Aggression disorder linked to greater risk of substance abuse

People with intermittent explosive disorder (IED) — a condition marked by frequent physical or verbal outbursts — are at five times greater risk for abusing substances such as alcohol, tobacco and marijuana than those who don’t display frequent aggressive behavior, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Chicago.

In the study, published Feb. 28, 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Emil Coccaro, MD, and colleagues analyzed data from more than 9,200 subjects in the National Comorbidity Survey, a national survey of mental health in the United States. They found that as the severity of aggressive behavior increased, so did levels of daily and weekly substance use. The findings suggest that a history of frequent, aggressive behavior is a risk factor for later substance abuse, and effective treatment of aggression could delay or even prevent substance abuse in young people.

IED affects as many as 16 million Americans, more than bipolar disorder and schizophrenia combined. It is often first diagnosed in adolescents, some of whom are as young as 11, years before substance abuse problems usually develop. IED runs in families and is thought to have a significant genetic component, although Coccaro said people tend to treat it as a social-behavioral issue instead of as a true neurobiological disorder.

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Will Savage

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