Personality and Substance Abuse

Words: 2734
Topic: Psychology

The topic of this article entitled Personality Characteristics as a function of frequency and type of substance abuse, written by Michael Wolff, and Kathleen Wolff discusses the problem of substance use and abuse and how this tendency could be associated or correlated with types of personalities or possible personality flaws. This article looks at personalities of frequent substance users, experimenters, and non-users from the point of view of social psychology.

The hypothesis of this study follows previous research findings that individuals who experiment with substances, but do not use them extensively and stop such behavior on their own, have “healthier” personalities than either those individuals who use substances extensively or those who abstain from use.

This study focused on 93 volunteer students (37 males and 57 females) from the general psychology course of a rural university located far from major cities. The researchers were measuring alcohol and substance use with the help of a survey that also evaluated individual abuse history, as well as included some demographic information.

The substances included in the survey were: amphetamines, heroin, marijuana, caffeine, cocaine, tranquilizers, hallucinogens, sedatives, inhalants, alcohol, and other (which subjects were asked to list). The first question asked for each substance was if this substance was ever used, the second question – when was it last used, and the third one – was the substance ever used daily or almost daily. The respondents were provided multiple choice answers to answer these questions.

The personalities of the respondents were measured simultaneously with the substance use employing the California Psychological Inventory (CPI) as the most reliable and valid method. It included 20 independent personality scales and used a mean score of 50 with a standard deviation of 10 to measure each personality. This method attempts to reduce the level of subjective evaluation by comparing individuals on their specific characteristics. The higher the score one got on this test, the healthier personality he had.

The researchers have conducted nine separate sessions when the drug survey and CPI could be completed. About 10 subjects were evaluated during each session in a classroom. The confidentiality of the respondents was maintained due to the large room size and other persons being unable to monitor their responses.

The authors believe that this added honesty to the answers. The study was completely anonymous and the respondents were assured that the information they provide will remain confidential and shall be used only as group data. The obtained results were collected, CPI responses scored for 20 primary scales, and entered into the database for further analysis.

According to the results the respondents were divided into 3 groups – abstainers, experimenters, and regular users. No gender related tendencies have been discovered. The researchers have used MANOVA to identify differences between the three groups under two conditions: use of illegal substances without alcohol (1), and alcohol only (2).

The analysis included correlating the three experimental groups with the twenty CPI characteristics. On the scale that measures the level of conformism (the higher the score, the more one obeys rules), abstainers scored significantly higher than experimenters and the latter got a higher score comparing to regular users.

On the Achievement via Conformance scale (the lower the score, the worse one performs under strict rules), there was the same tendency of scoring, however only difference between abstainers and regular users was significant. There were only 13 regular substance users (excluding alcohol), which is the main problem of this study, and reflects rural attitudes towards drugs, hence no statistically significant differences have been revealed.

Concerning evaluation of the personality factors, regular users have scored the highest on the Social Presence scale that illustrates social skills and ability to state own opinion, although the differences were not statistically significant. The Communality scale that reflects ones ability to fit in or not fit in and view oneself as different had revealed the highest score among the experimenters, with all differences being statistically significant.

The personality structures were more diverse during examination of alcohol only cohort. Abstainers were found cautious, hesitant, concerned about the future, conformist, and self-controlling. The regular users were rebellious, non-conforming, but worried about the future. The experimenters turned out to be cautious, comfortable with or without rules, self disciplined, and optimistic.

The obtained results suggest that these three groups differ from one another by personality structure. In fact, according to this study the healthiest personality was revealed in the group of experimenters, who are able to perform well in different situations and feel good about themselves and what they can do.

According to these results, it is inappropriate to administer psychological therapy, since the above group of drug users apparently has a healthy personality and any attempt of altering the personality would have a negative iatrogenic effect.

To me personally this research has presented some striking and surprising results. However having closely examined this article it becomes clear that it has several neglects that should be noted.

First of all, this study has divided the respondents into three groups and conducted a statistical analysis of those groups according to their results on the CPI test. The statistical procedure is not defined well enough.

When the differences for the three groups were inputted into the database and compared, the article simply mentions that they were, or were not statistically significant. There is no indication of the p significance coefficient, and what value of it was considered significant.

There is no mention of whether the distribution was in accordance to Poisson’s law, as well as there is nothing said about the statistical analysis – was it parametrical or non-parametrical. Taking into account the small amount of test subjects it is not probable that the parametrical statistical methods were used.

As far as I am concerned, any type of study that involves experiments on human beings requires adherence to several formal terms and conditions. There is no mention of whether the Helsinki declaration principles have been met, as well as there is noting mentioned about this study being approved by the ethical committee.

The California Psychological Inventory appears to be one of the best personality tests at the current moment. Although it is a popular psychological assessment tool, I believe that it is more applicable for evaluating the work of personnel, as according to its indicators it is possible to effectively predict how well one can master certain work associated skills.

This test consists of three validity scales – well being, good impression, and commonness. The well being scale is based on the answers of people who were asked to imagine that they were bad. The basis for the good impression scale is own good portraying of the respondents. The commonness scale is based on the most popular answers. The purpose of these scales is to check the validity of the results.

Although the CPI questionnaire was developed on the basis of Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, it was initially created as a tool for diagnosing psychologically normal individuals (Watkins, Campbell, Erlbaum, 2000, p. 45).

If a fraction of the experiment subjects were frequent drug users, they could not be considered psychologically healthy, as such substances as amphetamines, heroine, and cocaine have a tendency to alter the rate of biochemical interactions within the central nervous system, consequently modifying individual’s psyche.

Hence frequent drug users, and even those who experiment with substances may not be considered fully healthy individuals, and CPI is not the best test applicable for all respondents.

Another important aspect that was brought to my attention is the method used in questionnaires. The subjects were provided questionnaires which indicated various types of substances like marijuana, cocaine, heroine, amphetamines, etc… The respondents basically had to indicate with what frequency the drug has been used, and based on their answer were regarded as abstainers, experimenters, or frequent users.

However the study misses out on analyzing the respondents according to each substance. For example, those who are or were frequent cocaine users might be severely impacted from psychological point of view, and at the same time those persons are being included in the same group as frequent caffeine users.

It was actually surprising why caffeine was included as a dangerous substance along with opiates, cannabis, and tranquilizers. In my opinion caffeine use and abuse has nothing to do with addiction to heroin.

One more thing that must be said about the substance use questionnaires is that the study did not make any consideration of the fact that some of the substances cause psychological, while others entail physical addiction.

For example cocaine and heroine in some cases causes instantaneous physical addiction with severe abstinent syndrome. The study in a way unifies all substances that are used by the students by one criterion – frequency of use. Therefore the data obtained through such questionnaires cannot be considered adequate.

The authors have hypothesized that there is a relation of being in the abstinent and frequent use group and having an “unhealthy” personality. However the availability of any relation does not suggest causality. That is, the abstainers might be experiencing social deadaptation due to some other second reason, and not because they are not experimenting with drugs.

Randomization of the experiment was not used, as the study was done in a closed group of students and results could not be viewed as statistically appropriate. The cross sectional study that was performed after the experiment according to its nature can not explain causality (Beaglehole, Bonita, Kjellstrom, 1993 p. 54-55). The aforesaid is the greatest flaw of this research.

Although the authors of this article assure the reader that their results are not intended to persuade people to use drugs, this article in some sense may still be viewed as a suggestion to do so.

Considering the methods, and statistical analysis used by the researchers, the obtained data is inadequate however to me the hypothesis appeared to be very interesting. It is certain that there is an urge to do more research in the field of personality and substance abuse, however the methods for such research should be chosen carefully, and appropriate specialists have to be involved in that sort of studies.

The performed study could be discussed from personality theory point of view. The first thing that comes to mind is the teachings of Carl Gustav Jung and Hans Jurgen Eysenck. Their theory focuses on extraversion and introversion, although their views of these subjects are somewhat different.

According to Jung, extraversion is revealed in the direction of the personal libido towards the outside world. Extravert prefers social and practical aspects of life over being submerged in a world of imagination and thought. From the other side, introvert individuals prefer thinking and imagining over real external objects (Dry, 1961, p. 135).

Such tendencies described by these authors can be reflected in this study that used CPI for assessing personality. For example, one of the scales that the respondents were tested against in the CPI was called Social Presence.

It turned out that group 3 – the frequent users got a higher score than the abstainers and experimenters. The higher score one gets on this scale, the more spontaneous, self- assured good talker he or she is, while low scores indicate that one is easily embarrassed, cautious, and hesitant.

A study has been carried out to try to match ether introversion of extraversion to with more tendencies towards drug abuse. Eysenck has made a hypothesis that depressants cause extraversion and stimulants induce introversion. Unfortunately simple common sense suggests the opposite (Claridge, 1986, p. 74).

This study has revealed statistically significant differences between abusers of various substances and their personality trends. For example, cocaine and opiate users appeared to be more introverted, whereas abstainers, amphetamine, opiate, tranquilizer users were more inclined towards extraversion (Spotts, Shontz, 2006).

This study unlike the one discussed above stratifies the subjects according to the drugs that they are chronically abusing, performs valid statistical analysis, and eventually obtains adequate results.

Over time, Jung has significantly reconsidered his views on extraversion and introversion. For one thing, he had highlighted few independent factors (psychological functions) which he had earlier included into the extraversion/introversion: thinking, feeling (affection), perception, and intuition.

Secondly, starting from his major work entitled “Psychological Types” (1920) he was talking not about extraverts and introverts, but about extraversion and introversion of the dominant function. That is, he argued that one of the functions – extraverted or introverted type of thinking, feeling, perception, and insight is dominant in psyche of each person.

Furthermore, in every person there is place for other functions that play secondary role or are being expulsed towards the subconscious. The temperament along with other additional characteristics greatly influences the character and behavior of a human being, as well as his interaction with others.

It could be said that those individuals who obtained higher scores on the CPI and can be considered more socially adapted, being self assured and good talkers, are for the most part extraverts, as this trait is characterized by the libido being directed towards external objects.

Another evidence of this is that the frequent drug users got high scores on the Communality scale, while abstainers and experimenters received somewhat lower results. It is considered that the higher is the Communality score the better an individual is fitting in, as well as thinks of oneself as being average.

Lower scores according to this scale point to seeing oneself as seeing oneself as different from the majority and for that reason not being able to easily fit in a group of people. Maybe some intravertic subjects are resorting to substances in order to improve their social skills and be able to fit in more effectively. On the other hand, it may be the excessive accentuation of extraversion which is causing respondents to abuse drugs.

Back in the ancient times, Hippocrates had divided humans into four personality types. According to these types people are divided into choleric, sanguinic, phlegmatic, and melancholic personality types. Each temperament indicates the way of thinking and behaving in the emotional sense.

Prominent Russian physiologist Pavlov linked the type of temperament with certain pairs of features that typify human nervous system – stability-instability (neuroticism), dynamism-inaction, and strength-weakness (Windholz, 1997, p. 941).

Comparison had showed that sanguinics and phlegmatics are related to people with stable nervous system, whereas cholerics and melancholics to unstable. Affiliation to one or another temperament defines one’s style of behavior, and relations with others.

Later on, British psychologist Eysenck using Jung’s scale of extravert/introvert personalities had constructed own scale where cholerics were neurotic extravers, phlegmatics were non-neurotic introverts, melancholics – neurotic introverts, and sanguinics – emotionally stable extraverts.

We can hypothesize that those individuals whose level of neuroticism is higher are more inclined towards substance abuse, as well as those who have scored higher on the extraversion scale.

In psychiatric practice the typology of Leonhard has now become very common. According to this author extravert person is weak-willed, easily subjected to external influence, whereas introvert is a strong-minded personality. However the criteria of Leonhard are considered to be psychiatric and cannot applied in the conditions where there is no pathology. Although the frequent drug users are most likely to have some kind of psychiatric disorder or pathology, therefore such criteria may be applicable.

Concerning my own life and my own personality, I can not definitely claim that this study has any relevance to it. I am a very strong-minded individual, and according to Eysenck consider myself an introvert. I am not that easily influenced by other opinions, and usually do not attempt to enforce my will onto others.

I am frequently concentrating on interpersonal relations, always have my own opinion, and have the ability to make self consistent decisions. However my view of norms and values is somewhat skeptical. I am internally oriented individual, and more inclined to solitude and independence from the people that surround me. Most of the qualities listed above are more common for intravertic types of individuals.

Choosing between the two types of introverts – cholerics and melancholics I am more inclined towards the last one, as my mood state is pretty stable, meaning that I do not have high level of neuroticism.

Maybe due to these qualities of my personality I have never had to face any issues such as substance use moreover substance abuse, and I do not feel myself as being inferior to others, especially those who are frequently abusing drugs.


Beaglehole, R., Bonita, R., Kjellstrom, T. (1993) Basic Epidemiology. WHO, Geneva, 54-55.

Claridge, G. (1986). 6. Eysenck’s Contribution to the Psychology of Personality. In Hans Eysenck: Consensus and Controversy, Modgil, S., Modgil, C., & Eysenck, H. (Eds.) (pp. 73-85). Philadelphia: Falmer Press

Dry, A. M. (1961). The Psychology of Jung A Critical Interpretation. London: Methuen.

Spotts, J. V., Shontz, F. C. (2006). Drugs and personality: Extraversion-introversion. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 40(2), pp. 624 – 628.

(2000). Testing and Assessment in Counseling Practice (C. E. Watkins & V. L. Campbell, Ed.) (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Windholz, G. (1997). Ivan P. Pavlov: An Overview of His Life and Psychological Work. American Psychologist, 52(9), 941-946.

Wolff, M. W., & Wolff, K. A. (2002). Personality Characteristics as a Function of Frequency and Type of Substance Use. Adolescence, 37(148), 705+.