Genetic variation in personality traits explains genetic overlap between borderline personality features and substance use disorders

Lauren R Few, Julia D Grant, Timothy J Trull, Dixie J Statham, Nicholas G Martin, Michael T Lynskey, Arpana Agrawal
Addiction 2014, 109 (12): 2118-27

AIMS: To examine the genetic overlap between borderline personality features (BPF) and substance use disorders (SUDs) and the extent to which variation in personality traits contributes to this covariance.

DESIGN: Genetic structural equation modelling was used to partition the variance in and covariance between personality traits, BPF and SUDs into additive genetic, shared and individual-specific environmental factors.

SETTING: All participants were registered with the Australian Twin Registry.

PARTICIPANTS: A total of 3127 Australian adult twins participated in the study.

MEASUREMENTS: Diagnoses of DSM-IV alcohol and cannabis abuse/dependence (AAD; CAD) and nicotine dependence (ND) were derived via computer-assisted telephone interview. BPF and five-factor model personality traits were derived via self-report questionnaires.

FINDINGS: Personality traits, BPF and substance use disorders were partially influenced by genetic factors with heritability estimates ranging from 0.38 (neuroticism; 95% confidence interval: 0.30-0.45) to 0.78 (CAD; 95% confidence interval: 0.67-0.86). Genetic and individual-specific environmental correlations between BPF and SUDs ranged from 0.33 to 0.56 (95% CI = 0.19-0.74) and 0.19-0.32 (95% CI = 0.06-0.43), respectively. Overall, there was substantial support for genetic influences that were specific to AAD, ND and CAD (30.76-68.60%). Finally, genetic variation in personality traits was responsible for 11.46% (extraversion for CAD) to 59.30% (neuroticism for AAD) of the correlation between BPF and SUDs.

CONCLUSIONS: Both genetic and individual-specific environmental factors contribute to comorbidity between borderline personality features and substance use disorders. A substantial proportion of this comorbidity can be attributed to variation in normal personality traits, particularly neuroticism.

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