Jonathan Shedler and Jack Block,
University of California Berkeley
ABSTRACT: The relation between psychological characteristics and drug use
was investigated in subjects studied longitudinally, from preschool through age
18. Adolescents who had engaged in some drug experimentation (primarily with
marijuana) were the best-adjusted in the sample. Adolescents who used drugs
frequently were maladjusted, showing a distinct personality syndrome marked by
interpersonal alienation, poor impulse control, and manifest emotional distress.
Adolescents who, by age 18, had never experimented with any drug were relatively
anxious, emotionally constricted, and lacking in social skills.
Psychological differences between frequent drug users, experimenters, and
abstainers could be traced to the earliest years of childhood and related to the
quality of parenting received. The findings indicate that (a) problem drug use
is a symptom, not a cause, of personal and social maladjustment, and (b) the
meaning of drug use can be understood only in the context of an individual's
personality structure and developmental history. It is suggested that current
efforts at drug prevention are misguided to the extent that they focus on
symptoms, rather than on the psychological syndrome underlying drug abuse.