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Prospective developmental subtypes of alcohol dependence from age 18 to 32 years: Implications for nosology, etiology, and intervention

  • Madeline H. Meier (a1), Avshalom Caspi (a1) (a2), Renate Houts (a1), Wendy S. Slutske (a3), Honalee Harrington (a1), Kristina M. Jackson (a4), Daniel W. Belsky (a1), Richie Poulton (a5) and Terrie E. Moffitt (a1) (a2)...

The purpose of the present study is to identify child and adult correlates that differentiate (a) individuals with persistent alcohol dependence from individuals with developmentally limited alcohol dependence and (b) individuals with adult-onset alcohol dependence from individuals who never diagnose. There are 1,037 members of the Dunedin Longitudinal Study, which is a birth cohort followed prospectively from birth until age 32. Past-year DSM-IV alcohol dependence diagnoses are ascertained with structured diagnostic interviews at ages 18, 21, 26, and 32. Individuals are classified as developmentally limited, persistent, or adult-onset subtypes based on their time-ordered pattern of diagnoses. The persistent subtype generally exhibits the worst scores on all correlates, including family psychiatric history, adolescent and adult externalizing and internalizing problems, adolescent and adult substance use, adult quality of life, and coping strategies. The prospective predictors that distinguished them from the developmentally limited subtype involved family liability, adolescent negative affectivity, daily alcohol use, and frequent marijuana use. Furthermore, young people who develop the persistent subtype of alcohol dependence are distinguished from the developmentally limited subtype by an inability to reduce drinking and by continued use despite problems by age 18. The adult-onset group members are virtually indistinguishable from ordinary cohort members as children or adolescents; however, in adulthood, adult-onset cases are distinguished by problems with depression, substance use, stress, and strategies for coping with stress. Information about age of onset and developmental course is fundamental for identifying subtypes of alcohol dependence. Subtype-specific etiologies point to targeted prevention and intervention efforts based on the characteristics of each subtype.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Terrie E. Moffitt, Suite 201 Grey House, 2020 West Main Street, Duke University, Box 104410, Durham, NC 27708; E-mail:
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