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Drinking Correlates of DSM-IV Alcohol Use Disorder Diagnostic Orphans in College Students


Dr. Hagman, Department of Mental Health Law & Policy, University of South Florida, 1330 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., MHC 1701, Tampa, FL 33612. E-mail:


One major limitation of the DSM-IV criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence is that a cluster of individuals who endorse a subthreshold number of dependence criteria and no abuse criteria do not receive a formal diagnosis; despite elevated risk for alcohol-related problems relative to those with an abuse diagnosis. These individuals have been referred to as diagnostic orphans. The primary aim of this study was to examine alcohol use correlates of a group of diagnostic orphans in a sample of 396 nontreatment seeking college students who reported drinking on at least one occasion in the last 90 days. DSM-IV criteria were assessed using a modified version of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview-Substance Abuse Module (CIDI-SAM). Diagnostic orphans represented 34.1% (n = 135) of the original sample who did not receive a formal diagnosis; with the most frequently endorsed dependence criteria being tolerance and drinking larger/longer amounts than intended. Diagnostic orphans reported a range of alcohol-related negative consequences and reported greater frequencies of social and enhancement drinking motives in comparison to coping motives. They were similar to alcohol abusers and dissimilar to those with dependence or those without a diagnosis on alcohol consumption, alcohol problem severity, drinking motives and restraint variables. The present findings indicate that diagnostic orphans in college students represent a distinct group of drinkers who may be at risk for the development of alcohol use disorders and may be in need of intervention, given their similarity to those with an abuse diagnosis. Prevention and intervention efforts across college campuses should target this group to prevent escalation of alcohol problem severity. (Am J Addict 2012;21:233–242)