Teen’s Personality Traits Influence Odds of Early Marijuana Use

Teenagers possessing two particular personality traits have increased odds of early marijuana use, a new study by Dutch researchers finds.

Psychologists and psychiatrists use a number of approaches to outline the basic personality traits common to all humans. One of the most popular approaches breaks personality down into what is known as the “Big Five” components: conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, extraversion and neuroticism (i.e. being prone to such things as anxiety, touchiness and emotional volatility). During adolescence, these tendencies are not fully formed but start to gain some of their long-term, adult character. In a study published in January 2015 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from four Dutch universities found that relatively low levels of extraversion and relatively high levels of neuroticism increase the odds that a teenager will use marijuana at an early age.

Teens and Marijuana

Roughly 24 percent of American teenagers enrolled in 12th, 10th and eighth grade use marijuana at least once in the typical month, according to 2014 figures compiled by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Among the three grades, high school seniors have the highest rate of monthly use (35.1 percent). Teen marijuana intake actually dropped a bit between 2013 and 2014. However, an increasing number of adolescents fail to view regular consumption of the drug as a dangerous or personally harmful activity. This is important, since the spread of such a perspective may be predictive of future upticks in marijuana use.

Approximately 17 percent of all teenagers who consume marijuana will develop a diagnosable addiction to the drug, the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes. This fact holds true even when a teen only uses the drug occasionally; daily marijuana consumers have a substantially higher addiction rate. Additional harms associated with beginning marijuana/cannabis intake before reaching age 17 include a reduced chance of graduating from high school or college, increased chances of getting involved in other forms of substance use, increased chances of developing diagnosable depression symptoms and heightened risks for suicide.

Personality Traits

Under the tenets of the “Big Five” organizing system, every individual’s overall personality is essentially a mixture of these traits. As a rule, a teenager under the age of 18 continues to undergo at least some fluctuation in his or her particular blend of personality traits. For this reason, doctors in the U.S. do not officially diagnose personality-based mental health problems in children age 17 or younger. However, adolescents below the age of 18 are still heavily influenced by their emerging personality tendencies.

Impact on Early Teen Marijuana/Cannabis Use

In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from the Netherlands’ VU University, University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University and Tilburg University used a multi-year project involving 444 Dutch teenagers to explore the impact of emerging personality characteristics on the odds of initiating marijuana/cannabis consumption in early adolescence. At the start of this project, the average age of the participants was 13. On three separate occasions over the next two years, the researchers made “Big Five” personality assessments of each participant and took note of any commencement of marijuana/cannabis use. In addition, they explored each teen’s perception of the amount of emotional support provided by his or her parents, as well as each teen’s perception of the amount of behavioral control exerted by his or her parents.

Over the course of the two-year study period, nearly one-fifth of the participants (19.4 percent) started using marijuana/cannabis. For most of the teens, the odds of initiating consumption of the drug were not related to the perceived amount of support provided by parents or to the perceived amount of control exerted by parents. However, the researchers concluded, teens with two specific personality traits—relatively low levels of extraversion and relatively high levels of neuroticism-related emotional volatility—did have increased chances of initiating marijuana/cannabis use at an early age (i.e. before reaching their 16th birthdays) when they believed that their parents did not have much control over their behavior.

Based on their findings, the study’s authors concluded that the emerging personality of any given teenager between the ages of 13 and 15 is an important factor in determining whether early involvement in marijuana/cannabis use will begin.

Posted on February 10th, 2015
Posted in Marijuana

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