Extraversion predicts heavy drinking in college students

  • Martsh C
  • Miller W
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The self-regulation of arousal has been hypothesized to play a key role
in the etiology of substance abuse (Miller & Brown, 1991; Tarter,
Alterman & Edwards, 1985). Specific drugs may be used in a
self-medicating fashion in an attempt to modulate extremes of, or
dysregulated arousal (Petrie, 1967). The personality attribute of
introversion-extraversion is one promising dimension to be explored in
this regard. According to Eysenck's (Eysenck, 1967) theory, introverts
typically show higher levels of cortical arousal than extraverts. Thus,
introverts seek a reduction of their arousal levels, whereas extraverts
seek increased arousal. Because alcohol is a depressant, introverts
might be predicted to use this type of drug more than extraverts do (cf.
Petrie, 1967). Tarnai and Young (1983) reported that patients in two
alcoholism treatment centers tested as more introverted and
non-alcoholics as more extraverted. Studies with college students, on
the other hand, have linked frequent drinking (Moos, Moos & Kulik,
1976; Orford, Waller & Pete, 1974) and subsequent alcoholism (Loper,
Kammeier & Hoffman, 1973) to extraverted personality traits. Still
others have pointed to personality diversity among alcoholics
(MacAndrew, 1980; Nerviano, 1976).
Negative emotionality is a type of arousal that appears to be
particularly important in the etiology and course of substance abuse.
The tension reduction hypothesis first proposed by Conger (1951), linked
alcohol use to the relief of stress and tension. Although evidence is at
best mixed on alcohol as a stress reducer,individuals who `believe' that
alcohol relieves stress may drink more heavily (Harris & Fennell,
1988). Problem drinking is associated with elevated rates of certain
anxiety disorders (Kushner, Sher & Beitman, 1990) suggesting that
alcohol may be used as a self-medication for negative emotions, a view
consistent with college students' perceived causes of drug-use among
their peers (Muncer, Epro, Sidorowicz & Campbell, 1992). Others have
linked heavy drinking to trait anxiousness (Welte, 1985).
Similarly, research has linked drinking and anger. Drinking may serve as
a means of releasing anger (Jenni & Wollersheim, 1979; Lang, Goeckner,
Adesso & Marlatt, 1975). Interpersonal conflict and anger are
frequently reported as precipitants of relapse (Marlatt gr Gordon,
1985). Acts of violence are often committed under the influence of
substances such as alcohol (Johnson & Belfer, 1995; Pernanen, 1976),
and drunk driving offenders have been found to be more aggressive and
dangerous drivers even when not intoxicated (Ross, 1984). Drug use has
been linked to angry temperament (Jacobs, Neufeld, Sayers &
Spielberger, 1988), consistent with stated reasons for drinking among
arrested juveniles (Segal, Cromer, Hobfoll & Wasserman, 1982). In
college students, alcohol problems have been linked to trait anger as
well as trait anxiousness (Brooks, Walfish, Stenmark & Canger, 1981).
The present study focused on the relationship between drinking and these
three arousal-relevant personality characteristics:
introversion-extraversion, anxiousness, and trait anger. The purpose of
the study was to determine the extent to which these traits, when
measured simultaneously, could predict college students' drinking
patterns. Gender differences in these relationships were also examined.

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  • C T Martsh

  • W R Miller

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