16 Warning Signs You’re Addicted to Drama, Say Leading Mind-Body Doctors
We all have a little drama queen in us. Clinical experts outline when the theatrics turn problematic—with steps to simmer the cycle.
Trying to get attention is said to be an evolutionary need. Some scholars in social science call this the “social safety theory,” suggesting that since the dawn of time, being a part of a group has kept us safer and better equipped to handle threats, which improves our odds of survival.
Even today, social isolation and loneliness are linked with an increased risk of chronic disease and premature death. But in the May 2023 book, Addicted to Drama, Scott Lyons, PhD, DO—a doctor of osteopathy and licensed holistic psychologist—is bringing enlightenment to the notion that there’s a fine line between striving to maintain healthy bonds and attention-seeking behaviors.
What is a drama addict?
Dr. Lyons’ book is part of a growing conversation in the psychotherapy community about how being a drama queen isn’t just a quirky personality type. Psychologists have honed in on a behavioral pattern they call “Need for Drama” (NFD), which some explain is a maladaptive personality trait more informally known as a drama addict. What is a drama addict? “A drama addict is someone who has an uncontrollable drive toward creating or perpetuating drama,” explains Holly Schiff, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Jewish Family Services of Greenwich.
Drama addiction is more complex than someone’s typical interest in neighborhood or tabloid gossip, adds Alissa Martinez, LPC, NCC, psychotherapist and founder of Crystal Mind Counseling. “A drama addict finds joy and/or thrill in involving themselves in conflict, confrontation, and gossip,” she says. “The behavior is typically over-the-top or exaggerated by the individual, and the drama may also have nothing to do with them.”
Signs of drama addiction
The research identifies three key components of NFD—interpersonal manipulation to control others’ behaviors and reactions or to meet a personal need or goal; impulsive, uncontrolled outspokenness (often with fabrication or exaggeration) when they share thoughts, stories, and opinions; and persistent perceived victimhood.
Martinez explains what these patterns look like in real life. A drama addict often:
- Has very chaotic friendships and relationships.
- Is not shy about making their personal drama public for others to know, to grab attention, and frame themselves in a victim-like manner.
- Tends to be resentful and hold grudges.
- Struggles with moving on and frequently rehashes old situations.
Still, drama addicts generally lack an awareness of their own role in creating or perpetuating drama in their lives, says Meredith Van Ness, LCSW, founder of Balanced+Well. As their behavior makes it difficult to maintain stable, healthy relationships, they “may experience a cycle of drama followed by periods of emotional exhaustion or depression.”
Am I a drama addict?
The NFD research published in Personality and Individual Differences includes an assessment tool that aims to measure this quality. Check out the questions below and rate how much you agree with each statement from 1 to 7 —1 meaning you strongly disagree, 7 meaning you strongly agree.
- Sometimes it’s fun to get people riled up.
- Sometimes I say something bad about someone with the hope that they find out what I said.
- I say or do things just to see how others react.
- Sometimes I play people against each other to get what I want.
- I wait before speaking my mind.
- I always speak my mind but pay for it later.
- It’s hard for me to hold my opinion back.
- People who act like my friends have stabbed me in the back.
- People often talk about me behind my back.
- I often wonder why such crazy things happen to me.
- I feel like there are people in my life who are out to get me.
- A lot of people have wronged me.
To get your score, first reverse the score for question 5 (count a 2 as a 6, for example). Then add up the numbers and divide by 12.
The researchers say a score of 3.4 is average—a score above 5 is greater than 95% of the population.
What causes drama addiction?
People seek out drama for a variety of reasons, including boredom, a desire for attention, a need for stimulation or excitement, or a way to distract themselves from deeper emotional issues, Van Ness says. “They may also have difficulty regulating their emotions and may rely on drama as a way to cope with stress or feelings of loneliness.”
When drama-seeking is deep-rooted and compulsive, it often stems from a person’s traumatic experiences in childhood—and sometimes adulthood—where chaos was commonplace, Martinez says. “As with other forms of addiction, because the brain is wired differently, a person will essentially crave the drama,” she explains. “There is usually an appeal around the attention that is drawn toward them, where they might be perceived as the victim or someone in need of sympathy or affection. This ultimately makes them feel good.”
A need for drama is also a common trait in people with certain personality disorders, Van Ness adds, including:
- Borderline personality disorder, characterized in the field of psychology’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by intense and unstable emotions, impulsivity, and unstable relationships. People with borderline personality disorder may be more likely to engage in drama-seeking behavior as a way to regulate their emotions and feel a sense of connection with others.
- Histrionic personality disorder, characterized by a need for attention and admiration, dramatic and theatrical behavior, and exaggerated emotional expression. People with histrionic personality disorder may be more likely to create or perpetuate drama in their relationships as a way to maintain the attention and admiration of others.
“It’s important to note that not all people with drama addiction have a personality disorder, and not all people with a personality disorder have drama addiction,” Van Ness says.
How can I stop being so dramatic?
The first step to breaking the cycle of drama addiction is all about self-awareness. “All of these behaviors are habitual and learned, meaning that you can unlearn it,” Dr. Schiff says. Holding yourself accountable will help prevent future drama-driven behaviors, Martinez adds. “This is a process, as you’re retraining your brain to stop craving the drama it typically demands.”
The experts list steps to navigate this process:
- Identifying triggers for drama and avoiding or limiting exposure to them.
- Practicing mindfulness and emotional regulation techniques to manage intense emotions.
- Paying attention and tracking your thoughts, and challenging negative thought patterns and beliefs that contribute to drama-seeking behavior.
- Becoming a better listener and thinking before you speak.
- Finding healthy, positive ways to bring excitement into your life.
- Setting clear boundaries with others and learning to communicate assertively and effectively.
Ultimately, Van Ness says, seeking behavioral therapy or support from a mental health professional can also help you explore underlying emotional issues and develop healthier coping strategies
Holly Schiff, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Jewish Family Services of Greenwich
Alissa Martinez, LPC, NCC, psychotherapist and founder of Crystal Mind Counseling
Meredith Van Ness, LCSW, founder of Balanced+Well
Annually Review of Clinical Psychology: "Social Safety Theory: A Biologically Based Evolutionary Perspective on Life Stress, Health, and Behavior"
Personality and Individual Differences: "Developing and Testing a Scale to Measure Need for Drama"