In a recent study, Cindy L. Ehlers, Ph.D., and colleagues examined the clinical course of alcohol use disorder (AUD)—as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM–5)—in a sample of young adult (ages 18–30) individuals of Mexican American (MA) and Native American (NA) descent.

Face-to-face interviews using the Semi-Structured Assessment for the Genetics of Alcoholism (SSAGA) were conducted with 619 MA and 510 NA community-based participants recruited in southwest California. Of the total sample of 1,129 participants, 634 (56 percent) met criteria for a lifetime diagnosis of DSM–5 AUD. Mild AUD was found in 22 percent of participants, moderate AUD in 14 percent, and severe AUD in 20 percent. Further data analysis revealed that 70 percent of the NA men, 64 percent of the NA women, 56 percent of the MA men, and 42 percent of the MA women met the lifetime diagnostic criteria for AUD.

The researchers examined the clinical course of AUD, as defined by order and progression of 36 alcohol-related life events, within their MA and NA young adult sample. A comparison of these alcohol-related life experiences and their order of occurrence over time was made between male and female and between MA and NA participants. NAs reported more alcohol-related life events and at an earlier age than MAs. Otherwise, a high degree of similarity in clinical course was found between men and women and between MA and NA individuals. The researchers also analyzed their data across severity of DSM–5 AUD disorder (mild, moderate, or severe). The high degree of similarity in the clinical course for moderate and severe AUD and across genders was not found for mild AUD. This information suggests that mild AUD may not be part of the same clinical continuum as moderate and severe AUD for NA and MA populations.

It should be noted that this study was limited by the specificity of the participant sample, which means the results may not be generalizable to the population as a whole. However, the findings are significant because they are informative for understanding health disparities in the groups studied and because they provide some early insights into the new DSM–5 mild, moderate, and severe AUD categories.


Ehlers, C.L.; Stouffer, G.M.; Corey, L.; and Gilder, D.A. The clinical course of DSM-5 alcohol use disorders in young adult native and Mexican Americans. American Journal of Addiction 24(8):713–721, 2015. PMID: 26346282


Reprinted from the NIAAA Spectrum, Volume 8, Issue 1, February 2016.