Characterization of South African adolescents with alcohol use disorders but without psychiatric or polysubstance comorbidity

Helen L. Ferrett, Natalie L. Cuzen, Kevin G.F. Thomas, Paul D. Carey, Dan J. Stein, Peter R. Finn, Susan F. Tapert, George Fein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Individuals who begin drinking during early adolescence and exhibit externalizing pathology and disinhibitory/dysregulatory tendencies are more vulnerable to developing alcohol use disorders (AUDs) in adulthood. Previous research has focused on in-treatment populations with substantial comorbid psychopathology and polysubstance use. Here, we characterize a unique sample of treatment-naïve adolescents without such comorbidity to help identify vulnerable youth who may benefit from early intervention. Methods: We compared externalizing propensity, disinhibitory characteristics, and school performance in adolescents with AUDs (but without comorbid psychopathology or other substance use; n=70) to those of demographically matched controls (n=70). Within the AUD group, we compared measures of substance use and the disinhibitory syndrome between boys and girls with differing severity of externalizing propensity. Results: Adolescents with AUDs demonstrated more externalizing propensity and disinhibitory personality traits (impulsivity, novelty seeking, and excitement seeking), poorer self-monitoring and response inhibition, more bullying and sexual risk-taking behavior, poorer first-language performance, and greater use of alcohol, cannabis, and nicotine (p<0.05). Within the AUD group, participants with higher externalizing propensity began drinking earlier, more frequently, and for a longer duration than those with lower externalizing symptoms (p<0.05). Disinhibitory features (personality, cognition, and behavior) were, however, not stronger in those with higher externalizing propensity. Conclusions: We suggest that the constructs of externalizing propensity and disinhibitory syndrome are useful in characterizing treatment-naïve adolescents with AUDs but without comorbid psychopathology or polysubstance use. These results support the importance of these constructs in understanding adolescent AUDs, even when the frank externalizing diagnoses of childhood (oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder) are excluded.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1705-1715
Number of pages11
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • (Alcohol) risk factors
  • Adolescence
  • Alcohol use disorders
  • Disinhibition
  • Externalizing diathesis
  • South Africa


Dive into the research topics of 'Characterization of South African adolescents with alcohol use disorders but without psychiatric or polysubstance comorbidity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this