Culturally, it's become acceptable to use the word "addiction" loosely. You might claim to be "addicted" to social media because you check it a few times a day, or claim to have an addictive personality because you don't have much self-control in certain areas. However, as American Addiction Centers reminds us, addiction truly is a disease, affecting how the brain's reward centers function. Addicts suffer from distorted forms of thinking, illogical or poor decision making, and of course, a physiological dependence on a given substance.
The dangers of addiction are numerous, no matter what the focal point of the addiction is--though of course, some substances are more dangerous than others. Drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol are the most commonly considered addiction, but it's also possible (and almost as dangerous) to become addicted to gambling or sex. As an entrepreneur, an addiction could interfere with your ability to lead and perform--and more importantly, could jeopardize your physical and mental health. And according to some recent research, entrepreneurs could be more likely to have addictive personalities.
Myths and Realities of the "Addictive Personality"
First, it's important to dispel some misconceptions of the typical "addictive personality." An addictive personality is a set of characteristics that make someone more likely to develop an addiction to a given substance or behavior, but the stereotypical addictive personality isn't an accurate portrayal.
According to Scientific American, typical traits associated with addiction actually have little bearing on an individual's susceptibility to addiction. For example, individuals with low willpower aren't more susceptible to addiction, nor are risk-takers, or people prone to compulsive behavior.
In fact, there are no single personality traits that are definitively linked to addiction vulnerability; instead, the people most liable to develop addictions are outliers. They are the most intelligent and least intelligent people of the group, and the most and least empathetic of the group. They represent personality extremes, rather than any group of personality traits.
The Reward of Novelty
As the New York Times explains, addictions often tend to form as a response to a novel experience, which floods the brain's pleasure center with dopamine. Many drugs induce this chemical reaction, but individuals may also experience it with certain behaviors, such as winning a bet or experiencing intimacy with another person. In the case of entrepreneurs and business leaders, this novelty may come in the form of closing a deal, reaching a milestone, or achieving a breakthrough with a product. It's highly unlikely that you'll develop a physical tolerance for these kinds of "rushes," but they could lead to more extreme forms of novelty.
But is that enough for entrepreneurs to be considered to have addictive personalities?
Three Big Risks for Entrepreneurs
Ultimately, there are three big risk factors that may make entrepreneurs more susceptible to addiction:
1. Entrepreneurs are usually extreme.
Most people who start their own businesses aren't "average." They're outliers on at least a handful of spectrums; maybe you're extremely intelligent or highly outgoing and charismatic, or maybe you are compulsive and tend to jump into things without thinking. As the evidence suggests, "extreme" individuals are more prone to developing addictions, and since entrepreneurs tend to be extreme in at least some ways, they naturally fall into this category.
2. Entrepreneurs seek novelty.
Admit it; you've felt a rush from taking a big risk or launching a new venture. Entrepreneurs tend to love this unique experience, and they chase it by continuing to take new risks and create new opportunities. In isolation, there's nothing wrong with this, but the temptation to seek bigger and bigger thrills could lead you to take unnecessary--or even dangerous--risks.
3. Entrepreneurs are stressed.
High stress doesn't necessarily make you more liable to develop an addiction, but the inability to handle your stress does. Even if you consider yourself a relatively low-stress entrepreneur, if you aren't handling your stress effectively, you could find yourself more susceptible to addiction. Reduce your stress and manage it effectively by taking time for yourself in the form of breaks and vacations, and by meditating, eating healthily, and engaging in physical exercise.
In some ways, entrepreneurs are more vulnerable to addiction than other portions of the population. However, that doesn't mean you're destined to follow that path. Regardless of your personality and your tendency to chase novel experiences, as long as you manage your stress appropriately, enjoy healthy novel experiences, and remain aware of your own addictive tendencies, you can avoid temptations and maintain your professionalism as you attempt to grow your business.