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Extraversion predicts heavy drinking in college students

by C T Martsh, W R Miller


The self-regulation of arousal has been hypothesized to play a key role\nin the etiology of substance abuse (Miller & Brown, 1991; Tarter,\nAlterman & Edwards, 1985). Specific drugs may be used in a\nself-medicating fashion in an attempt to modulate extremes of, or\ndysregulated arousal (Petrie, 1967). The personality attribute of\nintroversion-extraversion is one promising dimension to be explored in\nthis regard. According to Eysenck's (Eysenck, 1967) theory, introverts\ntypically show higher levels of cortical arousal than extraverts. Thus,\nintroverts seek a reduction of their arousal levels, whereas extraverts\nseek increased arousal. Because alcohol is a depressant, introverts\nmight be predicted to use this type of drug more than extraverts do (cf.\nPetrie, 1967). Tarnai and Young (1983) reported that patients in two\nalcoholism treatment centers tested as more introverted and\nnon-alcoholics as more extraverted. Studies with college students, on\nthe other hand, have linked frequent drinking (Moos, Moos & Kulik,\n1976; Orford, Waller & Pete, 1974) and subsequent alcoholism (Loper,\nKammeier & Hoffman, 1973) to extraverted personality traits. Still\nothers have pointed to personality diversity among alcoholics\n(MacAndrew, 1980; Nerviano, 1976).\nNegative emotionality is a type of arousal that appears to be\nparticularly important in the etiology and course of substance abuse.\nThe tension reduction hypothesis first proposed by Conger (1951), linked\nalcohol use to the relief of stress and tension. Although evidence is at\nbest mixed on alcohol as a stress reducer,individuals who `believe' that\nalcohol relieves stress may drink more heavily (Harris & Fennell,\n1988). Problem drinking is associated with elevated rates of certain\nanxiety disorders (Kushner, Sher & Beitman, 1990) suggesting that\nalcohol may be used as a self-medication for negative emotions, a view\nconsistent with college students' perceived causes of drug-use among\ntheir peers (Muncer, Epro, Sidorowicz & Campbell, 1992). Others have\nlinked heavy drinking to trait anxiousness (Welte, 1985).\nSimilarly, research has linked drinking and anger. Drinking may serve as\na means of releasing anger (Jenni & Wollersheim, 1979; Lang, Goeckner,\nAdesso & Marlatt, 1975). Interpersonal conflict and anger are\nfrequently reported as precipitants of relapse (Marlatt gr Gordon,\n1985). Acts of violence are often committed under the influence of\nsubstances such as alcohol (Johnson & Belfer, 1995; Pernanen, 1976),\nand drunk driving offenders have been found to be more aggressive and\ndangerous drivers even when not intoxicated (Ross, 1984). Drug use has\nbeen linked to angry temperament (Jacobs, Neufeld, Sayers &\nSpielberger, 1988), consistent with stated reasons for drinking among\narrested juveniles (Segal, Cromer, Hobfoll & Wasserman, 1982). In\ncollege students, alcohol problems have been linked to trait anger as\nwell as trait anxiousness (Brooks, Walfish, Stenmark & Canger, 1981).\nThe present study focused on the relationship between drinking and these\nthree arousal-relevant personality characteristics:\nintroversion-extraversion, anxiousness, and trait anger. The purpose of\nthe study was to determine the extent to which these traits, when\nmeasured simultaneously, could predict college students' drinking\npatterns. Gender differences in these relationships were also examined.

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