While prior research has suggested that signs of an increased risk of addiction are personality traits, such as impulsivity or compulsiveness, there is new evidence from the University of Cambridge suggesting that these characteristics are also associated with a traumatic childhood background.

The goal of the research, which was published in the journal American Journal Pschiatry and led by Karen Ersche, was to discover the risk factors that make a person susceptible to developing drug dependence.

Fifty adults with cocaine dependence, along with their biological siblings who never abused drugs, participated in the study by undergoing broad assessments of their personalities, including their ways of feeling and thinking.

Subjects were also asked questions regarding any negative experiences they had during their upbringing, for example, any emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.

Dr Ersche, of the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute (BCNI) at the University of Cambridge, explained:

“It has long been known that abusive experiences during childhood have long-lasting effects on behavior in adulthood and this was confirmed by our results. The siblings had more troubled childhoods compared to healthy peers in the community, and we also found a direct relationship between traumatic childhoods and their personalities.”

What makes this relationship unusual, she continued, is that these impulsive personality traits are known to heighten the chance of becoming drug addicted, but that does not mean it excuses people for drug-taking.

The team found that the brothers and sisters of the cocaine-addicted individuals had a traumatic childhood as well, exhibiting higher-than-average levels of impulsive and compulsive behaviors. However, they did not become addicted to any drugs.

Learning how the drug-free siblings coped with their traumatic background and there highly impulsive and compulsive personalities is next on the scientists’ agenda.

They believe that by having a better understanding of the reason the siblings are resilient against drug abuse, they can help develop more beneficial therapeutic interventions for people fighting their addictions.

Dr Ersche concluded:

“Not all individuals with these personality traits would have had a traumatic upbringing. Nor does everyone with these traits develop an addiction. However, our findings show that some people are particularly at risk and their upbringing may have contributed to it.”

Written by Sarah Glynn