Purpose of review
This review examines the relationship between alcohol misuse and comorbid psychiatric disorders, and the treatment of these comorbid disorders. In the past, the literature was dominated by papers describing prevalence, clinical services and comorbidity with schizophrenia. It is now advancing into areas such as the relationship between alcohol misuse and the anxiety disorders, affective disorders and eating disorders, and considering the diagnostic paradigm. Knowledge is also emerging about the influences of genetics and adverse effects over different stages of the life cycle in the development of these disorders.
Recent studies have examined the relationships between alcohol dependence and psychiatric illness, particularly anxiety and depression, but also subthreshold conditions. Childhood trauma, having parents with substance dependence and genetic factors influence the development of alcohol and comorbid psychiatric disorders. There is a genetic contribution to suicidal behaviour in alcohol-dependent patients. Early diagnosis is important. Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test scores on admission to psychiatric hospital were found to correlate with suicidal ideation and behaviour. In patients with alcohol use disorders, treatment for depression works better after a period of abstinence. Abstinence alone can help for anxiety disorders. High-intensity services had better outcomes for this comorbid population than less intensive services.
Depression in patients with alcohol use disorders cannot be ignored. Treatment of depression alone will not help the alcohol use problems. All psychiatric inpatients should be screened for alcohol use disorders as part of their risk assessment. Research is focusing more on examining the complexities of these disorders, but there are no specific pharmacotherapies to treat particular comorbid conditions.