Can certain personality traits put children and teens at a high risk for abusing drugs and alcohol? According to Patricia Conrod, a psychiatry professor at the University of Montreal, there are four personality traits related to substance abuse that put kids at a high risk for engaging in behaviors that could lead to addiction. These signs of an addictive personality are:
• Sensation-seeking: People who are sensation seekers are drawn to novel and intense experiences. This can lead to risky behaviors such as engaging in unprotected sex, reckless driving, and drug use.
• Impulsiveness: People who are impulsive have a tendency to react quickly to internal and external stimuli without fully thinking about the consequences of their actions. Impulsiveness is common for people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
• Anxiety sensitivity: People who are prone to anxiety sensitivity tend to believe that the experience of anxiety is dangerous and will lead to a negative outcome, which can compound existing anxiety.
• Hopelessness: People who are prone to hopelessness feel as if they have lost meaning in their life. Hopelessness may be a risk factor for or a symptom of depression.
A 2013 study found that testing children for these addictive personality traits can identify 90% of the young individuals who are at the highest risk for addiction. Taking these findings into account, Conrod has developed an anti-drug program called Preventure that’s currently being tested in Canada, Australia, and Europe.
Success through Preventure
As part of Preventure, middle school students complete a short questionnaire designed to identify high-risk, addictive personality traits. Several months later, students are invited to two 90-minute workshops focused on channeling their personality towards success. The workshops teach high-risk kids coping strategies relevant to their personality style, rather than just using scare tactics to try to discourage them from trying drugs and alcohol.
Studies show that most drug use begins in the teenage years, making young people an important group to focus on when it comes to addiction prevention.
Although the program is relatively new, it’s already meeting with some success. When Preventure was implemented at 21 schools in England, those schools saw a 29% overall reduction in drinking for the whole student population and a 43% reduction in binge drinking for high-risk students who participated in the workshops. Two studies (one from 2009 and one from 2013) also showed that students in the Preventure program had reduced symptoms of panic attacks, impulsive behavior, and depression.
It appears that by giving students strategies to cope based on their personality style, the Preventure program is meeting with greater success than programs that simply ask students to say no to drugs and alcohol.