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Personality Traits Can Predict From Childhood Predisposition To Alcohol Abuse

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Personality Traits Can Predict From Childhood Predisposition To Alcohol Abuse

20 Jan 2011

The personality traits of a child under 12 years can predict his or her predisposition to alcohol abuse in later years, as evidenced the studies carried out by researchers from the Personality and Psychopathology Group at the Universitat Jaume I. This is a scientific breakthrough that will allow developing more effective programs and prevention campaigns because it takes into account the psychological characteristics of the most vulnerable people. More extroverted people, novelty seekers, with a low responsibility (uninhibited personality) and impulsive people are more exposed to alcohol abuse, always depending on other variables such as its combination with other personality traits or with the social context.

The chair professor of Psychology of Personality, Gener?s Ortet, points out that Òthese personality traits in themselves are neither good nor bad; it depends on their combinations, but knowing these variables allows us to foresee many different areas.Ó He also highlights that Òif we can detect the patterns in which the problem, alcohol consumption, appears, we can issue prevention campaigns aimed at these people in greater risk situationsÓ. To get to know these patterns, the research group coordinated by him has developed several studies which have been financed by Bancaja, the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science and the National Drug Plan.

In 2003, researchers at the UJI launched a prospective longitudinal study with a sample of about 500 teenagers from the secondary school. ÒGiven that personality traits are present from childhood, what we do is to study these characteristics at the age of 12, when he or she has sufficient capacity to answer personality questionnaires, and alcohol consumption is still very minor.Ó The different reports made in Spain put the start of alcohol consumption between 13 and 14 years. Its main triggering factor is the influence o friends. The group continued the study on psychological and social variables of these same teenagers during four years. They found that Òif we study personality and other psychological and social variables, at the age of 12 we can significantly predict alcohol consumption at the age of 16?.

These findings have been corroborated by another transversal study, carried out with college students, and two cross-cultural projects carried out in collaboration with Scotland and Canada. The most innovative line of research is the study of genetic variables, explains Ortet. In these tasks, researchers at the UJI collaborate with biologists from the Universitat de Barcelona. In the aforementioned cross-sectional study with 500 college students, personality and other variables, such as psychological, social and biological dimensions, were included. ÒWe know that personality has an hereditary component. The genetic influence on the way we are is about 50%,Ó says Ortet. From these investigations we can deduce that there are genes associated with both alcoholism and personality characteristics which are linked to alcohol consumption, for example, genes linked to dopamine transmission associated with a greater possibility of being a novelty seeker (uninhibited personality) and also of suffering some type of alcohol disorders. Thus, the link between personality and alcohol consumption also has a biological basis, not only environmental and learning variables.

In this field, the research group is working on several studies on the interaction between genetic markers and the environment, according to the latest research trends worldwide. The researchers Manuel Ignacio Ib??ez and Jorge Moya explain that people with genetic markers associated with alcohol consumption tend, under normal conditions, to consume a little more than those who do not have them. However, in the adolescence the environment, that is to say, consumption by friends, is more important than genetics. But if you join both, genetic and consumption by equals, the own consumption grows exponentially, according to the studies carried out at the UJI.

Tendency to the Anglo-Saxon model of consumption

The Personality and Psychopathology Group at the UJI has complemented these studies with two transcultural projects. In the first one, the consumption and the character of Scottish and Spanish adolescents was compared. ÒPersonality characteristics, such as low responsibility, impulsivity and novelty seeking (disinhibition) in both cases are related to alcohol consumption, but are always closely linked with the consumption by friends. However, these traits have often led to have a group of friends with similar entertainment expectations and a novelty seeking attitude, and this in our cultural context appears linked to alcoholÓ, states Ortet. With regard to consumption levels, young Scots drank almost twice than the Spanish teenagers.

In turn, Laura Mezquita made a stay in Canada last summer to carry out a comparison between a sample of more than 1,000 Spaniards and 600 Canadian college students. The research showed that consumption in Spain is changing. ÒWe are no longer in the Mediterranean pattern, associated with moderate consumption during the week. The pattern seems to be more closely approximated to the Anglo-Saxon one: drinking less frequently but in very high quantities (it tends to the Òblow-outÓ at the weekend). The study revealed that the Spanish students drink less frequently but in larger amounts than the Canadians. As for the personality traits analyzed in the case of the Spanish college students, they showed that they have the same traits associated with alcohol consumption.

The longitudinal studies on personality and alcohol consumption carried out at the UJI are among the few ones which have been developed on this issue in Spain, and the analysis of the interaction between genetics and environment are leading studies in this field. The research group highlights the importance of taking into account all these dimensions in order to develop truly effective prevention campaigns. These campaigns should be designed to discourage young people to make an excessive consumption of alcohol. Instead, they should look for challenging and healthy alternatives to enjoy with their friends at weekends; in short, attractive options for the novelty seekers (uninhibited people), and therefore more vulnerable to consume alcohol and other drugs.

Sources: Universitat Jaume I, AlphaGalileo Foundation.