addicts vs non -addicts

Maladaptive Self Schemas rather than Addict Personality?

It is often said that alcoholics and addict fear nothing more than rejection. Little did I know this is based on a maladaptive self schema many addicts carry, even in recovery.

So why such a heightened sensitivity to perceived feeling of rejection from others.?

I came across this study which was fairly revealing on the subject (1).

This study shows ho it may be maladaptive self schema which may drive addiction rather than something akin to a so-called addictive personality?

“The aim of this study was to compare early maladaptive schemas and attributional styles in addicts and non-addicts to recognize their role in addiction.

In this causal-comparative study, 200 addicted and non-addicted men were randomly selected. Young early maladaptive schema and attributional styles questionnaires were used.

Early maladaptive schemas (EMSs) are chronically self-defecting emotional and cognitive patterns that develop early in life. They are the causes of many psychological disorders. Maladaptive schemas and inefficient ways the patient learns to adapt with others often lead to chronic symptoms of anxiety, depression and substance abuse.5

Based on the revised model of learned helplessness theory, another factor that increases a person’s vulnerability is attributional style which means how individuals explain different events.

If a person attributes a bad event to a stable, internal, and global cause, it can result in learned helplessness (LH).6

Some researchers showed that LH is the core of psychopathology and a predictor of successful treatment for substance abuse.

According to findings, addicted and non-addicted men are significantly different in all 15 EMSs, i.e. addicts suffer from higher levels of EMSs. Kirsch5 made similar conclusions.

Ball and Young, as well as Cullum, suggested that schemas have an important role in successful treatment of addiction.13,14 Young et al. also found many schemas related to substance abuse.15

Among schemas domains, the first domain (rejection/disconnection) obtained the highest scores.

Bosmans et al.16 indicated that psychopathology is perfectly related to this domain. Likewise, Brummett found rejection/disconnection domain linked to more problems and also positively related with psychopathology indicators such as substance abuse.

Aimee suggested this domain to be more sever in substance abusers.4

These findings are consistent with Iranian researchers such as Haghighat manesh and Lotfi.18,19 Compared to normal people, sex offenders had higher EMS scores.18

Comparing means of attributional styles of addicts and non-addicts showed significant differences between optimistic and pessimistic attributional styles, i.e. addicts were more pessimistic and developed LH more. These findings are consistent with studies conducted by Haj Hosseini, and also Garcia et al.,20,21

Other findings show pessimistic addicts were more likely to return to substance abuse.6 We also found a direct relationship between LH and successful addiction treatment. Therefore, addicts who suffered more from LH were less successful in treatment and more likely to relapse to substance abuse.

Correlation between EMS and pessimistic attributional style in addicts revealed positive relationships between pessimism and defect/shame, dependence/incompetence, and emotional inhibition schemas. Therefore, more pessimistic addicts had more sever schemas. In addition, Pearson correlation between LH and EMS in addicts indicated direct relationships between LH and entitlement, emotional inhibition, dependence/incompetence, failure, defect/shame, social isolation, abandonment, and emotional deprivation. These findings are consistent with Aimee’s research which found dependence/incompetence schema related to LH.4 Similarly, Hoffart and Sexton, and Tarquinio also suggested that since emotional deprivation, mistrust/abuse, social isolation vulnerability to harm and compliance were related to pessimism.22,23


This study certainly highlights a number of desriptions of many addicts and alcoholics I have seen , especially in early recovery .

It may be not so much an alcoholic personality that drives addiction but maladaptive self schemas, which act to propel self fulfilling prophesies of further addictive behaviour.

It is how we feel about about ourselves that seems to determine who we will act in relation to ourselves. Again feelings feed our addiction or our recovery.

We can alter these schemas fundamentally however and profoundly via among other things the 12 steps and other treatments such as schema therapy.

Recovery in simple terms is a change is schema for addicted self schema to recovery self schema. From feeling helpless, vulnerable, dependent,  pessimistic to  the opposite of these feelings.

This is why an addict needs to  fundamentally change in recovery.


1. Shaghaghy F, Saffarinia M, Iranpoor M, Soltanynejad A. The Relationship of Early Maladaptive Schemas, Attributional Styles and Learned Helplessness among Addicted and Non-Addicted Men.Addiction & Health 2011;3(1-2):45-52.


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