Objective: The search for an alcoholic personality has been pursued with varying enthusiasm throughout the 20th century. This paper reviews the methodological issues, research designs and current theories relating alcoholism and personality. Is alcoholism hereditary.
Method: A selected literature search using computerised databases was ordered via the four major research design strategies: cross sectional studies, high-risk studies, longitudinal studies and genetic epidemiology studies.
Results: Cross sectional studies have suggested that two broad bands of personality, impulsivity/novelty seeking and neuroticism/negative emotionality, are associated with alcoholism. Although high-risk studies have repeatedly shown that sons of male alcoholics are at increased risk of alcoholism, whether this risk is related to personality variables is unclear. Many authors believe that the presence of antisocial personality disorder is a confounder and that this may explain some of the contradictory findings. Longitudinal studies have consistently reported that antisocial behaviour and hyperactivity are related to later alcoholism. Negative emotionality seems to be less important and may largely be a consequence of the alcoholism itself. Genetic epidemiological studies suggest that personality measures play a modest but significant role in the genetic influence of alcoholism. The strongest relationships are with conduct disorder and antisocial behaviour. The postulated alcoholic subtypes (Type I, Type II or Type A/B) based on age of onset and personality style have been challenged by recent research. The most vulnerable to alcoholism may be those with both high impulsivity/high novelty seeking and high neuroticism/negative emotionality.
Is alcoholism hereditary research
Conclusion: Antisocial behaviour and hyperactivity are the most consistent behaviours associated with alcoholism. These behaviours are not specific for alcoholism and are associated with many other psychiatric conditions. Personality variables by themselves explain only a small proportion of the risk for alcohol dependence. There is no alcoholic personality nor are there personality measures which are specific to vulnerability to later alcohol dependence. Attempting to link alcoholism with theoretical, poorly validated models of personality is premature.