Researchers in Canada have discovered a link between certain personality traits in children and the tendency to develop an addiction later in life. They are now rolling out a program that targets these high risk traits for addiction before they can cause problems.
The results are heartening and the identified traits can give us clues about risky behaviours in adults we should look out for in the workplace.
The four risky traits
Most anti-drug programs that focus on criminalisation and scare tactics have proven ineffective in curbing drug use in kids. Wanting to nip the drug problem in the bud, Dr. Patricia Conrod, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Montreal, developed a program called Preventure. This new program uses personality testing to assess a child’s risk for addiction. Early trials show an impressive success rate in identifying high risk children at 90 percent.
Through Preventure, most at-risk kids can be spotted early by testing for four high risk traits, namely:
- sensation-seeking – the tendency to pursue sensory pleasure and excitement just for the sake of such experiences, without much regard for the risks involved.
- impulsiveness – the tendency to act on a whim, without much thought, reflection or consideration for the consequences.
- anxiety sensitivity – refers to the fear of behaviours and sensations that are associated with the experience of anxiety. People who have it believe that physical sensations like dizziness, sweating and increased heart rate are harmful and will lead to disastrous outcomes.
- hopelessness – is a subjective emotion involving the feeling that current problems and dilemmas cannot be solved. A person exhibiting hopelessness has a negative viewpoint of the future and may feel helpless to reach one’s goal.
Three of these traits are linked to mental health issues, a risk factor for addiction. (Impulsiveness is common among those with ADHD; hopelessness is associated with depression. Anxiety sensitivity is linked to panic disorders.) And while sensation-seeking is not linked to any diagnosis, it is risky because people drawn to intense experiences will probably like drugs.
The Preventure program
To begin the Preventure program, teachers are trained intensively in therapy techniques that address psychological problems. Children aged 12-14 years take a personality test at the start of the school year. Then months later, two 90-minute workshops are offered to the whole school with a limited number of slots. They found that most of the outliers identified actually do sign up for the workshops.
They take care to not tell the student participants that the program is for drug prevention. This is to avoid the “high-risk” label becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, they frame it as workshops that teach them to channel their personality towards success. In it, kids are taught cognitive behavioural techniques to address emotional and behavioural problems, and most of them find the tools useful.
Preventure has been tested in Britain, Australia, the Netherlands and Canada, and has shown very promising results. They found a decrease in binge drinking and drug use in the selected trial schools, falling as low as 43 percent. Preventure even helped lower cases of depression, panic attacks and impulsive behaviour.
What we can take away from the program
There has been plenty of research indicating that personality traits observed in children as young as first grade are pretty much set to last a lifetime. These traits are strong predictors of adult behaviour because while it is not impossible to change our personalities,
it is a very difficult undertaking.
Couple this knowledge with the Preventure trials, knowing that certain traits are risk factors in drug abuse can help in managing these high risk traits in adults and channelling the resulting behaviours into something productive. Preventure has shown more effective solutions to drug use than acting only when someone is already hooked.
Using the ideas of the program, similar measures can be applied in the workplace. Offering workshops, coaching or counselling to employees who exhibit hopelessness, impulsiveness or depressive tendencies can go a long way. Fostering an environment of people who care about each other’s well-being does a lot in leading high-risk individuals away from the path to addiction. As with everything, prevention is better than a cure.