Four Traits that Put Kids at Risk for Addiction

Maureen MurdockAddiction, Adolescence1 Comment

On Tuesday, voters approved the legalization of marijuana in California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and most likely in Maine, although that may face a recount. I did not support the initiative to legalize pot in California because I have seen too many students lose their edge and ambition as a result of heavy pot use and become passive zombies.

Maia Szalavits, author of “Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction,” wrote an important article in the New York Times that lists the traits that put adolescents at risk for addiction. She describes Preventure, a program developed by Patricia Conrod, a psychiatry professor at the University of Montreal which has had success identifying personality traits that can lead to addiction. Conrod studied how a child’s temperament drives his or her risk for drug use and identified different traits that create different pathways to addiction.

Preventure’s personality testing identified 4 risky traits: sensation-seeking, impulsiveness, anxiety sensitivity and hopelessness. Most at-risk kids can be spotted early.

In the case of children who have been given a diagnosis of ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) the risk factor of illegal drug addiction was found to increase by a factor of three. Impulsiveness is common among people with ADHD.

A child who begins to use drugs out of a sense of loneliness or hopelessness has a different goal than one who seeks thrills. Hopelessness is often a precursor to depression.

Anxiety sensitivity, being overly aware and frightened of physical signs of anxiety, is linked to panic disorder. While sensation-seeking is not connected to other diagnoses, it raises the risk of addiction because people who are drawn to intense experiences will, in most cases, like drugs.

Preventure has been used in middle schools where the students take a personality test in the beginning of the school year, followed months later by two 90-minute workshops (on a voluntary basis) where they are taught cognitive behavioral techniques to address specific emotional and behavioral problems. They are encouraged to use these tools when feeling anxious, lonely, impulsive or depressed. Preventure has been tested in eight randomized trials in Britain, Australia, the Netherlands and Canada and their findings include reductions in binge drinking, frequent drug use and alcohol-related problems.

Studies in 2009 and 2013 showed that Preventure reduced symptoms of depression, panic attacks and impulsive behavior. For kids with personality traits that put them at risk, learning how to manage traits that are difficult and/or make them feel different from their peers gives them a way to actively manage their emotional health instead of using pot to alleviate anxiety, hopelessness, and impulsive behavior. I wish voters had taken these personality traits into consideration before deciding to legalize pot.



One Comment on “Four Traits that Put Kids at Risk for Addiction”

  1. Well done Maureen. I realize the “culture” in California has been steadily moving away from legal restrictions on conduct previously considered harmful to individuals or society, and some of those restrictions were indeed outdates. However, I don’t see any benefit to legalizing recreational use of Marijuana, and you pointed out some important detriments. Maybe it will end a lucrative trade by a criminal element, but is that worth the risks to youth you point out/

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