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Thrill-Seekers at Higher Alcoholism Risk

And cautious types may be protected against drinking problems, study finds

TUESDAY, June 27, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- People with a personality trait called "high novelty seeking" are more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol -- especially if they have an alcoholic parent, a new study finds.

These types of less cautious, more impulsive personalities include risk-takers or thrill-seekers, experts said.

In contrast, more cautious individuals considered to be "low novelty seekers" have a very low risk of becoming alcoholics, even if they have a parent with the addiction, the study found.

"Although familial alcoholism has long been known to increase the risk of alcoholism in offspring, the risk is not 100 percent," Kevin Conway, associate director of the Division of Clinical Neuroscience and Behavioral Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a prepared statement.

"This indicates that family history by itself is only one of many variables in the 'equation' predicting alcoholism. This study suggests that an individual's personality influences how he or she responds to the familial liability to alcoholism," Conway said.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis studied data on the adult siblings of 1,111 individuals who received treatment for alcoholism. They also studied personality test results relating to novelty seeking for both patients and parents, as well as the parents' history of alcohol use.

"Our key finding is the interaction between novelty seeking and parental alcoholism," study author Richard A. Grucza, an epidemiologist at the university, said in a prepared statement. "Although high novelty seeking is a risk factor by itself, it is a much more important risk factor for individuals with an alcoholic parent. High novelty seeking seems to amplify the risk associated with being from an alcoholic family, and vice-versa, having a parent with alcoholism amplifies the risk associated with high novelty seeking," he said.

Results of the study are reported in the July issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Some rethinking of the relation between personality and addiction may be in order," concluded Grucza. "Rather than thinking about an 'addictive personality,' it is important to think about how personality might influence a person's response to other genetic and environmental risk factors."

More information

The Mayo Clinic has more information about alcoholism.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release, June 25, 2006
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