British Columbia

Vernon, B.C. schools to pilot program that identifies addiction personality traits

The Vernon school district is piloting a program developed by a Montreal psychiatry professor which identifies personality traits that make some vulnerable to drug addiction.

Montreal psychiatry professor has identified 4 key traits that make people vulnerable to addiction

Professor Patricia Conrod says individuals vulnerable to addiction share four traits: impulsivity, thrill-seeking or sensation-seeking, a sensitivity to anxiety, and hopelessness. (iStock)

A new drug prevention program coming to schools in Vernon, B.C. aims to identify students potentially vulnerable to addiction by evaluating their personalities for a set of specific traits.

The new program known as Preventure was originally developed by University of Montreal psychiatry professor Patricia Conrod who has studied addictions and risk factors for years.

While a combination of factors ultimately influences whether someone develops an addiction, Conrod has identified at least four key personality traits that makes people vulnerable:

  • Impulsivity.
  • Thrill-seeking or sensation-seeking.
  • Sensitivity to anxiety.
  • Hopelessness.

The program works by having children self-report their personality style. Then, students who identify with the four key traits are invited to a workshop session where they learn how their personality affects their behaviour. 

"For example, take a young thrill-seeker," she said.  "If he doesn't have his thrill-seeking under control ... he's going to very quickly learn that drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time creates quite a buzz.

"What we do in the intervention is help him realize that this is part of him, that there are both pro-social and anti-social ways of addressing your thrill-seeking. We give him some cognitive strategies for making sure that his thrill seeking isn't making him make poor decisions for himself and diverting him from his long term goals."

Conrod also emphasized the program was not about labelling kids as being at-risk.

"This program does everything it can to assure that even though we're targeting risk factors, we're never labelling a child and creating any kind of stigma around a risk status."

Teaching coping skills

Preventure is scheduled to debut in Grade 8 classes at two secondary schools by the first week of February before expanding to all secondary schools next year. 

"[Staff] are all trained. The books are here. The materials are here. It's just a matter to coordinate the time to start the sessions," said Dr. Truman Spring, the director of instruction in the Vernon school district.

Patricia Conrod's program has been used in Eastern Canada, the United States and Australia. (Rebecca Ugolini / CBC)

Spring said the program comes after staff notice an increase in school suspensions for drug use. 

"In the last couple of years, Vernon alone has six dispensaries that they didn't have a few years ago for the use of medical marijuana and that does have an impact on a community."

The ongoing opioid crisis is also a concern in the province.

On Jan. 18, the B.C. Coroners Service reported that 914 British Columbians died from drug overdose deaths in 2016. 156 of those deaths were in B.C.'s Interior.

Spring said the program is chance for the community to be proactive and help youth before they start experimenting with drugs.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Psychiatry professor Patricia Conrod on her method help children found to be at risk for addiction