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Psychol Med. 2013 Jun;43(6):1241-53. doi: 10.1017/S0033291712002152. Epub 2012 Oct 1.

The role of negative emotionality and impulsivity in depressive/anxiety disorders and alcohol dependence.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.



Much is still unclear about the role of personality in the structure of common psychiatric disorders such as depressive/anxiety disorders and alcohol dependence. This study will therefore examine whether various traits of negative emotionality and impulsivity showed shared or specific associations with these disorders. Method Cross-sectional data were used from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA), including individuals with no DSM-IV psychiatric disorder (n = 460), depressive/anxiety disorder only (i.e. depressive and/or anxiety disorder; n = 1398), alcohol dependence only (n = 32) and co-morbid depressive/anxiety disorder plus alcohol dependence (n = 358). Aspects of negative emotionality were neuroticism, hopelessness, rumination, worry and anxiety sensitivity, whereas aspects of impulsivity included disinhibition, thrill/adventure seeking, experience seeking and boredom susceptibility.


Aspects of negative emotionality formed a homogeneous dimension, which was unrelated to the more heterogeneous construct of impulsivity. Although all aspects of negative emotionality were associated with alcohol dependence only, associations were much stronger for depressive/anxiety disorder only and co-morbid depressive/anxiety disorder with alcohol dependence. The results for impulsivity traits were less profound and more variable, with disinhibition and boredom susceptibility showing modest associations with both depressive/anxiety disorder and alcohol dependence, whereas low thrill/adventure seeking and high disinhibition were more strongly related with the first and the latter, respectively.


Our results suggest that depressive/anxiety disorder and alcohol dependence result from shared as well as specific aetiological pathways as they showed the same associations with all aspects of negative emotionality, disinhibition and boredom susceptibility as well as specific associations with thrill/adventure seeking and disinhibition.

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