Objective: The frequent co-occurrence of alcohol dependence and anxiety disorder is a long-standing clinical conundrum. An underdeveloped perspective on this issue concerns the impact of a co-occurring anxiety disorder on the sequence and developmental course of alcohol-related milestones. Extrapolating from the body of basic science indicating overlap in the neurobiological processes associated with both anxiety disorder and alcohol dependence-particularly those involving the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and elements of the amygdala- we hypothesized that anxiety-disordered individuals are vulnerable to the rapid development of alcohol dependence. Specifically, we predicted that the time from pre-dependence alcohol milestones (e.g., age at which regular drinking began) to post-dependence alcohol milestones would be briefer ("telescoped") among those with an anxiety disorder.
Method: Seventy-eight individuals with alcohol dependence who had recently begun a chemical dependency treatment program underwent a diagnostic interview to determine the presence of current anxiety disorders and to establish the age at which several alcohol use and dependence milestones were first achieved.
Results: We found that, compared with others in the sample, anxiety-disordered individuals transitioned significantly more quickly from the time they first began drinking regularly and first began getting drunk regularly to the onset of alcohol dependence, as well as from most pre-dependence alcohol milestones to the point at which their alcohol dependence was most severe.
Conclusions: Individuals with anxiety disorders transition from regular drinking to alcohol dependence more rapidly than do individuals without anxiety disorders. These findings contribute to an improved understanding of the etiology of comorbidity and suggest novel directions for future research.