Personality traits and substance use among college students in Eldoret, Kenya


There is documented evidence of the increase of alcohol and substance use among college students globally. Increased morbidity and associated maladaptive socio-occupational outcomes of the habit with early dependence and mortality have also been reported. Majority of the substance use related studies conducted in low- and middle- income countries mainly look at health- related risk behaviour control mechanisms that focus on the social environment domain, with few or almost none focusing on those embedded within the person (self- control). This study focuses on the relationship between substance use and personality traits (in the self-control domain), among college students in a low- middle- income country.


Design. A cross- sectional descriptive study that used the self- administered WHO Model Core and the Big Five Inventory Questionnaires to collect information among students in Colleges and Universities in Eldoret town, Kenya. Setting. Four (1- university campus; 3- non- university) tertiary learning institutions were randomly selected for inclusion. Subjects. Four hundred students, 100 from each of the 4 institutions; selected through a stratified multi-stage random sampling, who gave consent to participate in the study. Associations between various variables, personality traits and substance use were tested using bivariate analysis, while the strength/ predictors of association with substance use was ascertained through multiple logistic regression analyses. A finding of p ≤ 0.05 was considered statistically significant.


The median age was 21 years (Q1, Q3; 20, 23), approximately half 203 (50.8%) were male, with majority 335 (83.8%) from an urban residence and only 28 (7%) gainfully employed. The lifetime prevalence of substance use was 41.5%, while that of alcohol use was 36%. For both, a higher mean neuroticism score [substance use- (AOR 1.05, 95%CI; 1, 1.10: p = 0.013); alcohol use- (AOR 1.04, 95%CI; 0.99, 1.09: p = 0.032)] showed increased odds of lifetime use, while a higher mean agreeableness score [substance use- (AOR 0.99, 95%CI; 0.95, 1.02: p = 0.008); alcohol use- (AOR 0.99, 95%CI; 0.95, 1.02: p = 0.032)] showed decreased odds of lifetime use. A higher mean age (AOR 1.08, 95% CI; 0.99, 1,18: p = 0.02) of the students also showed an 8% increase in odds of lifetime alcohol use. The lifetime prevalence of cigarette use was 8.3%. Higher mean neuroticism (AOR 1.06, 95%CI; 0.98, 1.16: p = 0.041) and openness to experience (AOR 1.13, 95%CI; 1.04, 1.25: p = 0.004) scores showed increased odds of lifetime cigarette smoking, whereas being unemployed (AOR 0.23, 95%CI; 0.09, 0.64: p<0.001) had a decreased odd. Other substances reported included cannabis 28 (7%), sedatives 21 (5.2%), amphetamines 20 (Catha edulis) (5%), tranquilizers 19 (4.8%), inhalants 18 (4.5%), cocaine 14 (3.5%), with heroin and opium at 10 (2.5%) each. Among the 13 participants who reported injecting drugs, 10 were female and only 3 were male; this finding was statistically significant (p = 0.042).


The prevalence of substance use among college and university students in Eldoret is high and associated with high neuroticism and low agreeableness personality traits. We provide directions for future research that will examine and contribute to a deeper understanding of personality traits in terms of evidence- based approach to treatment.

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