Psychiatric Comorbidity and Perceived Alcohol Stigma in a Nationally Representative Sample of Individuals with DSM-5 Alcohol Use Disorder

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Abstract

Background:

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is among the most stigmatized health conditions and is frequently comorbid with mood, anxiety, and drug use disorders. Theoretical frameworks have conceptualized stigma-related stress as a predictor of psychiatric disorders. We described profiles of psychiatric comorbidity among people with AUD and compared levels of perceived alcohol stigma across profiles.

Methods:

Cross-sectional data were analyzed from a general population sample of U.S. adults with past-year DSM-5 AUD (n = 3,368) from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which was collected from 2001 to 2005. Empirically derived psychiatric comorbidity profiles were established with latent class analysis, and mean levels of perceived alcohol stigma were compared across the latent classes while adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics and AUD severity.

Results:

Four classes of psychiatric comorbidity emerged within this AUD sample, including those with: (i) high comorbidity, reflecting internalizing (i.e., mood and anxiety disorders) and externalizing (i.e., antisocial personality and drug use disorders) disorders; (ii) externalizing comorbidity; (iii) internalizing comorbidity; and (iv) no comorbidity. Perceived alcohol stigma was significantly higher in those with internalizing comorbidity (but not those with high comorbidity) as compared to those with no comorbidity or externalizing comorbidity.

Conclusions:

Perceived stigma, as manifested by anticipations of social rejection and discrimination, may increase risk of internalizing psychiatric comorbidity. Alternatively, internalizing psychiatric comorbidity could sensitize affected individuals to perceive more negative attitudes toward them. Future research is needed to understand causal and bidirectional associations between alcohol stigma and psychiatric comorbidity.

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