April 18, 2024

New Study Reveals Surprising Links Between Psychopathy and Substance Use Among Male Inmates

A study co-authored by Dr. Lora Cope showed that among male inmates in two different studies, specific aspects of psychopathy may be protective against substance misuse.

Dr. Lora Cope co-authored a recent study published in the Journal of Personality Disorders. The authors examined associations between different facets of psychopathy (i.e., affective, interpersonal, lifestyle, and antisocial) and drug and alcohol use in adult male inmates. Study 1 comprised 418 inmates from an Illinois county jail and Study 2 comprised 354 inmates from a New Mexico state prison.

Consistent with prior work, they found that traits like impulsivity and stimulation-seeking were associated with greater severity of substance dependence for alcohol and other drugs. Traits related to how someone interacts with others (e.g., glibness, grandiosity) were specifically linked to cocaine misuse in both studies.

Interestingly, in Study 2, emotional traits related to psychopathy (e.g., callousness, shallow affect) were linked to fewer alcohol dependence symptoms. Also, across both studies, these emotional traits were associated with lower severity of dependence on illegal drugs.

“These studies are interesting because they demonstrate in two independent samples that specific aspects of psychopathy may be protective against substance misuse. They indicate some nuance in the common thinking that psychopathy is linked with higher substance (mis)use.”

 - Lora Cope, Ph.D. 


Brieman, C. L., McGarrigle, W. J., Cope, L. M., Kiehl, K. A., & Kosson, D. S. (2024). Clarifying Relations Between Core Features of Psychopathy and Substance (Mis) use: A Replication and Extension in Two Large Independent Samples. Journal of Personality Disorders, 38(2), 138-156.