The 202 male subjects who completed a 40-year follow-up were originally selected from a Danish birth cohort (N = 9,182). Two thirds of the subjects were high-risk biological sons of treated alcoholics. A large number of measures (361) were obtained at different periods before any subject had developed an alcohol-use disorder. At age 40, a psychiatrist provided mutually exclusive lifetime diagnoses of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence that were characterized as currently active or currently in remission according to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition, Revised, course specifiers.
The majority of subjects with a diagnosis of alcohol abuse were in remission at age 40 compared with those with a diagnosis of alcohol dependence (88% vs. 58%). Treatment did not predict remission. Fourteen of the 18 predictors of remission that also predicted dependence were submitted to an exploratory factor analysis (varimax). Two premorbid dimensions were identified: cognitive efficiency and early behavioral dyscontrol in childhood. Both factors predicted the failure to remit (low cognitive efficiency and high behavioral dyscontrol) even when lifetime alcoholism severity was controlled.
This 4-decade study found a striking disconnect between measures that predicted alcohol dependence and measures that predicted remission from alcohol dependence. Reduced cognitive efficiency and increased behavioral dyscontrol may be basic to gaining a fuller understanding of the etiology of alcoholism.
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