WHICH of the thousands of fresh-faced children starting high school this week will grow up to be the rebels?
Researchers from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW are studying more than 3000 NSW high school students to try and discover whether personality traits predispose them to drug and alcohol problems, and if early intervention can prevent them.
The program is part of a new Centre for Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use, which will be launched on Thursday and will be the biggest in the world for research into the combined topics.
Nicola Newton, a chief investigator in the school project, said children would be targeted with four personality traits known to put them at higher risk of drug and alcohol misuse: anxiety, impulsivity, negative thinking and sensation seeking.
"These children … have different motivations for using substances," she said. "Because of their personalities they can cope in maladaptive ways when they are put in a difficult situation".
A similar study, conducted in Britain and published last week in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, found targeting at-risk students decreased their problem drinking by nearly 50 per cent.
The director of the new centre, Maree Teesson, said drug and alcohol problems and mental health issues commonly occurred together, but research and treatment was often separated.
The centre will work with The Black Dog Institute, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Royal North Shore Hospital to ensure research quickly translated into practice.