Is There Such Thing as an Addictive Personality?

Blog Post created by dr_hays on Sep 25, 2015

The short answer is probably not, but if so, the connection between personality and addiction is minimal. 


A longer answer requires us to first define personality.  Personality can be understood as a set of traits that remain relatively stable over a person’s lifetime.  Five domains or characteristics that vary person to person, but remain relatively stable for an individual and are independent of culture have been identified:  1. Openness, more or less inviting of new experiences, variety, and/or being more or less intellectually curious.  2. Conscientiousness, more or less thorough, vigilant or careful.  3. Extraversion, more or less outgoing, energetic, or reserved.  4. Agreeableness, more or less socially cooperative, empathic, or trusting.  5. Neuroticism, more or less anxious, moody, or frustrated (1,2).  Individual differences across these five domains are considered ‘personality’.




These broad domains are not strongly associated with tobacco addiction.  Other factors like genetics, environmental factors, a history of mental illness, and even exposure to advertising, are more strongly associated with tobacco addiction than personality traits (3,4).  There is a mild association that has been found between smoking and high extraversion, and/or neuroticism; however, this might be because teenagers who are high in these traits are more likely to take a risk and try cigarettes and may be more likely to experience some mood benefit from the cigarette.


We find it more useful and more accurate to understand addiction as a biological and social problem, rather than a ‘personality’ problem.  For some people, exposure to nicotine from tobacco creates changes and adaptations in the brain that make the drug more reinforcing and addicting (5).  For those with more stressors or who are in environments that promote smoking, this is more likely to occur.  It is true that  people who have other addictions or mental health diagnoses are more likely to be smokers, but that will be a discussion for a future blog.



1.            Heine SJ, Buchtel EE. Personality: the universal and the culturally specific. Annu Rev Psychol. 2009;60:369-394.

2.            McAdams DP, Pals JL. A new Big Five: fundamental principles for an integrative science of personality. Am Psychol. Apr 2006;61(3):204-217.

3.            General 2012.

4.            Adult awareness of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship--14 countries. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. May 25 2012;61(20):365-369.

5.            Benowitz NL. Nicotine addiction. N Engl J Med. Jun 17 2010;362(24):2295-2303.