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Date: December 18, 2000

Sensation Seekers More Likely to Live Addictive Lives

'Tis the season for over-indulgence, when advertisers encourage consumers to spend too much, eat too much and drink too much -- and certain people hear the latter message clearer than most. They are sensation seekers, people who need more stimulation and new experiences in their lives. Advertisers have long suspected that there's a link between them and alcohol use and researchers now confirm it.

Dr. Gord Barnes, an addiction expert with UVic's school of child and youth care, is the co-author of The Addiction-Prone Personality, a book that examines which people are more prone to addiction and why. He says so-called "lifestyle" ads that link devil-may-care images of skiers, surfers and rock climbers to alcohol are a contributing factor to alcohol abuse. Sensation seekers are the ones that are most likely to respond favourably to these ads, he explains, and they are also the ones most likely to develop alcohol abuse problems.

"The relationship between personality and alcoholism has interested me for 25 years and it seems as though there are two different pathways to addiction -- the sensation seekers who are more likely to consume alcohol and gradually become addicted and those with traits associated with being male such as tough-mindedness, low social conformity and impulsivity. They tend to begin drinking at a young age and get in trouble with it right off the bat," says Barnes.

He and his fellow researchers tracked over 1,200 people in Winnipeg over two years, studied 600 families in Vancouver and conducted clinical studies of over 400 people in alcohol treatment programs to arrive at their conclusions. The book also contains a formula to help predict the likelihood of someone developing an addiction-prone personality.

Leading indicators include:

o an abusive family environment

o lack of parental involvement with their children

o hyperactive and/or impulsive children

o family history of addiction

Barnes stops short of claiming there's a genetic root to addiction-prone personalities, preferring to classify the condition as a "normal human variation. The environment is the key to whether or not this trait finds an unhealthy or healthy expression." He says that public programs and public policy changes are the key to keeping vulnerable young people and sensation-seeking adults from developing problems with alcohol.

He says it's important to support families with children known to be at risk through either parent education or programs for children and youth that encourage healthy outlets for their energy. Barnes would also like to see brewers join distillers in being forbidden to use lifestyle ads. Funding for The Addiction-Prone Personality came from Health Canada through the National Health Research and Development Program.

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Media contacts:
Dr. Gord Barnes (child and youth care) at o. (250) 721-6473/h. (250) 479-8082
Patty Pitts (UVic Communications) at (250) 721-7656.



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