Your personality may influence what type of drugs you get addicted to, claims new study

Your personality may influence what type of drugs you get addicted to, claims new study

The type of personality an individual has could influence his/her addiction to certain kinds of drugs, a new study reveals.

The findings demonstrate strong correlations between personality profiles and the risk of drug use. Results reveal, for example, that individuals involved in the use of ‘heavy’ drugs like heroin and methadone are more likely to have higher scores for ‘neuroticism’.

The profile is quite different for recent users (within the last year) of stereotypical ‘party drugs’ like ecstasy, LSD, and amyl nitrite. For them, neuroticism is not high, said the findings.

The results have been reported in a book published recently by Springer.

The social environment is an influential factor with regards to drug addiction. However, some people living in the same environment become drug users, while others resist.

The study attempted to answer whether this difference is simply random or whether there are key personality traits that help people to avoid drug addiction.

"The work identifies two main populations of drug users: experimentalists (open, agreeable, sensation-seeking), who are interested in unusual mental sensations, and troubled drug users (withdrawn, emotionally vulnerable, unconscientious), who use substances that are depressant or otherwise obliterating. The two populations may need differing health intervention strategies to encourage desistance optimally," Dr. V. Egan, an Associate Professor of Forensic Psychology practice in the Department of Psychiatry and Applied Psychology at the University of Nottingham, said in a news release.


An interdisciplinary group of researchers analyzed data concerning the use of 18 different psychoactive substances.

A new and original database with information on 1,885 respondents was collected and analyzed by several data mining methods.

Personality was represented by the modern "Five Factor Model", where 'N' stands for neuroticism, 'E' refers to extraversion, 'O' is openness to experience, 'A' implies agreeableness, and 'C' is conscientiousness. This model was complemented by two more properties, which included 'Imp' referring to impulsivity, and 'SS' implying sensation-seeking.

"The project started in 2011 when all authors were at the University of Leicester. First, the psychologists created the plan of experimental work, collected data, and made the preliminary preprocessing of them. Then, the interdisciplinary workshop was organised and the mathematicians proposed the data mining technology for further analysis. Our guiding principle was, 'let your data think for you.' After five years of collaborative work, the results are presented in the form of a book. This is a story told by data," said Professor A. Gorban from the University of Leicester in a news release.


Results show that there is a significant difference in the psychological profiles of drug users and non-users, and hence, a psychological predisposition to drug addiction exists.

The researchers said that higher scores for neuroticism and openness to experience, and lower scores for agreeableness, and conscientiousness, lead to increased risk of drug use, which confirms the findings of previous researchers.

The research team also found that the psychological predisposition to using different drugs may be different. For example, there is a considerable difference between ecstasy users and heroin users.

"The details are more important and interesting than the general results: the devil is in the detail. Generally, drug users are characterized by higher neuroticism, higher openness to experience, lower agreeableness, and lower conscientiousness; but there are differences between different drugs. For example, heroin users have significantly higher neuroticism, lower extraversion, lower agreeableness, and higher impulsivity than ecstasy users," said a EurekAlert release.


The research team said a high score on openness to experience is typical for creative people and, at the same time, for drug users. Success in education (after primary school) and beyond is correlated with high conscientiousness.

"People who can create plans and follow them in real life (high conscientiousness) are more immune to drug addiction,” said the release. According to the researchers, this observation hints at the possibility of mitigating bespoke interventions.

Dr. Egan added, "The initial project was Elaine Fehrman's MSc dissertation research, which I supervised when I directed the MSc Forensic Psychology at the University of Leicester. After achieving her MSc, Elaine wished to continue with the study, and we ended up with over 2,000 cases recruited from various online forums. The work is based on solid psychological theory regarding the influence of impulsivity, sensation-seeking, and the Five-Factor Model of personality, as seen in different types of drug users.”


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