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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2017 Sep;41(9):1612-1621. doi: 10.1111/acer.13440. Epub 2017 Jul 24.

Is Personality Associated with Secondhand Harm from Drinking?

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Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Department of Psychology, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Department of Psychiatry, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Department of Public Health Sciences, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.



Prior research suggests more than 70% of undergraduates have experienced harm from other students' drinking. This study built on the literature by, first, investigating whether secondhand harm cluster into latent factors that reflect distinct but related types of harm. Second, given the paucity of research examining factors that increase students' vulnerability to secondhand harm, we examined dimensions from Castellanos-Ryan and Conrod's 4-factor personality model for alcohol disorders (impulsivity [IMP], sensation seeking [SS], hopelessness [HOP], anxiety sensitivity [AS]) as predictors of secondhand harm exposure. We also investigated the possible mediating role of students' own problematic alcohol use in explaining personality-secondhand harm relationships.


An online survey was administered to 1,537 first-year Canadian undergraduates (68% women). Problematic alcohol use was measured by the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, and personality was measured by the Substance Use Risk Profile Scale. Eleven secondhand harm items were included.


The secondhand harm clustered into 3 distinct but related factors: "strains" (e.g., interruption of sleep or study), "threats" (e.g., harassment or assault), and "interpersonal harm" (e.g., arguments with peers). Sixty-eight percent of respondents reported strains, 44% threats, and 64% interpersonal harm, and 35% reported experiencing all 3 types of harm, in the last term. All 4 personality dimensions were independently associated with greater secondhand harm exposure. HOP was directly associated with threats and interpersonal harm, and AS was directly associated with all 3 types of harm. SS and IMP were both indirectly associated with all 3 types of harm through students' own problematic alcohol use. In addition, IMP was directly related to threats.


The prevalence of secondhand harm from alcohol is high among undergraduates. Findings suggest that distinct personality risks may predispose students to experience secondhand harm, albeit perhaps through different mechanisms. Implications for future research, prevention, and policy development are discussed.


Alcohol; College; Personality; Secondhand Harm

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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