The rum-soaked writer ... the coke-snorting money-manager ... the heroin-zoned out musician ... stereotypes we all know. The idea that personality types correspond to certain drugs seems logical. In the 1920s the German-British psychologist, Hans Eysenck worked to move psychology beyond Freud’s behavior-based theories to individualized psychology — which included the science of personality. He considered this pursuit of matching personalities with drugs a pet project, believing that people are inclined to seek out things that make them feel better. And drugs are often the easiest way to change mood. But connecting different personality types to the various drugs is not at all straightforward.
HOWARD: Welcome to the CNS Podcast featuring Dr. Darryl Inaba, research director for CNS Productions, I am Howard La Mere. Today we'll explore addiction, treatment, drug use and abuse, and related topics. And as usual, we have many stories to consider and a couple of them revolve around issues of culture, personality and genetics. We recently talked about the relationship between dopamine and binge eating, overeating and how it is a cultural component, but it also presents a question - is there a relationship between different personality types and addiction? Of course, there’s a lot of stereotypes that we’re all familiar with…the rum soaked writer, the cocaine snorting stock broker, the crazed musician. So, Darryl, what’s your perspective on this?
DARRYL: Well it’s been difficult, Howard, throughout the years for people to really associate personality types with the potential to become a drug addict or an alcoholic or linking personality type to a drug of choice. And there’s been a lot of projections made and an early claim by Heinz Eysenck in the 1920’s, he was a German scientist who believed that personality wasn’t always an expression of how a person felt, but by analyzing their personality one could get a clue as to what drugs they are likely to be attracted to. If someone is ... more of an extrovert and has a low tolerance for boredom, the prediction was, well that person is going to be a cocaine addict or a methamphetamine addict or something like that. Whereas somebody who was overly stressed out and more introverted, they would gravitate toward the downers, heroin, opiates or benzodiazepines - things like that. That theory was pretty much disproved, I’m almost sure. I’ve worked with several psychologists who worked for years on research linking personality and addiction and they couldn’t make that connection. The results were all over the place. Some people who seem to be extroverts love to take downers, love to take opiates and some people who were introverts and quiet, like to take the uppers so…
HOWARD: Well that makes sense to me too.
DARRYL: It’s not 100 percent either way. It’s not even close to anything reliable, so trying to link personality types with drugs of choice or even with the tendency to become an addict or an alcoholic was pretty much abandoned.
HOWARD: In terms of personality types, we’re talking about using a model...like Meyers/Briggs? 16 personality types…
DARRYL: Right. Assessing a person using the Meyers/Brigg or global assessment scale or whatever instrument has been validated to correctly show somebody’s personality type and then associating that to their drug of choice or even predicting addiction or alcoholism hasn’t proven to be accurate and I think a lot more work will have to be done before somebody can actually identify marker indicators that may give us a clue that a person may become an addict or an alcoholic. Now, having said that, there are other studies that are fascinating, interesting… that look at very young children, as early as 3 years old and measure the child's ability to control their behaviors. Some of that work was done by Susan Tolferd recently in terms of adaptive versus non-adaptive behaviors - whether or not an individual at a very early age… she also included youngsters much older than 3, probably preadolescent - and she looked at brain scans while they were performing tasks to control certain behaviors that would not support their efforts to succeed in life, and behaviors that would hinder future reproductive abilities. I think that’s how they define adaptive behaviors or behaviors that will promote your success in life in general and your success in reproduction versus non-adaptive behaviors and selected non-adaptive behaviors which prevent success and both life and reproduction. The brain imaging pretty accurately predicted addiction for those people who had non-adaptive behaviors at a very young, preadolescent age. And in a recent study looking again at the 3 year old children, brain scans were taken of the prefrontal cortex - which is not even fully developed at 3 - it takes until the mid-20’s before it becomes functional and isn't until the 40’s that it becomes hard-wired. But they looked at the orbital prefrontal cortex and they were able to say…actually its ongoing research... whether or not a person could become addicted based on the ability to control certain actions - like pressing buttons. The experiment was set up so subjects would press a button in response to a stimulus on a screen, then the subjects were instructed not to press the button when the stimulus came on the screen - or stop the action in mid-stream. Those kids who were able to stop in mid-stream … and they showed scans of the kids' pathways lighting up actually and being effective in controlling that impulse. And so, kids who have impulse control, were unlikely to become addicts and alcoholics and kids at age 3 who had very poor impulse control, were expected to become addicts and alcoholics.
HOWARD: Is this surprising? I mean, it seems logical. Is this validated in your clinical work? Is it validated in other research? Are these findings different than what we might assume to be the case?
DARRYL: Well, it isn’t. The scientific evidence is just now coming to the forefront which will validate the projection or the hypothesis that poor impulse control is associated with addiction and boredom is associated with addiction, as well as sensation seeking. That was once a projections, but we now have the technology to identify those in terms of the brain and image the brain to see whether or not they occur in greater frequency in people who are prone to addiction versus people who are normies or not prone to addiction. Now, having said this, we’ve got to remember that the last study I read was published in the National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA, in their genome association study were looking at genes, and they identified 89 genes that either had an effect on the propensity to become an addict or a protective factor against becoming an addict or an alcoholic and 900 suspected other genes. Now, if we’ve got all those genes in there…
HOWARD: That’s a lot of genes.
DARRYL: Well, what it means is that it is difficult to get a clear indication a person is an addict because he’s extroverted or that person is going to be depressed because they’re introverted. There is a mix, a wide spectrum and I think the jury is still out on whether or not we can really predict addiction purely on the basis of personality assessment. I think maybe brain imaging and observing the brain in terms of its functionality for impulse control and things like that may actually be more useful in predicting the potential for addiction.
HOWARD: And we’ve talked about a genetic factor...history bears out some relationship to certain cultures having a greater proclivity, but it’s having the evidence to back it up.
DARRYL: We’ve identified many genes and the genes seem to be fairly accurate predictors of even drug types. Einstein’s novelty seeking gene, for instance, seems to be associated more with opiate addicts, people who are prone toward opiates seem to have that gene versus people who probably would not be addicted to opiates or cocaine, and alcoholics who aren’t interested in opiates lack that gene. So, I think genetics - the gene clips where we can actually look at a person’s genes and associate connections - determine their addictive propensity and likely drug of choice is also going to be more fruitful than just evaluating personality type.
HOWARD: Now there’s another story out just today from Norway about, an actual study of the addictive propensities of Facebook users. And so, ….we mentioned briefly that age is a factor - so, not surprisingly, we’re seeing that younger people seem to be much more affected by the addictive qualities of social networking, than are older people. So, how …does that relate again back into the evolution, the growth of the frontal brain?
DARRYL: It does because again, it involves impulse control - being able to control behaviors and understanding consequences. When you’re young, your frontal cortex is not yet fully hard-wired, and that is your control centered brain so the awareness of consequences is much less than it is in an older person. Young people are future oriented - they want to interact with other young people and they want to have as many opportunities to that as possible - and they want immediate control over that because they have control over little else in their life. They are children, so they feel they have no control over anything. And so, there is a natural gravity attracting them to the Internet. I was just reading today that they’re advising people not to use the free internet at airports to go online because people can pick off your passwords and hack your Facebook page for example. People put all kinds of personal information on those pages and hackers can access it all for the purpose of identity theft. An adult will quickly see the potential consequences. Identity theft is just horrible. It messes with everything that you do and takes years to correct - so many adults say "I don’t want to be on Facebook. Take me off!" And if they are there - they offer a lot of fake information or a lot of protective things so that nobody can steal their identity, but most kids don’t think about that stuff - for them, it’s right now, they are "I’m writing things for my peers to read and I'm an “in” person and the more friends I have on Facebook, the more popular I am" ... that is very seductive to them and I can see how that is very much like an addiction. You know for years we concentrated on that compulsivity…what was the drive with drugs and what was the drive with gambling …was it the “go” switch in the brain's unconscious area? More studies are coming out saying maybe the bigger influence is the control circuitry of the brain, the stop switch and how functional or dysfunctional or how connected or non-connected it is may play a bigger role in the development of addiction and the maintenance of it where people find it hard to stop using…these are the result of "stay stopped" areas of the brain.
Something related to this in another story I came across in the last 2 weeks about exercise that seemed contradictory, and counter intuitive - the article described rat studies on exercise and how it may be a factor that primes somebody for addiction and actually promotes their continued addiction rather than helping to stave off addiction, or helping promoting recovery. The rat study involved a group that exercised and a group that did not - the rats were rewarded with cocaine water that they got at a specific place in their cage, maybe it was a painted spot or something. When the cocaine water stopped being available, the non exercising rats gave up coming to the spot where the cocaine water was …whereas the exercising rats kept coming back to the spot even though there was no cocaine.
HOWARD: Is that because they got the runner’s high?
DARRYL: I guess!
HOWARD: We know there is truth to that, right?
DARRYL: Yes, exercise promotes dopamine release and dopamine is a natural reward chemical, or the natural compulsivity chemical that all drugs of addiction release. So, maybe exercise augments that action and creates a continued need to seek that out. Maybe that’s what they’re saying, but it just seems counter intuitive. You would think if someone is interested getting healthy, exercise would be part of that plan, but now with this rat study, they’re saying we’re not so sure that’s a good thing.
HOWARD: Well, you have to look at it from the point of view that it’s…a better alternative. It’s a harm reduction strategy.
DARRYL: Well, if you replace your addiction with an exercise addiction, of course, it’s going to be healthy, but what they’re implying here with the rats is …no, addictions are synergistic, so if you continue to exercise and maybe get strung out on exercise, it’s going to promote continuing to seek out your drug of choice.
HOWARD: Well - everything is related to everything!
DARRYL: Relative as Mr. Einstein of course taught us!
HOWARD: I think we are going to have to talk more about this again. But right now, we’ve run out of time so I want to say thank you to those of you listening and invite you to make a comment, a suggestion or ask a question. We’d love to hear from you. And until next time, Darryl, thank you.
DARRYL: Hey, thank you, Howard.
HOWARD: That wraps our pod for today. Please check back soon for the next in the series and visit our website, www.cnsproductions.com