Introverts are more likely to develop an addiction versus their extroverted peers. But why? Yes, we differ in personality and where we source our energy, but that doesn’t necessarily suggest substance abuse one way or another.
If anything, it seems introverts would be less likely to experiment with substances because we don’t usually go to parties, bars or clubs, or put ourselves in social situations as often as our extroverted friends.
But it’s in that self-isolation that we begin to uncover things like depression and loneliness, of which alcohol and other drugs can be a coping mechanism. Mental illnesses like depression have been strongly connected to addiction. This, among other personality traits, can make introverts more prone to addiction than others.
1. Introverts Are More Likely to Have Mental Illnesses
The great thing about being an introvert is that you’re reflective and intuitive. But that quiet reflection can have an ugly side, too. While extroverts usually have more positive thoughts, the rest of us weren’t so blessed. Introverts like us tend to have more negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions, which are all associated with substance abuse.
This means we often dwell on negative experiences, fear of the future, awkward encounters, and other things that can be debilitating. Research from the U.S. National Library of Medicine shows that introverts are more likely to have depression and suicidal thoughts. The study found that personality — and, more specifically, introversion — is a core underlying factor in depression and suicide rates.
Introverts can be more prone to mental illnesses like depression and bipolar disorder because they are naturally self-withdrawn and have other personality traits that contribute to negativism.
Some of the common experiences among introverts that can lead to mental illness include:
- Less support than extroverts
- Neuroticism, or a personality that leans toward anxiety, anger, irritability, and depression
- Lower self-esteem
- More likely to be compliant
The link between mental illness and substance abuse is well-researched. Having a substance use disorder and a mental illness is called a co-occurring disorder (it might also be called comorbidity or a dual diagnosis).
Many people who have an addiction also battle with some sort of mental illness. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) noted that 7.7 million adults have co-occurring mental and substance use disorders (that’s about 38% of people with an addiction).
2. Introverts Are Interested in Fewer Rewards
Dr. Sergi Ferré, a senior scientist and section chief at NIDA, told The Huffington Post about the difference between an introvert and an extrovert’s reward system. While extroverts might be stimulated by a wide variety of rewards — accolades from an employer, adrenaline-pumped environments, high-energy social gatherings — introverts don’t share the same desire for awards from other people.
Because there are fewer rewards that introverts are interested in, they’re often drawn to the reward a substance can offer. We don’t look for the attention and validation of large groups of people to feel rewarded (that’s usually the last thing we’re looking for, actually). But alcohol, painkillers, or other drugs can offer what others can’t: a reward that doesn’t involve people, expressing yourself, or going through some draining activity like a party.
Because introverts might seek the rewards offered by substances, they can become dependent on the feelings those things provide. This can quickly lead to an addiction as the substance use spirals out of hand.
3. Introverts and Their Comfort Zones
One of the common misconceptions about introverts is that they just need to “get out of their comfort zone.” Of course, we know that it’s perfectly fine for introverts to feel the most themselves when they’re alone, or one-on-one with someone.
But for an introvert who doesn’t yet fully know themselves, or others who don’t know what it means to be naturally introverted, they may view substances as a way to come out of their shells more. Friends may encourage them to drink because they’re more talkative, less reserved, and more relaxed after they’ve had a few shots. Substances can become a way to put on a new body for a night and step outside of your natural inclinations.
Because of these misconceptions and false personalities, an introvert might continue to use drugs or alcohol to be more like their peers and feel more comfortable in new surroundings or at social events.
4. Introverts Are Less Likely to Ask for Help
If you’re an introvert, you probably don’t like asking for help. You might worry that you’re being a burden, don’t want to bother other people, or fear the judgment you might face for opening up about your problems.
And on top of the crippling fear of judgment, introverts usually want to feel independent and self-sufficient. They don’t want other people intruding on their processing and problem-solving, they’d rather just do it alone.
Even when struggling with something as serious as substance abuse, they’re likely not going to ask for help because they believe they can handle it alone. Or, even if they know they can’t do it alone, asking someone for help can often feel like an energy-draining, scary task.
Best Treatment Methods for Introverts
Not all treatment methods are created equal when it comes to introverts. What might work for some people won’t work for introverts. While extroverts may thrive in addiction treatment programs that feature group therapy sessions, introverts might get nothing out of it because they won’t say a word the entire time.
If you’re an introvert who wants to get treatment for an addiction, you might benefit from one of these options:
- Individual counseling
- Specialized treatment through an inpatient or outpatient rehab program
- Getting a sponsor through a 12-step program to talk with one-on-one