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Personality moderates adolescent alcohol use

31 January 2011

It is well known that heavy alcohol use co-occurs with other psychological symptoms and personality characteristics can often explain their occurrence and increase over time.

Dr Clare Mackie, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at King’s, is the lead author of a new study, which has found that personality can moderate the association between adolescent alcohol use and psychological symptoms.

Researchers from the Addictions Department at the IoP examined four personality types: sensation-seeking, impulsivity, anxiety-sensitivity and hopelessness and then compared the link between alcohol use, anxiety, depression and anti-social behaviour in 393 adolescents, predominantly between the ages of 13 to 14 years.

The researchers found that impulsive adolescents who were already consuming alcohol at 13 years were more likely to sustain a period of depression. Dr Mackie said: ‘Our results show that impulsive adolescents are often at risk for depression as a consequence of their risky behaviour, or their poor decision making and planning.’

Anxiety sensitive adolescents who were reporting high levels of anxiety at 13 years demonstrated an increase in alcohol use. Dr Mackie, added: 

‘What these results show is that once feelings of anxiety emerge, adolescents who fear their anxious symptoms are more likely to engage in alcohol use as a way of suppressing those feelings.

‘Often the difficulty when attempting to treat young people presenting with co-morbid problems is deciding how much focus should lay on the substance use rather than the psychological symptom. These findings suggest that by targeting the type of co-morbidity presented and the personality profile, not only immediate changes in symptoms would occur, but also longer-term effects that are implicated in the spiralling pattern of co-morbidity.’

‘Personality moderates the longitudinal association between alcohol use and psychological symptoms’ is published in this month’s Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.  To read the paper in full, please follow the link

This study was funded by Action on Addiction. Dr Mackie was supported by an MRC/ESRC Interdisciplinary Post-doctoral Fellowship.

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