Personality Explanation for Substance Abuse

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Personality Types

Some personality types seem to associated more with substance than others:

  • Impulsive
  • Risk taker
  • Low self esteem
  • Unconventional
  • Lack of ambition

Alcohol abuse in particular is associated with:

  • Extroversion- Outgoing, sociable easily bored, Flory et al found alcohol abuse was associated with high levels of extroversion
  • Low Conscientiousness- Disorganised, careless and unreliable, McAdams found low conscientiousness was associated with alcohol abuse
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Antisocial Personality Disorder (Alcohol Abuse)

  • Also referred to as psychopaths or sociopaths
  • One of the most common personality disorders that effects around 3% of the population
  • 3 times more common in men than women
  • Binge drinking has been libked to APD because of the anti-social behaviour that often results from such a drinking pattern


  • Disregards rules
  • Has little concern for the rights of others
  • Lacks regard for truth
  • Shows physical aggression inappropriately
  • May be extremely irritable
  • Reckless
  • Egocentric
  • Charming
  • Manipulative
  • Pathological liar
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Studies- APD

Fabrega et al (1991)

  • 40% of people seeking therapy for APD were engaged in some kind of substance abuse

Morgenstern et al (1997)

  • Aim: Investigated the relationship between APD and alcohol abuse
  • Method: A structured interview to identify personality characteristics and patterns of alcohol abuse was carried out with 336 alcohol abusers attending for treatment
  • Results: APD was found to be associated with alcohol abuse
  • Conclusion: Certain types of personality, especially APD, are more associated with alcohol abuse than other types of personality
  • Evaluation: Only correlational evidence

Berzins et al (1974)- Heroin

  • In a study of 1200 heroin addicts, it was found that many had the symptoms for APD

Many cocaine addicts show similar characteristics

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Link between APD and Substance Abuse

1. Early alcohol use and substance abuse loosen behavioural inhibitions and therefore contribute to APD

2. APD may make individuals vulnerable to substance abuse

3. APD and substance abuse may have the same cause, such as a deep-seated need to take risks

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The Psychodynamic Approach

  • Proposes people who substance abuse have strong dependancy needs that can be traced back to childhood
  • Those that become fixated in the oral stage are needy and overly dependant on people and material objects
  • The child will grow to become highly reliant on other people and material objects
  • if others fail to provide reasurrance, nuture and comfort, drugs become a substitute resulting in addiction


  • No empirical evidence
  • Only looks at childhood as a cause
  • Generalises from case studies
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