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Study examines correlations between personality traits and prescription drug use, misuse among college students

Prior research has identified personality traits – specifically, anxiety sensitivity, hopelessness, sensation seeking, and impulsivity – as predictors of many addictive behaviors. A new study examined associations between these four personality traits and (1) any prescription drug (PD) use, (2) medically-sanctioned PD use, and (3) PD misuse (defined as using PDs without a prescription, in greater amounts or more often than intended, via non-intended routes, for non-prescribed reasons, and/or with contraindicated substances). This study used archival data from a previous study of two cohorts of first-year undergraduate students (Cohort 1: n = 714, Cohort 2: n = 1,041) at one Canadian institution. This sample was 69% female, 91% Canadian, lived mostly on campus (58%), and had an average age of 18.6 years (standard deviation [SD] = 1.1). Participants were a convenience sample who completed an online survey that was emailed to all first-year students; response rates were 32% for Cohort 1 and 38% for Cohort 2. Survey measures included personality traits, PD use (sedatives/tranquilizers, opioids, stimulants), PD misuse, medically-sanctioned PD use, alcohol dependence (assessed using the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test [AUDIT] instrument), and demographic characteristics. The authors used multivariate path models to analyze survey responses. Results indicated opioids were the most frequently used PD (9.9%, n = 128) and 71.9% of opioid use was reported to be medically-sanctioned. For opioids, the most commonly endorsed misuse category was “without a prescription” (44% of misusers). Stimulants were the next most commonly used class of PD (6.8%, n = 107) and most of this use was misuse (79.4%). The most commonly endorsed misuse category for stimulants was “as a study aid” (88% of misusers). Sedatives/Tranquilizers were the least used class of PD (4.4%, n = 69) and 43.4% of this sue was reported to be misuse. The most commonly endorsed stimulant misuse category was “not as prescribed” (40% of misusers). Results of the multivariate path models indicated significant associations with any PD use for the following traits and classes, controlling for alcohol dependence: Anxiety sensitivity and sedatives/tranquilizers (p < 0.01), hopelessness and opioids (p < 0.05), sensation seeking and stimulants (p < 0.01), impulsivity and sedatives/tranquilizers (p < 0.05), and impulsivity and stimulants (p < 0.001). For medically-sanctioned PD use, the following significant relationships were observed, controlling for alcohol dependence: Anxiety sensitivity and sedative/tranquilizers (p < 0.01), hopelessness and opioids (p < 0.05), and impulsivity and stimulants (0 < 0.05). Finally, the model for PD misuse indicated the following significant associations, controlling for alcohol dependence: Sensation seeking and stimulants (p < 0.01), impulsivity and sedatives/tranquilizers (p < 0.01), impulsivity and opioids (p < 0.01), and impulsivity and stimulants (p < 0.001). Limitations of this study include its cross-sectional design and reliance on students’ self-report of illicit behaviors.

Take away: This study documented significant associations between sensation seeking and stimulant misuse, as well as impulsivity and misuse of sedatives/tranquilizers, opioids, and stimulants among first-year students at one Canadian institution.

Chinneck, A., Thompson, K., Mahu, I.T., Davis-MacNevin, P., Dobson, K. & Stewart, S.H. (2018). Personality and prescription drug use/misuse among first year undergraduates. Addictive Behaviors [published online ahead of print July 4, 2018] doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.07.001

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