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Eur Psychiatry. 2000 Dec;15(8):483-8.

Psychopathology of alcoholics during withdrawal and early abstinence.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University Medical School of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany.


Epidemiologic surveys show a high lifetime co-morbidity with psychiatric disorders (e.g., depression and anxiety) in alcoholics. However, alcoholics frequently complained about psychopathologic symptoms, particularly during alcohol withdrawal. There is some evidence that symptomatology decreases spontaneously with prolonged abstinence. Thus, the question arises whether high levels of psychopathology could be accounted for by withdrawal effects. This study was aimed at examining the impact of the alcohol withdrawal severity (assessed by the AWS scale) on psychopathologic symptoms. The psychopathologic profile of 110 alcoholics as measured by the Symptom Checklist-90 revised (SCL-90-R) was compared to that of 253 patients with adjustment, anxiety or depressive disorders (according to ICD-10 criteria). No relationship between the severity of alcohol withdrawal and psychopathology could be found which might hint at two different neurobiological processes underlying these phenomena. The comparison with patients suffering from depression or anxiety disorders revealed that the global symptom severity of alcoholics undergoing withdrawal was similar, but recovery was achieved more rapidly than in the other groups. On the other hand, the self-rated psychopathologic symptom profile of alcoholics was rather similar to that of patients with adjustment disorders. While about one-quarter of the alcoholics reported severe psychopathology on admission, only about 10% showed symptomatology at discharge about three weeks later, predominantly depression or anxiety. These results underline the notion that much of the psychopathology described by alcoholics decreases within 2-3 weeks after withdrawal without specific treatment.

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