Obsessive and Compulsive Characteristics of Craving for Alcohol in Alcohol Abuse and Dependence


  • This work was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (5-PSO AA07378).

Reprint requests: Jack G. Modell, M.D., Department of Psychiatry, University of Alabama, Smolian Psychiatric Clinic, Room 403, UAB Station, Birmingham, AL 35294-0018.


The purpose of this study was to quantify the extent to which subjective ratings of craving for alcohol in the alcohol-abusing or dependent person (herein, alcoholic) correlate with measurable and specific characteristics of obsessions and compulsions. The Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale modified to reflect obsessionality and compulsivity specifically related to heavy drinking (Y-BOCS-hd) was used for this purpose.

Highly significant correlations were found in the alcoholic population (n= 62) between subjectively rated craving for alcoholic beverages and several of the Y-BOCS-hd questions regarding alcohol-related thoughts and drinking behavior. Additionally, mean craving scores were considerably greater in the alcoholic population than the matched control population (n= 62). The data suggest that craving shares specific features in common with the obsessions of obsessive-compulsive disorder and that the existence of craving is dependent on the presence of obsessive thoughts about drinking. Positive correlations between craving and measures of compulsive drinking behavior also were found; compulsive drinking behavior, however, may reflect the consequences of craving rather than a fundamental characteristic of craving itself. The data show that despite difficulties in defining the term craving, it is clearly a phenomenon that is experienced or endorsed by most alcoholic subjects and is not by most persons who do not abuse alcohol.