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What Personality Traits Relate to Drug Use?

by Landmark Recovery

March 16, 2021
A woman sitting and thinking about personality traits related to drug use

Updated: May 8, 2023, at 5:22 p.m.

Did you know that certain personality traits can put people at a higher risk of drug use? This blog explores the link between personality and drug use, and how understanding this connection can help improve substance abuse and mental health. Keep reading to learn more.

Unpacking Myths

We unpacked the myth of the ‘addictive personality’—the idea that an individual’s personality type makes them more susceptible to drug abuse in 2020. The main problem with this idea is that ‘personality’ is an extremely broad spectrum. We can’t neatly categorize individuals into personality boxes, as the addictive personality trope seems to want to do.

It’s not just your personality type that makes you vulnerable; it’s the psychological, biological, and social factors that underlie your personality. The myth of the addictive personality can be dangerous because it oversimplifies the risk factors of addiction. It irons out the nuance and complexity of behavior, and worse, it ascribes negative connotations to certain personality traits deemed to be ‘addict-like.’ Your personality is a reflection of your underlying beliefs, behaviors, and temperament—it’s not something you can reverse-engineer with a quick Buzzfeed personality quiz.

What Personality Trait is Most Consistently Correlated With Drug Use?

Despite the oversimplification of the addictive personality myth, there is a nugget of truth to the notion. Some conditions of both nature and nurture can make individuals more prone to substance abuse or addiction.

Personality Traits 

Psychologists conceptualize personality traits in a five-factor model. They call this theory ‘The Big Five.’ Many professionals in this field believe that the Big Five tests are more reliable and comprehensive than the much-touted Myers-Briggs test. An individual’s personality is believed to consist of all of these five traits to some degree or another. Consider each attribute on a sliding scale:

  • Openness to experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

There’s also a six-point model called HEXACO. This swaps ‘neuroticism’ for ‘emotionality’ and adds ‘honesty-humility’ to the mix.

Individuals more predisposed to addictive tendencies typically possess, according to research:

  • High openness to experience—they enjoy and seek out novel experiences
  • High extraversion—they are outgoing and pleasure-seeking
  • Low conscientiousness—they are impulsive and undisciplined
  • Low agreeableness—they are willing to disregard and act against social norms
  • High neuroticism—they may be emotionally troubled or even mentally ill

Psychology Today states that these traits, in that order of importance, are most telling about risk potential. This data still holds, even when accounting for differences of age, race, sex, and socioeconomic class.

Personality traits related to drug use seem to differ based on the drug in question.

  • Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and other mind-altering substances were associated with outgoingness, hedonism, and lack of discipline and adherence to social norms. However, they were far less commonly used by ‘emotionally distressed’ persons.
  • Cocaine and ecstasy (MMDA) correlate most strongly with extraversion, hedonism, and emotional distress.
  • Methamphetamine use was most commonly associated with impulsivity, hedonism, and high emotional distress levels compared to other drug users.

Ultimately, those with low conscientiousness seem to be at the highest risk for addiction issues. They lack impulse control and often enjoy the sensation of being completely uninhibited.

How To Get Help

Some people may be at higher risk than others, even though anyone can fall victim to addiction or substance abuse. But it’s not an inherent failing of personality, only a sign to take caution. Ultimately, it might help us better understand the potential for addiction when other factors are present.

Are you struggling with anger and substance abuse? Check out our blog on how to stop being an angry drunk to learn more about the relationship between alcohol and aggressive behavior.

If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, Landmark Recovery is here to help. Visit our locations page to find an addiction rehab center near you, or call 888-448-0302 to talk to a confidential admissions team member.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.