This study explored the factor structure of DSM III-R/IV symptoms for substance abuse and dependence across six illicit substance categories in a population-based sample of males.
DSM III-R/IV drug abuse and dependence symptoms for cannabis, sedatives, stimulants, cocaine, opioids and hallucinogens from 4179 males born 1940–1970 from the population-based Virginia Adult Twin Study of Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders were analyzed. Confirmatory factor analyses tested specific hypotheses regarding the latent structure of substance misuse for a comprehensive battery of 13 misuse symptoms measured across six illicit substance categories (78 items).
Among the models fit, the latent structure of substance misuse was best represented by a combination of substance-specific factors and misuse symptom-specific factors. We found no support for a general liability factor to illicit substance misuse.
Results indicate that liability to misuse illicit substances is drug class specific, with little evidence for a general liability factor. Additionally, unique dimensions capturing propensity toward specific misuse symptoms (e.g., tolerance, withdrawal) across substances were identified. While this finding requires independent replication, the possibility of symptom-specific misuse factors, present in multiple substances, raises the prospect of genetic, neurobiological and behavioral predispositions toward distinct, narrowly defined features of drug abuse and dependence.