Clinical relevance of the distinction between alcohol dependence with and without a physiological component

Marc A. Schuckit, Tom L. Smith, Jean Bernard Daeppen, Mimy Eng, T. K. Li, Victor M. Hesselbrock, John I. Nurnberger, Kathleen K. Bucholz

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83 Scopus citations


Objective: DSM-IV indicates that diagnoses of substance dependence should be further characterized with regard to the presence of a physiological component, defined by tolerance or withdrawal. This study evaluated the possible meaning of this distinction in alcohol-dependent men and women. Method: As part of the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism, structured interviews were carried out with 3,395 DSM-III-R- defined alcohol-dependent individuals divided into 2,949 subjects (86.9%) with evidence of tolerance and/or withdrawal (group 1), 51.3% of whom evidenced withdrawal symptoms, and 446 subjects (13.1%) without a physiological component (group 2). Data were evaluated to determine differences between the two groups. Results: Group 1 reported greater severity of alcohol dependence as demonstrated by a larger maximum number of drinks in 24 hours, more persons reporting hinges, more alcohol-related life problems, more relevant DSM-III-R criteria endorsed, more physiological complications, and more alcohol-related emotional/psychiatric symptoms such as depression and anxiety. Each of these severity indicators for problems in group 1 was significant in the presence of the others in a logistic regression, and similar items remained significant when tolerance alone, withdrawal alone, or their combination was used as the criterion for group 1 membership; however, for withdrawal a larger proportion of the variance was explained by the predictor variables. The regression results were independent of gender, proband status, and history of antisocial personality disorder. Conclusions: The results support the clinical relevance of distinguishing between alcohol-dependent patients with and without a physiological component. The data indicate a potential advantage to limiting that definition to withdrawal only.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)733-740
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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