Delineating the psychic structure of substance abuse and addictions: Should anxiety, mood and impulse-control dysregulation be included?

Pier Paolo Pani, Icro Maremmani, Emanuela Trogu, Gian Luigi Gessa, Pedro Ruiz, Hagop Souren Akiskal

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Current "official" nosology (e.g. DSM IV) is largely limited to physical manifestations of addiction that can be objectively observed and are suited to the maintaining of an "atheoretical" perspective. However, addicted subjects display additional psychiatric symptoms that affect their well-being and social functioning and, in accordance with DSM IV, are typically relegated to the domain of psychiatric "comorbidity." We contend that the relationship of these psychiatric symptoms with addiction is very close, as demonstrated by the high frequency of association observed. We further assert that substance use may modify pre-existing psychic structures such as temperament and related subthreshold conditions and lead to addiction as a specific mental disorder, inclusive also of symptoms pertaining to mood/anxiety, or impulse-control dimensions. The present contribution addresses the weaknesses of the current DSM-based nosology of addiction-related mental comorbidity. We highlight the overlap of the biological substrates and the neurophysiology of addictive processes and psychiatric symptoms associated with addiction, and propose the inclusion of specific mood, anxiety, and impulse-control dimensions in the psychopathology of addictive processes. We postulate that addiction reaches beyond the mere result of drug-elicited effects on the brain and cannot be peremptorily equated only with the use of drugs despite the adverse consequences produced. We infer that mood, anxiety and impulse-control dysregulation is at the very core of both the origins and clinical manifestations of addiction and should be incorporated into the nosology of the same, emphasising how addiction is a relapsing chronic condition in which psychiatric manifestations play a crucial role. To conclude, addictionology cannot be severed from its psychopathological connotations, in view of the undeniable presence of symptoms, of their manifest contribution to the way addicted patients feel and behave, and to the role they play in maintaining the continued use of substances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-197
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of affective disorders
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2010


  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Comorbidity
  • DSM
  • Impulsivity
  • Mood
  • Nosology
  • Psychopathology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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