As America’s battle with addiction becomes more and more prevalent, people begin to wonder what exact traits predict addiction. Older stereotypes have suggested addicts have more in common than the we now know them to have. We can see now that addicts hail from every race, creed, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation and more. Yet, we can’t deny that there is a certain genetic element to the disease of addiction. After all, we can certainly see the evidence for it running in families.
So what is the commonality? Well, studies are beginning to suggest that the trait that most predicts addiction is impulsivity. This may not sound so surprising- but impulsivity shows up in more ways than you may think. Typically, impulsive people choose a smaller, faster reward over a larger, delayed reware. In layman’s terms, addicts are the ones that seek immediate gratification. Because of this, an important prevention tool is trying to overcome the delay when you don’t get what you want immediately. Learning to tolerate this delay is key, but still, it is genetically more difficult for some individuals, as their brains are wired to desire momentary gratification and rewards.
Though impulsivity is more common in those with addictive tendencies, it is a pretty common aspect of human life as well. It can be described as quick, momentary reactions to internal or external stimuli, often with unplanned consequences trailing behind. Though not everyone has this kind of thinking, and certainly not everyone applies this thinking to consuming drugs, this is a train of thought most can empathize with. Think about it- there are things we find ourselves doing even if we didn’t plan to. Eating that extra doughnut, buying a car we can’t afford, skipping the gym and going out. These impulsive behaviors represent the crux of addictive behavior.
So if we know the behavior that is generating addiction, does that mean we know the fix? Well, it isn’t that easy, but it is a start. A failure to resist impulse can now be described as the number one barrier addicts need to face in order to have a long-term strategy for success in recovery and life in general. However, this is a hard pattern to break, especially for individuals who much prefer immediate benefits to pleasures that occur far in the future.
It may give some comfort to know that the seasons of our life help to influence our impulsivity. Meaning, impulsive behavior is much more common at certain ages than others. It is estimated that impulsivity is at its highest levels during adolescence (around ages of 12) and levels off while moving toward adulthood (age of 20 years).
With this information in mind, it can be determined that impulsivity is often a prerequisite to addictive behavior and could be quite definitely used as a screening mechanism for future substance abuse.