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Study of Impulse-Control Disorders Among Alcohol-Dependent Patients

J Clin Psychiatry 1999;60(5):302-305
10.4088/JCP.v60n0506

Background: Impulse-control disorders (ICDs) include intermittent explosive disorder, kleptomania, trichotillomania, pyromania, and pathological gambling. Several studies have suggested that the incidence of pathological gambling is substantially higher in alcoholics than in the general population. The rate of co-occurrence of other ICDs and alcohol dependence has never been systematically investigated. In our study, we assessed the frequency of all ICDs in a population of alcohol-dependent patients. We also examined the possibility that the presence of an ICD can correspond to earlier onset and more severe forms of alcoholism, which have a greater association with antisocial personality.

Method: All patients hospitalized at our psychiatric unit for detoxification between January and August 1997 met DSM-IV criteria for alcohol dependence and were included in this study. Diagnosis of alcohol dependence was confirmed with the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview. ICDs were investigated using the Minnesota Impulsive Disorders Interview. All patients completed the Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test.

Results: Among the 79 patients included in the study, 30 (38.0%) met criteria for an ICD. Included in the study were 19 cases of intermittent explosive disorder, 7 cases of pathological gambling, 3 cases of kleptomania, and 1 case of trichotillomania. Patients with co-occurring ICDs were significantly younger than patients without an ICD (mean age = 40.7 vs. 44.5 years; p = .03). Patients with co-occurring pathological gambling were significantly younger at the onset of alcohol dependence than patients without ICDs (mean age = 19.5 vs. 25.9 years; p = .0008). Pathological gamblers had significantly longer duration of alcohol dependence compared with patients without ICDs (26.0 vs. 17.9 years; p = .02). Patients with co-occurring intermittent explosive disorder had the shortest duration of alcohol dependence of all patients (9.9 years). Prevalence of antisocial personality disorder was no different in patients with or without co-occurring ICDs.

Conclusion: Thirty-eight percent of the alcohol-dependent patients studied presented with an ICD. Patients with ICDs were younger than those without an ICD. The presence of an ICD was not associated with a specific form of alcohol dependence or with antisocial personality. Co-occurrence of pathological gambling, however, was associated with lower age at onset of alcohol dependence, a higher number of detoxifications, and a longer duration of alcohol dependence than was absence of an ICD.