Development of Alcohol Use Disorder as a Function of Age, Severity, and Comorbidity with Externalizing and Internalizing Disorders in a Young Adult Cohort

J Psychiatr Brain Sci. 2019:4:e190016. doi: 10.20900/jpbs.20190016. Epub 2019 Oct 25.


Background: As part of the ongoing Collaborative Study of the Genetics of Alcoholism, we performed a longitudinal study of a high risk cohort of adolescents/young adults from families with a proband with an alcohol use disorder, along with a comparison group of age-matched controls. The intent was to compare the development of alcohol problems in subjects at risk with and without comorbid externalizing and internalizing psychiatric disorders.

Methods: Subjects (N = 3286) were assessed with a structured psychiatric interview at 2 year intervals over 10 years (2004-2017). The age range at baseline was 12-21.

Results: Subjects with externalizing disorders (with or without accompanying internalizing disorders) were at increased risk for the onset of an alcohol use disorder during the observation period. Subjects with internalizing disorders were at greater risk than those without comorbid disorders for onset of a moderate or severe alcohol use disorder. The statistical effect of comorbid disorders was greater in subjects with more severe alcohol use disorders. The developmental trajectory of drinking milestones and alcohol use disorders was also accelerated in those with more severe disorders.

Conclusions: These results may be useful for counseling of subjects at risk who present for clinical care, especially those subjects manifesting externalizing and internalizing disorders in the context of a positive family history of an alcohol use disorder. We confirm and extend findings that drinking problems in subjects at greatest risk will begin in early adolescence.

Keywords: alcohol use disorders; externalizing disorders; family studies; high risk studies; internalizing disorders.