Problem Drinking in MS Associated with Anxiety and Family History

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) presents many life-altering challenges, but most patients naturally focus most often on the physical challenges associated with the condition: problems with movement, sensation and vision that occur as part of disease progression. Unfortunately, depression and suicidal thoughts are common as well. New research suggests that there could be a relationship between mood disorders, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and problem drinking in MS.

Previous research has suggested that alcohol consumption issues with MS patients is linked to mood problems. However, studies examining all of these problems and their associations with one another in MS have been lacking in the research community.

Researchers Susan Quesnel and Anthony Feinstein of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto and Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Science Centre in Ontario, Canada sought to find out more about problem drinking, depression and suicide in people with MS.

To accomplish this, they studied drinking patterns in 140 multiple sclerosis patients. The researchers sought to determine whether study participants had a lifetime history of psychiatric diagnoses using a standard assessment called the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV disorders (SCID-IV). The DSM-IV refers to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by clinicians and psychiatrists to diagnose psychiatric illness.

The research revealed that a shocking one in every six MS patients drinks to excess over the course of their lifetime. Those people with a history of problem drinking also had a higher lifetime prevalence of anxiety, but not mood disorders such as depression. In addition, people with a drinking problem also were more likely to have had suicidal thoughts over the course of their lifespan, as well as other substance abuse problems and a family history of mental illness. The researchers found that all of these associations were statistically significant.

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In their report, the investigators stated “Clinicians should be aware of the possibility of problem drinking in MS patients, and how this may complicate the course of their disease. Clues to problem drinking in MS patients are the presence of a positive family history of mental illness and prominent anxiety.”

The study underscores the importance of considering that many different co-existing problems can occur in people with MS. Clinicians, people with MS and caregivers may not always focus on mental health issues, since the primary focus in MS is often on dealing with physical conditions and non-mental health medical problems. Researchers agree that comprehensive care of MS should ideally include monitoring for other commonly associated problems, such as depression, suicidal thoughts, drinking problems and anxiety. Understanding risk factors for the occurrence of these problems in MS can help patients and their families alike.

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