Childhood Personality Predicts Alcohol Abuse in Young Adults

Authors

  • C. Robert Cloninger MD,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Child and Youth Psychiatry, University of Umea, Sweden; and the Departments of Psychiatry and Genetics, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri.
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  • Sören Sigvardsson PhD,

    1. Department of Child and Youth Psychiatry, University of Umea, Sweden; and the Departments of Psychiatry and Genetics, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri.
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  • Michael Bohman MD

    1. Department of Child and Youth Psychiatry, University of Umea, Sweden; and the Departments of Psychiatry and Genetics, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri.
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  • Supported in part by grant B85-25X-06368-04C from the Swedish Medical Research Council, a grant from the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (AA-03539), Grant MH-31302 and Research Scientist A ward MH-00048 from the National Institute of Mental Health, and a grant from the MacArthur Foundation Network on Risk and Protective Factors in Major Mental Disorders.

Reprint requests: C. Robert Cloninger, Department of Psychiatry, Jewish Hospital, 216 South Kingshighway Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63110.

Abstract

431 children (233 boys, 198 girls) born in Stockholm, Sweden, had a detalled behavioral assessment at 11 years of age, including a detalled interview with their school teachers, and at age 27 years were reevaluated to identify alcoholism or alcohol abuse. Specific predictions from a neurobiological learning theory about the role of heritable personality traits in susceptibility to alcohol abuse were tested in this prospective longitudinal study. Three dimensions of childhood personality variation were identified and rated without knowledge of adult outcome. These three dimensions (novelty-seeking, harm avoidance, and reward dependence) were largely uncorrelated with one another, and each was predictive of later alcohol abuse. Absolute deviations from the mean of each of the three personality dimensions were associated with an exponential increase in the risk of later alcohol abuse. High novelty-seeking and low harm avoidance were most strongly predictive of early-onset alcohol abuse. These two childhood variables alone distinguished boys who had nearly 20-fold differences in their risk of alcohol abuse: the risk of alcohol abuse varied from 4 to 75% depending on childhood personality.

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