Since 1988 Craig Nakken’s book, The Addictive Personality, has sold over 200,000 copies to an audience of professionals, addicts and their families. A popular, 25-year shelf life is a big and distinctive deal for a book, and this remarkable achievement is what drew me to read it. Hazelden, the publisher, is a Minnesota-based company dedicated to substance abuse prevention, treatment, education, recovery and advocacy. It’s well-known for supporting 12-step ideology and protocols, and predictably, The Addictive Personality presents the traditional 12-step party line.
Nakken believes, for example, that addiction is an expression (or acting out) of emotional suffering. In the early stages, addiction is viewed as a dysfunctional attempt to achieve emotional fulfillment by creating a trance-like state of mind or a positive mood change. Nakken also embraces the concept that addiction is a progressive disease that occurs in three basic stages. First there’s internal change, then there’s a lifestyle change and finally there’s a total life breakdown. Addictive, pleasure-seeking people are characterized by temporary and volatile emotional states, unstable relationships, high intensity living, powerlessness, an angry predatory manner, and an appetite for excessive/pointless hedonism.
The book is organized into four sections: 1) the addiction process; 2) stages of addiction; 3) the why of recovery and 4) family and addiction. Even though the third section is focused on recovery, there are less than 15 pages actually devoted to discussing solutions. Hands down, this is the most disappointing feature. Almost none of the author’s energy goes into showing how a better understanding of causes can be used to inspire recovery, to speed recovery or to make recovery more efficient. I was expecting a much more scientific approach where the solutions directly match up directly with the causes. Instead, Nakken gives a rehash of the 12-steps. Unfortunately, he doesn’t do an adequate job of explaining exactly how the 12 steps work to neutralize the underlying problems he painstakingly identified.
Another disappointment is Nakken’s underlying confusion with darkness and light. For example, the notion that recovery is “about allowing us to feel guilt” is a dark idea that makes recovery unattractive. Guilt is the judgment of self as bad, wrong and unworthy, and it always results in anxiety, depression and the perception of self as unlovable. There’s nothing useful about indulging in guilt because it exacerbates the impulse to self-destruct. Who wants to take life straight, so to speak, when you feel so very bad about yourself? Many people, especially therapists, think that guilt is helpful because it leads to correction. But this is not true. Guilt and correction are two different things, and correction is most efficiently accomplished without it.
All-in-all, I got zero positive reading charge from the The Addictive Personality. It was too clinical and boring for my taste. Nakken’s reliance on stereotypes and labels did not inspire or uplift me, and his rigid, uncreative interpretations close the mind rather than open it. For these reasons, I give this book an unenthusiastic recommendation of one-half thumb up. That said, The Addictive Personality is technically well written, and I realize many of Nakken’s ideas are widely accepted. Just because they don’t resonate with me doesn’t mean they won’t resonate with you.
If you want a psychologically-oriented 12-step interpretation of the causes of addiction, The Addictive Personality will be just right for you. Pass on it if you’re looking for something with a little more practicality or heart. Here’s the link for The Addictive Personality at the Hazelden online store.