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Patterns of DSM-IV Alcohol Abuse and Dependence Symptoms in Adolescent Drinkers

Christopher S. Martin, Nancy A. Kaczynski, Stephen A. Maisto, Oscar M. Bukstein, Howard B. Moss

Objective: Diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorders have largely been developed from research and clinical experience with adults. This research was designed to describe patterns of DSM-IV alcohol use disorder symptoms, and other problem domains, in adolescents with alcohol problems. Method: A modified version of the Structured Clinical Interview for the DSM (SCID) was used to assess DSM-IV alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence symptoms in 91 male and 90 female adolescent drinkers with various levels of alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems. The SCID was expanded to assess other alcohol problem domains thought to be relevant for adolescents. Results: DSM-IV dependence symptoms showed moderate to high covariation, supporting the utility of the alcohol dependence construct in adolescence. Compared to previous reports from adult samples, some symptoms were relatively infrequent (e.g., withdrawal, medical problems). Tolerance had low specificity for the diagnosis of alcohol dependence. There was significant heterogeneity in the symptomatology of subjects with DSM-IV alcohol abuse. Although they are not in the DSM-IV criteria, alcohol-related blackouts, craving and risky sexual behavior were common in adolescents with DSM-IV alcohol dependence and abuse diagnoses. Conclusions: The data generally support the utility of DSM-IV criteria for alcohol dependence among adolescents. However, tolerance, withdrawal and medical problems appear to present differently in adolescents than has been reported in adults. Those with DSM-IV alcohol abuse diagnoses had very heterogeneous patterns of symptomatology, suggesting limitations of the criteria for DSM-IV alcohol abuse in adolescence. Alcohol-related blackouts, craving and risky sexual behavior are common among adolescents with alcohol use disorders and are an important focus for assessment and treatment efforts. (J. Stud. Alcohol 56: 672-680, 1995)