Background: Drug addiction and alcoholism involve a complex etiopathogenesis with a variable degree of risk contributions from the host (person), environment, and addictive substances. In this work, temperament and character features of individuals addicted to opiates or alcohol are compared with normal controls to study personality factors in the overall risk for drug addiction.

Methods: The study was done in a permissive environment, with easy access to alcohol and heroin, which facilitated analyses of personality factors in drug choice. Participants included 412 consecutive patients (312 opiate addicts, 100 alcohol addicts) treated at the Specialized Hospital for Chemical Dependency in Belgrade, Serbia, and a community sample of 346 controls.

Results: Opiate addicts manifested antisocial temperament configuration (high Novelty Seeking, low Reward Dependence) coupled with high Self-transcendence (ie, susceptibility to fantasy and imagination). Alcohol addicts manifested sensitive temperament configuration (high Novelty Seeking coexisting with high Harm Avoidance). Immature personality was observed far more frequently in opiate addicts than in alcoholics or normals.

Conclusions: Novelty Seeking appears to be a general risk factor for drug addiction. High Harm Avoidance appears to channel individuals with high Novelty Seeking towards alcoholism. Immature character traits and probable Personality Disorder increase the risk of illegal drugs. Based on equivalent research in nonpermissive environments, at least a portion of our opiate addicts could have developed alcoholism instead in environments with more limited access to opiates. Personality factors provide useful guidelines for preventive work with young individuals with personality risk factors for drug addiction. (Am J Addict 2012;21:462–467)