sensation seeking very often results in a chronic condition with patterns of building tolerance, increasing usage, and dependence.

Stress Response

Impulsive people often use sensation seeking to manage stress and to feel good around negativity. As they use drugs and alcohol to do so, they reduce their ability to feel good in other ways, while increasing stress from mental and physical health problems, job stress, interpersonal relationship turbulence, and hangovers. That means an increase in stress and an increased need for sensation-seeking behavior.

As a result, people who are in this position often need to feel good more and more just to cope with daily life. The stress response refers to how the brain changes to adapt to drug use, which results in a vicious cycle where you feel bad and want to do something that feels good, but nothing feels as good as it used to, so you keep using more.

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self-medicationSelf-medication is a very closely related phenomenon to both the stress response and sensation seeking. However, here, the individual is specifically drinking to feel “not bad” rather than to “feel good”. That makes this a different response. However, it is one that impulsive people are extremely vulnerable to. Here, people are very likely to:

  • Drink alcohol to destress
  • Take extra pills or more than their prescription in case of pain
  • Use medication outside of a prescription
  • Preemptively take painkillers or drink to prevent stress and pain
  • Feel like they need a substance to cope with a problem

People who use substances to self-medicate typically start out doing so on an impulsive basis. “I feel bad and I know this will make me feel better”. However, like with sensation-seeking, it can very easily get out of control. That’s especially true when people self-medicate for stress, chronic illness, or other frequently recurring issues. And, with stress, drinking or using to cope with it actively makes the situation worse, because drinking and using do eventually create more stress in terms of financial stress, relationship friction, fatigue, reduced capability at work, etc.

It also means that the people who are most likely to be vulnerable to impulsivity are also the people most likely to be vulnerable to substance use disorders. That means people with recurring, existing, or chronic mental health problems from stress, depression, anxiety, or a mental health disorder.

Adverse Childhood Experiences and Impulsivity

The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study was conducted during the 90s, with over 17,000 participants at the Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study tracked how trauma at an early age impacted brain development as well as vulnerability to physical and mental health disorders. It found that more exposure to traumatic experiences resulted in an increase in impulsive and risk taking behavior. It also found that traumatic experiences before the age of 14 were significantly likely to impact physical and mental health problems, greatly increasing vulnerability to substance use disorders, mental health disorders, and even physical illnesses.

Therefore, the same factors that result in impulsive behaviors also result in substance use disorders.

In Short:

Impulsive behaviors increase risk of substance use disorder by increasing exposure to substances. They also make it harder to say no to further exposure because of sensation seeking and self-medicating patterns. People who are impulsive look for fast and easy fixes to stress, strong and negative emotions, and problems in their life. They also want to feel good, to experience highs, and to escape when they want to. That means impulsive people are very vulnerable to substance abuse. In addition, impulsivity gets worse as you use drugs and alcohol, which exacerbates the original issue further.

Getting Help

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, it’s important to reach out and get help. Today, your treatment options include behavioral therapy like CBT, which will help you to assess the underlying reasons behind addiction, to cope with stress in a healthy way, and to build healthy responses and behaviors that can help you to get in control of impulsivity, cravings, and difficulty managing substances in a healthy way. Addiction is a complicated disorder that’s impacted by hundreds of factors ranging from stress and environment to genetics and upbringing. At the same time, you can learn to manage it and you can get in control of your symptoms and your life. That may take months or even years of therapy, but having risk factors and having personality that contributes to a vulnerability to addiction does not mean you’re stuck with it. There is help and it will allow you to get your life back.

7 Traits of an Addictive Personality

a man with an addictive personality

7 Traits of an Addictive Personality

a man with an addictive personalityIf you’re struggling with a substance use disorder then you’ve heard the term “addictive personality” in the past. For many of us, that can lead to immediate clicks, that sounds like me. But, what is an addictive personality disorder? What does it look like in actuality? And is there a difference between an addict and someone with an addictive personality disorder?

In short, an addictive personality is boiled down into “someone who is prone to substance abuse”, because they are very likely to very quickly become hooked on a behavioral stimulation like gaming, internet, a new crush, a substance, or anything else that makes them feel good. It’s also important to keep in mind that addictive personalities are hypothetical, they haven’t been proven to exist. Instead, we use the term as a convenient way to refer to a collection of traits that are likely to increase the risk of addiction. In medical terminology, these traits are referred to as “vulnerabilities” and never as “an addictive personality”. Therefore, you’ll have to switch language when talking to your therapist or counselor. However, for yourself and for your friends, the “addictive personality” name can be an extremely useful way to talk about personality traits that can increase your vulnerability to addictions of almost any kind.

1. Impulsivity

Impulsive people are more likely to use and abuse substances. That’s one reason why many people who self-define as having an addictive personality actually have attention disorders like ADD or ADHD. If you’re impulsive, you’re more likely to do things without thinking. You’re more likely to do stuff for fun. You’re more likely to chase sensations and feelings without thinking about their repercussions or long-term impacts. The less you are able to control your attention span, the more likely you are to lose track of how much time you spend with that thing, which also leads to reckless and heavy use.

So, if you’re impulsive, you’re more likely to take risks. That can be easy to see risks like running across the highway. It can also be risks like taking drugs, drinking before getting in a car, or to use substances to cope with stress. It doesn’t mean you will become an addict. However, it does mean that your chance of exposure to risk factors, like using drugs and alcohol, realizing how much you’re using, and how much you seek out chemical pleasure will be increased.

2. Seeking Behavior

People who exhibit seeking behavior, especially sensation seeking, are more likely to struggle with substance abuse and substance use problems. You can also see sensation seeking in parts of life that don’t involve substances. For example, people who need outlets like going out, who like to smash things when angry, who love food or soda, who like sleeping in but staying up late, who engross themselves in games, etc. The more you are the type to seek out fast and instant gratification, the more you are at risk of substance abuse. That sounds like a lot of people right? That’s because most people fall into this category, although some more than others. Instead, finding slower gratification is a learned trait and often one you’ll want to work on even if you think you have an addictive personality.

3. Trouble Fitting In

a woman feeling anxious because of many peopleThe more trouble you have fitting in, the more you’ll likely fall under the “addictive personality” umbrella. This means people who don’t easily communicate with others, who don’t make friends easily, who don’t fit in with the popular crowd, who aren’t like everyone else. That can mean a lot of things but often means that people with mental health disorders, people on the LGTQI++ spectrum, and people with behavioral problems are significantly more likely to have an addictive personality. For example, some traits that point to likelihood of addictive personality include:

  • Social alienation or not being part of a group
  • Feelings of loneliness even in a group
  • Few or no close friends
  • Trouble with the law
  • Poor relationships with parents
  • Poor relationships with social morals and values

Each of these contributes to the need to find pleasure and satisfaction in things outside of normal social contact and relationships. It also means you’re less likely to respect social norms that say you shouldn’t use drugs or alcohol. And, it means you’re more likely to want or need a release or an escape because nothing else is making you feel good. In its earliest form that often results in internet and video game abuse but may also result in alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and addiction.

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Seven Traits of an Addictive Personality4.  Stress

Everyone experiences stress but we all manage it in different ways. For some of us, how we manage stress puts us at risk of addiction. Healthy coping mechanisms for stress mean finding a way to ground, to find positive things, and to let go of stress. Unhealthy coping mechanisms for stress often mean finding ways to distract yourself and escape. That often results in over consumption of media, using substances to relax, and otherwise ignoring the issues. If you fall into the latter category, it is one of the traits of an “addictive personality”. However, everyone does suffer from stress. Learning how to manage and cope with stress in a healthy fashion should be a normal and healthy part of being an adult. It’s important that you look into getting help and learning how to do so, because otherwise it will always be a risk factor for addiction.

5. Mental Health Disorders

Having a mental health disorder can now significantly increase your risk of behavioral addiction. People with disorders ranging from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to depression and PTSD will all exhibit similar symptoms of relying on sensation seeking and escapism to cope with problems. That’s often because you are sick and it means that you are using your resources on other things. Reaching out and getting therapy and help to learn healthy coping mechanisms will improve how you’re able to cope with and manage your disorder so that it’s less likely to put you at risk of an addiction. However, having a mental health disorder increases your vulnerability to substance use disorder and other behavioral addictions by over 200%. It’s a significant and impactful part of your life and can contribute to what is known as “addictive personality disorder”.

6. Chronic Illness

If you suffer from chronic or long-term pain, you’re more likely to want to rely on sensation seeking and escapism to feel better. You’re also less able to have the willpower and self-control to do otherwise, because like with mental health problems, chronic illness typically means that you are spending your energy elsewhere. Therefore, chronic illness will significantly increase your vulnerability to addiction. Chronic illness can also be majorly isolating in that it prevents you from doing a lot of things with friends and peers and reduces your energy levels. At the same time, it will make you more lonely and less self-sufficient, because you’ll be less able to do things on your own and therefore cut out of doing things on your own as well. That can greatly increase your vulnerability to substance use disorders – meaning that it’s important to seek out professional help and learn management techniques and get support if you want to stay as healthy as possible.

7. Mood Issues

If you frequently find that your mood is low, that you don’t feel good, that you crash, or that you’re exhausted, you’re probably more at risk to addiction and substance abuse than the general population. Here it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not normal to experience sudden mood swings, sudden strong emotions, or to go from one emotion to the next. Learning healthy coping mechanisms and emotional regulation will help you to improve your life. However, having these kinds of mood issues will increase your risk of substance use disorder and are one of the key traits of what people call “addictive personality”.

Eventually, addictive personality is a term that is used to refer to a series of traits that increase your vulnerability to sensation seeking and substance abuse. Both of those increase your risk of substance use disorder. In any case, it’s important to work towards healthy coping mechanisms and towards improving your life. The danger of calling something part of your personality is that you may decide you can’t do anything about it when often you can take steps to learn healthy ways to deal with your emotions, your impulses, your mood, and your social life. Eventually, that will help you to stay clean and sober, while improving your quality of life.

Dealing with Anxiety at Social Events in Early Recovery

social anxiety

Dealing with Anxiety at Social Events in Early Recovery

social anxietyMoving into recovery is a big step and one that can be extremely important for your long-term health. However, it means dealing with life and people without social lubricant, without drugs and alcohol to reduce stress, and without a barrier between you and the world. In many ways, that’s a great thing because you get to have genuine and meaningful connections, to meet new people, and to feel supported, connected, and part of the group. You’ll never get that while high on drugs or alcohol. At the same time, you’ll face anxiety, worry, and possibly even panic. You might have trouble getting into new groups. You might worry what people will think and how they think about you.

The good news is that people are never as judgmental or as bad as our worries make them out to be. But, you’ll have to take steps to deal with social anxiety and stress at those social events so you can get over the hill of that early recovery anxiety. The following include some ways you can start doing that.

Journal Your Anxiety

If you’re anxious about a social event, it’s important to understand why. Taking time to write down your worries can give you insight into what those worries are about and what steps you can take to feel better.

This is a very proactive approach and depending on how bad your anxiety is, you might want or need support to do it. However, if you write reasons down, you can then write out what steps you can take to fix the issue. For example:

  • I am anxious that I won’t know anyone and won’t have anyone to talk to = take steps to talk to a stranger and hit off conversation
  • I am anxious that I will see alcohol and will want to drink = talk to your host about helping you stay away from alcohol
  • I am anxious about people judging me = take steps to acknowledge that you’re mostly judging yourself and that if you work through guilt associated with yourself, you’ll probably feel better

Of course, most of those aren’t simple one-step solutions.

social anxietyOther forms of anxiety are more general and are harder to name or to do anything about.

  • Being around large groups of people makes me feel anxiety even though I know nothing is wrong = build up positive experiences around larger groups so that you can feel less anxious
  • I am afraid I will do something wrong and people will laugh at me = work on understanding that most people don’t care what you are doing at any given point
  • I simply feel anxiety = work on stress management techniques

None of these steps will cure anxiety. However, they can help you to reduce it.

Understand Your Triggers

If you know what your triggers for using are, you can take steps to make life easier for yourself. For example, if you know that being alone in a crowded room makes you feel bad, you can take steps to have a friend or colleague with you. If you know that being around alcohol is a trigger, you can try to avoid events with alcohol for a bit longer. Triggers can be how people react, past events, and any situation of stress, so they can vary quite a bit from person to person.

Working to understand what causes anxiety or triggers you to want to drink can help you to better compensate for those situations.

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Learn Stress Management Techniques

Good stress management techniques can do a lot for reducing anxiety in the moment. Unfortunately, many of them take some time to learn. For example, Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Therapy is extremely popular, but typically takes several months. However, it will help you to ground yourself and focus on recovery.

a man and woman doing breathing exercises

Some good stress management techniques include:

  • Take 5-10 minutes and do a breathing exercise
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Give yourself a hand massage
  • Take 10 minutes to play a difficult game on your phone that requires attention
  • Ask for a hug
  • Focus your attention
  • Actively work to get rid of the stress factor in question

In most cases, you’ll want to focus on learning stress management techniques with your counselor or therapist, so they can help you to create positive experiences specific to what you’re going through right then.

Practice Preventive Self-Care

Ensuring that you’re in as good of a mental and physical state as possible will help you to reduce anxiety during a social event. However, that takes time and the fact that you’re in recovery may be against you there. For example, many people experience significant issues with nutritional deficiencies when leaving addiction. That’s because drugs and alcohol actively harm the gastrointestinal tract, preventing you from getting the nutrition you need. That can make stress and anxiety worse.

In addition, you’ll want to:

  • Exercise 30-60 minutes per day, 4-5 days per week
  • Eat healthy food about 80% of the time
  • Get enough sleep and take steps to ensure it’s high-quality sleep by avoiding phones and keeping a sleep routine
  • Engage in social events and spend time around people who make you feel good
  • Keep your home and space clean so you experience less stress leaving
  • Take steps to avoid stress when going places, such as by ensuring you won’t be late, making plenty of time, and planning well.

Preventive self-care is about improving your health, giving yourself the space and mindset to approach things without anxiety, and actively working to reduce stress in your daily life. That will reduce the amount of anxiety you feel at social events, while helping your recovery, and giving you a better threshold to deal with anxiety at social events.

Eventually if you stress at social events, chances are, you may just have to learn to deal with it. That may involve going to therapy, it may mean getting counseling, and it may mean working to build as many positive experiences as you can to reduce the overall impact of that anxiety. However, taking care of yourself around social events, ensuring that you can reduce stress as much as possible, and learning good short-term coping mechanisms will help. It may also be important to have a sponsor or support person on call so you can talk to them if you need to.

Navigating life in early recovery is harder than at most other points in your life. However, you should be able to take steps to improve that, which will impact your recovery and the rest of your life around it.

If you or your loved-one struggles from alcoholism or other substance abuse please contact us today and speak with one of our experienced and professional intake advisors about our detox, partial hospitalization, and residential treatment programs. 10 Acre Ranch also has specialty tracks like our pet friendly drug rehab and couples substance abuse treatment programs. We’re here to help you recover.