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J Abnorm Psychol. 2011 Aug;120(3):656-69. doi: 10.1037/a0023539.

Distinguishing general and specific personality disorder features and implications for substance dependence comorbidity.

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Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.


Clinical and population-based samples show high comorbidity between Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) and Axis II Personality Disorders (PDs). However, Axis II disorders are frequently comorbid with each other, and existing research has generally failed to distinguish the extent to which SUD/PD comorbidity is general or specific with respect to both specific types of PDs and specific types of SUDs. We sought to determine whether ostensibly specific comorbid substance dependence-Axis II diagnoses (e.g., alcohol use dependence and borderline personality disorder) are reflective of more pervasive or general personality pathology or whether the comorbidity is specific to individual PDs. Face-to-face interview data from Wave 1 and Wave 2 of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions were analyzed. Participants included 34,653 adults living in households in the United States. We used hierarchical factor models to statistically partition general and specific personality disorder dimensions while simultaneously testing for specific PD-substance dependence relations. Results indicated that substance dependence-Axis II comorbidity is characterized by general (pervasive) pathology and by Cluster B PD pathology over and above the relationship to the general PD factor. Further, these relations between PD factors and substance dependence diagnoses appeared to largely account for the comorbidity among substance dependence diagnoses in the younger but not older participants. Our findings suggest that a failure to consider the general PD factor, which we interpret as reflecting interpersonal dysfunction, can lead to potential mischaracterizations of the nature of certain PD and SUD comorbidities.

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