Medicine, Mind and Adolescence, 1993 - 1994 - VIII, 2 - IX,1

Voluntary risk taking behaviour as vulnerability factor for drug addiction

Assunto Quadrio, Elena Zucchi

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In present society the problem of drug addiction among adolescents is becoming more and more relevant and dramatic.

This issue has been largely studied in social psychology and originated different interpretative models.

However, most of them have been associated with the reductionism that predominates in this area of study and have not be able to develop any effective rehabilitation program, while the most recent contributions (Stein 1987; Newcomb, Ortiz 1992) focus their studies on multifactor analysis.

An innovative and interesting approach investigates the problem of drug addiction with reference to the concept of risk.

Voluntary risk taking is a topic of scientific interest for both psychology and sociology, which have conceived several interpretative models to discover the causes lying behind risky behaviours.

The present study is based on two theoretical models: the concept of "edgework" (Lyng 1990) and the construct of "sensation seeking" (Zuckerman 1971).

The purpose of this research was to study drug addiction as a voluntary risk-taking behaviour adopted by some people with specific dimensions of personality, who are driven by causes of different nature.

A psycho-social perspective was assumed to underline the link between the psychological and the social aspects.

The first aim was to investigate the relation between the drug addiction and the inclination towards risk, viewed as "sensation seeking", according to Zuckerman's model.

As previous researches have already indicated we hypothized that there is a significative link between these two variables and that the "sensation seeking" is correlated with the drug use.

Our second aim was to draw the risk taker profile with sociodemographic variables and personality aspects.

The sample consisted of 252 subjects (173 men, 79 women; 110 drug abusers, 142 no drug abusers), aged between 15 and 35 years old (mean age 25.27). We considered as independent variables sex, age, education and drug addiction and verified their influence on the "sensation seeking".

The sample was assessed with the Sensation Seeking Scale (Zuckerman) and the Adjective Check List.

A strong inclination towards the experimentation of exciting sensations was found. This result is lined up with the most recent theories underlying that the risk-taking has social value.

The sensation seeking is more common among males, aged between 15-21 years old, not very educated.

According to the first hypothesis, we observed a significant correlation between the drug addiction and the sensation seeking, in fact high sensation seeking is associated with drug use.

The difference between a risk taker drug abuser and not drug abuser is to be found in social context: drug abusers, in fact, need more social stimulation.

This result implies that the drug issue is more connected to social problems than personality aspects.

Concerning the second objective, some typical personality aspects of the risk taker have been pointed out.

The risk taker is a person with a low need of perseverance, low need of order, high need of autonomy and change, low self-control, low personal adaptation and low self-esteem.

In our conclusions we have observed that a normative approach towards risky behaviours can not be proposed since it is ineffective.

The risk taker is pushed towards risky action by deep reasons tied to his own personality. This is why this need could not be easily suppressed.

It is on the contrary more useful to direct the sensation seeking, through preventions programs, to experiences that are constructive and socially accepted.

Assunto Quadrio, Elena Zucchi: "Voluntary Risk Taking Behavior as Vulnerability Factor for Drug Addiction". Paper presented at the First International Congress of Adolescentology, Assisi, Italy, October 22-24, 1993.

Key words: Drug addiction, Risk, Adolescence.

Assunto Quadrio: Professore ordinario di Psicologia sociale presso la Facoltà di Scienze Politiche dell'Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano
Elena Zucchi: Dottoranda di Psicologia presso l'Università degli Studi di Genova, collaboratrice di Ricerca presso il Dipartimento di Psicologia dell'Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano.

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