Three (or More) alcohol-dependence symptoms but not clustered in the same 12 months: Diagnostic orphans from a longitudinal perspective

Andrew K. Littlefield, Alvaro Vergés, Kenneth J. Sher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), currently uses a polythetic classifi cation system for defi ning alcohol use disorders (AUD; alcohol abuse and dependence). This classifi cation results in individuals who are subthreshold for an offi cial AUD diagnosis but still endorse one or two criteria of dependence: so-called "diagnostic orphans". To our knowledge, however, there has been no attention given to diagnostic orphans from a lifetime perspective. The goal of the current article was to compare various diagnostic groups based on lifetime reports of abuse and dependence symptoms on a range of outcomes. Method: Data taken from the National Epidemiological Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions study were used to form seven mutually exclusive diagnostic groups based on lifetime abuse and dependence symptomatology. Results: Diagnostic groups that experienced extensive dependence symptoms, regardless of past-12-month clustering (i.e., formal diagnostic criteria), tended to exhibit poorer outcomes compared with participants that met formal lifetime diagnosis for an AUD through abuse alone. It is notable that a signifi cant group of individuals who failed to meet formal lifetime AUD diagnosis, but who endorsed a number of dependence symptoms, consistently demonstrated more problematic outcomes on a range of measures compared with individuals who never reported dependence symptoms but who were formally diagnosed with lifetime AUD through alcohol abuse. Conclusions: DSM-IV lifetime diagnostic criteria may exclude individuals with a history of extensive dependence symptomatology. Implications regarding lifetime diagnosis conceptualization are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)864-869
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes


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