Drug abuse is a complicated affliction. It's one of America's most challenging health problems. It affects people of all ages, IQs, and backgrounds, but some people are more prone to addiction than others.

Researchers at Oregon State University have made a link between personality traits and susceptibility to drug use.

The study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors found that methamphetamine (meth) users who displayed impulsive behavior, were more likely to have started taking the drug at an earlier age.

"Impulsivity is highly related to the number of years of using methamphetamine, specifically in men. Our findings suggest that impulsivity likely both contributes to using this substance and increases as a result of using it," said Anita Cservenka, co-author of the study, and an assistant professor in the School of Psychological Science at Oregon State University, in a statement.

Meth is a central nervous system stimulant that affects chemicals in the brain and nerves that contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control. 

There are certain personality characteristics that are more likely to be associated with the development of drug abuse than others. For example, those who have a preference for novel experiences, are more neurotic, less agreeable and less conscientious tend develop an addiction for meth. Similar to its effect in ADHD patients, meth can sometimes increase conscientiousness, attention to detail, and the ability to concentrate for recreational meth users.

Cservenka and corresponding author Lara Ray sought to understand the relationship between personality traits and meth use by looking at about 160 meth users' scores on the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale, a widely used self-reporting measure of impulsive personality traits. This scale is broken into multiple types of impulsivity, some of which include attentional and motor impulsivity. Attentional impulsiveness has been defined as an inability to focus attention or concentrate, while motor impulsiveness is the tendency to act on whims.

Those in the study were between 18 and 50 years old, reported using meth in the last 30 days, and reported not using any other substances other than alcohol, tobacco or marijuana. The participants were free of major mental or physical health problems and were not seeking treatment for their meth use.

The findings revealed one percent of 12-graders report having used meth at least once, and more than six percent of people 26 and older have used meth in their lifetime. Cservenka believes one possibility could be meth users are self-medicating. Since they have difficulty paying attention, they may rely on meth to improve their attentional ability.

However, the researchers caution because this was a cross-sectional study, they can't say impulsivity lead to meth use.

"We can only suggest that perhaps impulsivity might be a trait that individuals should pay attention to in at-risk youth, especially when it comes to late adolescence or young adulthood, when most meth use is initiated,” said Cservenka.

This warrants further studies, tracking subjects over time, to better determine if impulsivity is a trigger for early meth use. This can only be done by tracking adolescents at an early age, and following them into young adulthood to view what risk factors contribute to early drug use ike meth. This could help target individuals who show elevated symptoms of impulsivity or a lack of inhibitory control for early intervention.

Source: Cservenka A and Ray LA. Self-reported attentional and motor impulsivity are related to age at first methamphetamine use. Addictive Behaviors. 2016.