New research from the University of Cambridge suggests a traumatic upbringing during childhood can lead to personality traits such as impulsivity or compulsiveness.

Impulsivity or compulsiveness, in turn, are linked to an increased risk of addiction.

In the study, Cambridge researchers aimed to identify risk factors that make a person vulnerable to developing drug dependence.

They examined 50 adults with cocaine dependence together with their biological brothers and sisters who have never abused drugs.

All participants underwent extensive assessments of their personalities, including their ways of feeling and thinking. The researchers were also interested in negative experiences that participants may have had during childhood (including physical, emotional or sexual abuse).

Karen Ersche, Ph.D., of the Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge, said:

“It has long been known that abusive experiences during childhood have long-lasting effects on behavior in adulthood and this was confirmed by our results. The siblings had more troubled childhoods compared to healthy peers in the community, and we also found a direct relationship between traumatic childhoods and their personalities.”

She added: “This relationship is interesting because impulsive personality traits are known to increase the risk of becoming addicted to drugs — but it is not an excuse for drug-taking.”

Researchers discovered the childhoods of the brothers and sisters of the cocaine-dependent individuals were also traumatic, and they also exhibited higher-than-normal levels of impulsive and compulsive behaviors, but they did not abuse drugs.

Future research will investigate how the siblings who do not abuse drugs managed to deal with their traumatic childhoods and their highly impulsive and compulsive personalities.

A key focus of the study is to learn what makes the siblings resilient against addiction. Researchers believe a better understanding of what protected the brothers and sisters from drug abuse may provide vital clues for developing more effective therapeutic interventions for those trying to beat their addiction.

Ersche added: “Not all individuals with these personality traits would have had a traumatic upbringing. Nor does everyone with these traits develop an addiction. However, our findings show that some people are particularly at risk and their upbringing may have contributed to it.”

The study is found in the journal American Journal of Psychiatry.

Source: University of Cambridge