Cloninger's tridimensional theory of personality and psychopathology: Applications to substance use disorders

Matthew Owen Howard, Daniel Kivlahan, R. Dale Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

192 Scopus citations


Objective. To evaluate studies that applied Cloninger's tridimensional theory of personality to substance abusers. Method: Medline and PsychInfo data bases were searched for studies published between 1986 and mid-1995 that used the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire (TPQ). A supplemental manual search was conducted to identify additional evaluations of the tridimensional theory. Reports were reviewed if they included substance abusers or related tridimensional traits to substance use measures. Results: Factor analyses did not consistently support the tridimensionality of the TPQ. Novelty Seeking (NS) traits distinguished alcoholics from nonalcoholics. Type B and Type 2 alcoholics from their Type A and Type 1 counterparts, smokers from nonsmokers, and individuals (substance abusers and nonabusers) with and without antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Tridimensional traits independently predicted early onset alcohol abuse and serious delinquency in studies that did not employ the TPQ and were significantly associated with concurrent substance abuse among adolescents. Most studies that compared nonalcoholic youth with positive and negative family histories of alcoholism reported nonsignificant TPQ differences or very small effects. Few alcoholics, cigarette smokers or sons of alcoholics displayed Type 1 (low novelty seeking, high harm avoidance, high reward dependence) or Type 2 (high novelty seeking, low harm avoidance, low reward dependence) TPQ profiles, but rarely were levels of tridimensional traits determined by reference to established norms. Conclusions: NS predicts early onset alcohol abuse and criminality and discriminates alcoholics exhibiting antisocial behavior and persons with ASPD from their nonantisocial counterparts. Findings for the Harm Avoidance (HA) and Reward Dependence TPQ subscales are much less consistent. Some support for the role of elevated HA in intensity of substance use has been adduced. At present, the utility of the TPQ for prevention or clinical purposes is not well established.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-66
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of studies on alcohol
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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