STUDY PROTOCOL Open Access
Comorbid mental disorders in substance users
from a single catchment area - a clinical study
Anne-Marit Langås1,4*†, Ulrik F Malt2,3,4†, Stein Opjordsmoen2,3†
Background: The optimal treatment of patients with substance use disorders (SUDs) requires an awareness of their
comorbid mental disorders and vice versa. The prevalence of comorbidity in first-time-admitted SUD patients has
been insufficiently studied. Diagnosing comorbidity in substance users is complicated by symptom overlap,
symptom fluctuations, and the limitations of the assessment methods. The aim of this study was to diagnose all
mental disorders in substance users living in a single catchment area, without any history of treatment for
addiction or psychiatric disorders, admitted consecutively to the specialist health services. The prevalence of
substance-induced versus substance-independent disorders according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), in SUD patients will be described.
Methods: First-time consecutively admitted patients from a single catchment area, aged 16 years or older,
admitted to addiction clinics or departments of psychiatry as outpatients or inpatients will be screened for
substance-related problems using the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test and the Drug Use Disorder
Identification Test. All patients with scores above the cutoff value will be asked to participate in the study. The
patients included will be diagnosed for SUD and other axis I disorders by a psychiatrist using the Psychiatric
Research Interview for Substance and Mental Disorders. This interview was designed for the diagnosis of primary
and substance-induced disorders in substance users. Personality disorders will be assessed according to the
Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV axis II disorders. The Symptom Checklist-90-Revised, the Inventory of
Depressive Symptoms, the Montgomery Asberg Depression Rating Scale, the Young Mania Rating Scale, and the
Angst Hypomania Check List will be used for additional diagnostic assessments. The sociodemographic data will
be recorded with the Stanley Foundation’s Network Entry Questionnaire. Biochemical assessments will reveal
somatic diseases that may contribute to the patient’s symptoms.
Discussion: This study is unique because the material represents a complete sample of first-time-admitted
treatment seekers with SUD from a single catchment area. Earlier studies have not focused on first-time-admitted
patients, so chronically ill patients, may have been overrepresented in those samples. This study will contribute
new knowledge about mental disorders in first-time-admitted SUD patients.
Burden of comorbid disorders
The high frequency of comorbid mental disorders in
individuals with a high intake of psychoactive substances
has been well documented in clinical and epidemiologi-
cal studies. Such dual disorders are a matter of great
concern because of their serious consequences for the
patients, their families, health services, and society.
Compared with patients diagnosed with a single mental
disorder or substance use disorder (SUD), patients with
comorbid disorders run a higher risk of delayed diagno-
sis , more severe psychopathological symptoms ,
less compliance with treatment , poorer effects of
treatment , more impairment of social functioning
, increased admissions to emergency departments ,
higher prevalence of physical comorbidity , and suici-
dal ideation . They are also more often unemployed
, homeless , and involved in violent episodes 
or criminal behavior . The poor outcomes of these
patients call for more research within this field.
* Correspondence: email@example.com
† Contributed equally
1Vestre Viken Hospital Trust, Kongsberg, Norway
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
Langås et al. BMC Psychiatry 2011, 11:25
© 2011 Langås et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in
any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Necessity of diagnosing comorbid disorders
Traditionally, SUDs and psychiatric disorders have been
treated as separate conditions. However, in the last few
decades, the close connection between the two has been
increasingly acknowledged . Attention has focused
on the fact that many psychiatric patients have undiag-
nosed comorbid SUDs, which go untreated, and there-
fore jeopardize the treatment of their mental disorder.
The majority of SUD patients also have mental disor-
ders, and often do not receive the appropriate treatment.
Many patients receive treatment from both mental
and addiction services, but these are uncoordinated and
are given at different times. Patients are sometimes
rejected in one kind of clinic and sent to another, based
on the disorder that is considered to be their major pro-
blem. Comorbid disorders may be treated sequentially,
simultaneously, or in an integrated way, depending on
the type and severity of the two disorders. Integrated
treatments are now commonly recommended for more
severe disorders [14-16]. Some treatment modalities
may be the treatment of choice for both the mental and
substance-related disorders; e.g., cognitive behavioral
therapy or medication.
The reliable assessment of comorbid disorders is
usually achieved in non-SUD psychiatric patients with
one or more comorbid psychiatric disorders, in patients
with a mental disorder and a previous but not ongoing
SUD, and in patients with only an SUD diagnosis. It is
much more complicated to assess the mental disorders
of patients with ongoing SUD . A successful diagno-
sis is essential for well-adapted and high-quality treat-
ment. Therefore, it is extremely important that all the
disorders of a patient are diagnosed.
Earlier studies have shown variations in the prevalence
of comorbid substance use and mental disorders. This is
attributable to a lack of consensus regarding the defini-
tion of the term “comorbidity”, problems in distinguish-
ing induced and independent disorders, problems in
separating psychiatric disorders from the symptoms of
intoxication or withdrawal, the choice of diagnostic
instruments, the skills of the interviewers, and differ-
ences in the study samples. In most studies, patients are
recruited from general populations or selected from
clinical treatment units. As far as we know, no previous
study has included all possible subjects from a single
catchment area within a specific time period.
Classification of disorders related to the use of
When patients are heavy users of psychoactive sub-
stances, it is challenging to assess their psychiatric
symptoms, which may be independent of their substance
use, caused by intoxication or withdrawal, or an
expected effect of the substance used. The Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edi-
tion (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association
distinguishes “Substance use disorders” (SUDs), i.e.,
dependence on or abuse of a psychoactive substance,
and “Substance-induced disorders” (SIDs), which are
mental disorders caused by substance use, i.e., occurring
during a period of heavy use or during the first four
weeks of withdrawal. To diagnose an SID, the substance
must be known to cause the type of symptoms observed,
and the symptoms must be in excess of the expected
effect of the substance. Such symptoms should not be
diagnosed as symptoms of a primary psychiatric disor-
der, even if the symptoms of the two conditions are
identical. The symptoms of an SID must be sufficiently
severe to warrant independent clinical attention. An SID
does not always need to fulfill all the diagnostic criteria
of the related primary psychiatric disorder. The diag-
noses of dependence, abuse, intoxication, and withdra-
wal for each substance are described in the chapter
entitled “Substance-Related Disorders” in DSM-IV.
Other substance-induced disorders, such as delirium,
psychotic disorder, mood disorder, and anxiety disorder,
are described in the chapters concerning the respective
mental disorders. DSM-IV does not include substance-
induced personality disorders.
Relationship between mental disorders and substance
There are several types of relationships between mental
disorders and SUDs. The causes of comorbidity may
include coincidence, common genetic vulnerability,
common neural substrate, underlying shared origins,
self-medication, environment, and lifestyle.
The terms “primary” and “secondary” are frequently
applied to disorders in the literature. “Primary” refers to
the first condition to develop. This is a chronologically
based term only, and does not necessarily represent
causality. More meaningfully, it should be recognized
that some disorders are independent and some are
induced by other disorders [18,19]. Most patients with
SUD report that their symptoms of a mental disorder
preceded their SUD. In some cases, this may mean that
their mental symptoms caused their SUD (e.g., the self-
medication hypothesis) . In other cases, it may indi-
cate that the age of onset of some mental disorders is
lower than the age of onset of an SUD . Some
symptoms of mental disorders are temporary, caused by
substance intoxication or withdrawal [22,23]. For
instance, the high incidence of depression in SUD
patients may represent such a phenomenon, and this is
sometimes called the “substance-related artifact hypoth-
esis” . However, depressive symptoms in addicted
patients may reflect neuroadaptations in the dopamine
system caused by chronic drug administration [25,26].
Langås et al. BMC Psychiatry 2011, 11:25
Page 2 of 12
Drug-induced changes in neurotransmitter systems alter
the function of the reward circuitry  and motiva-
tional and behavioral systems in the brain [28,29]. This
causes symptoms such as dysthymia, anhedonia, irrit-
ability, and motivational and emotional changes during
As mentioned above, some mental disorders are coin-
cidentally concurrent with substance abuse. Both disor-
ders may then run their different courses, or they might
exacerbate the prognosis of the other. The high fre-
quency of comorbidity reflects the overlapping environ-
mental, genetic, and neurobiological factors that
negatively influence both types of disorders. Early life
stress or chronic stress results in long-term changes in
stress responses, which may alter the sensitivity of the
dopamine system. Low dopamine activity makes the
individual susceptible to the self-administration of
drugs. The chronic stress model suggests why the sub-
stance abuse of some susceptible patients increases their
risk of mental disorders and vice versa .
Substance abuse or dependence develops in the course
of repeated substance use. The amount of substance
necessary varies with age, genetics, and other risk fac-
tors. In adolescents, the brain regions involved in the
process of executive control and motivation are still
incompletely developed. Therefore, repeated drug use in
adolescents leads to long-lasting brain changes, which
undermine voluntary control, hinder brain maturation,
and make the brain susceptible to the development of
further SUDs. Early drug use is associated with, and pre-
dicts, later mental disorders [31,32].
To distinguish between independent and substance-
induced disorders, the following questions should be
answered. 1) Are the symptoms in excess of those
expected given the type and amount of substance used
and the duration of use? 2) Have the symptoms
occurred in periods of abstinence? 3) Did the onset of
the symptoms precede the onset of the substance use by
a sufficient time period? 4) Have the symptoms per-
sisted for at least a month after the cessation of sub-
stance use? 5) Does any close relative of the patient
have the same or a related disorder? 6) Can the symp-
toms be explained by a medical condition or the treat-
ment of such a condition? 7) Can the symptoms be
explained by exposure to other noxious agents?
Diagnostic challenges in epidemiological studies
In epidemiological studies of comorbid mental disorders
and SUDs, there is a risk of exaggerating both the num-
ber of SUD diagnoses and the number of primary men-
tal diagnoses. In such studies, patients with symptoms
that do not meet all the criteria for the diagnostic cate-
gories may be included. Moreover, symptoms related to
drug abuse (e.g., nervousness, tension, agitation,
depressed mood, loss of motivation) may at the same
time be symptoms included in the diagnostic criteria for
mental disorders (e.g., generalized anxiety disorder,
depressive disorder). In epidemiological studies, persons
with SUDs are in different stages of their disorder:
intoxicated, abstinent, or experiencing withdrawal symp-
toms. Moreover, the most severely ill patients are prob-
ably unable to participate in the surveys.
Research instruments are also often insufficiently sen-
sitive to discriminate between independent and sub-
stance-induced symptoms in patients with ongoing
substance abuse, intoxication, or withdrawal symptoms.
The traditional use of trained but nonprofessional inter-
viewers may be a problem when clinical judgments are
required. Caution is needed in interpreting the results of
many studies, because the diagnoses were made by non-
cliniciansand the symptoms
Studies within this field have methodological problems
related to the differentiation of alcohol/drug abuse and
other mental disorders. In some studies, diagnoses are
based only on screening instruments; in others, the diag-
nostic interviews used have not been validated for both
SUDs and mental disorders. Diagnoses drawn from dif-
ferent diagnostic interviews give different results, to
varying extents [33-35], and even the same diagnostic
interview, used in different groups, can poorly differenti-
ate psychiatric symptoms from symptoms of intoxication
or withdrawal . Structured instruments have been
shown to increase the diagnostic validity of SUD diag-
noses compared with clinical judgments, but psychiatric
comorbid diagnoses show poor validity, regardless of the
method used [37,38].
Prevalence of comorbidity in epidemiological studies
Epidemiological studies from different countries have
shown a high prevalence of comorbid alcohol or other
drug disorders and mental disorders. In the Epidemiolo-
gic Catchment Area Program in the USA undertaken in
the early 1980s, the estimated prevalence of mental dis-
orders was 22.5%, and the lifetime incidence was 32%.
Among subjects with an alcohol disorder, 37% had a
comorbid mental disorder, and among drug-abusing
subjects, 53% had a mental disorder. In the general
population, 16% of individuals had an SUD, whereas
29% of people with a mental disorder had a comorbid
The US National Comorbidity Study (NCS) underta-
ken in the late 1980s found that almost 50% of the par-
ticipants met the criteria for at least one lifetime mental
disorder, and almost 30% had suffered at least one men-
tal illness in the preceding year. The most common dis-
orders were severe depression, compulsive drinking, and
social and simple phobias. Among male alcoholics, 78%
Langås et al. BMC Psychiatry 2011, 11:25
Page 3 of 12
had a comorbid mental disorder or SUD, as did 86% of
female alcoholics [40,41]. The overall results from the
NCS are very similar to those obtained with a Norwe-
gian epidemiological study in Oslo , except for a
lower prevalence of illegal drug abuse in Norway. A
similar study performed in a rural area in western Nor-
way showed a lower prevalence of all disorders, but the
same basic pattern was observed .
The European Study of the Epidemiology of Mental
Disorders was a population study performed in six Eur-
opean countries between 2001 and 2003 . Among all
the subjects, 14% reported a lifetime history of a mood
disorder, 13.6% an anxiety disorder, and 5.2% an alcohol
disorder. Mental disorders were more frequent in
younger people and in female, unemployed, unmarried,
or disabled people.
In a Canadian study, the 12-month prevalence of
major depressive disorder (MDD) was almost three
times higher in people with substance dependence than
in the general population. The risk of MDD and suicidal
thoughts increased with more severe substance use .
Significant comorbidity between mental disorders and
SUDs has been observed in several countries, including
the Netherlands [46,47], England , Finland , Tai-
wan , and Russia .
Diagnostic challenges in clinical samples
In many studies of samples of SUD inpatients, the dura-
tion of abstinence before the mental disorder is diag-
nosed has not been described, or the studies vary in the
duration of abstinence examined. Some authors have
found that most substance-induced depression and anxi-
ety symptoms decline rapidly with abstinence [52,53]. In
most situations, DSM-IV recommends four weeks absti-
nence before the diagnosis of a mental disorder, to
avoid confounding symptoms of intoxication or withdra-
wal. However, many dependent patients experience a
protracted abstinence syndrome, which can last for sev-
eral months or more. The duration of abstinence
required for the symptoms of intoxication or withdrawal
to decline varies with the type of substance, the duration
of substance use, and the type of symptoms in question
[22,54]. In clinical situations with short hospitalizations
or nonhospitalized patients, it is often impossible to
achieve four weeks of abstinence.
Few studies have been undertaken in outpatient set-
tings with SUD patients, probably because the patients
often drop out and are seldom consistently abstinent
during the assessment period. It would be very interest-
ing to investigate the possibility of diagnosing nonabsti-
nent individuals in an outpatient clinical setting, because
this is the everyday challenge of many clinicians.
Different diagnostic interviews have advantages and
limitations when used to assess comorbid SUDs and
mental disorders [18,55]. The Psychiatric Research
Interview for Substance and Mental Disorders (PRISM)
was designed to correct the lack of diagnostic interviews
suitable for such assessments .
Prevalence of SUDs in patients with mental disorders
Many studies have demonstrated a high prevalence of
SUDs in patients with mental disorders, e.g., in general
patient samples [57,58], and in patients with psychoses
or schizophrenia [59,60], bipolar disorder , depres-
sion or anxiety , personality disorders , and eat-
ing disorders .
Several studies from acute psychiatric wards in Nor-
way found that about 45% of patients had substance-
related problems. Among patients with first-episode
nonaffective psychosis in Norway and Denmark, 23%
had abused drugs and 15% had abused alcohol during
the preceding six months . In another study of psy-
chotic inpatients, 54% had abused substances within the
30 days preceding their admission . It is estimated
that between 40% and 50% of patients with psychotic
disorders in Western countries also have substance-
related disorder. Up to 69% of patients with bipolar dis-
orders have a lifetime history of substance abuse or
In a nationwide Norwegian study, the substance disor-
der diagnoses of psychiatric inpatients (November 2003)
and psychiatric outpatients (September 2004) were
registered . Of the patients in psychiatric wards, 10%
were diagnosed with dual disorders. The real number is
probably higher, because therapists often do not per-
form exact substance-use assessments.
Prevalence of mental disorders in SUD patients
A high level of comorbidity between substance abuse
and psychiatric disorders in clinical samples has been
reported in several countries, including the USA
[68-70], Germany , Iceland , the United King-
dom , and New Zealand . The most common
psychiatric disorders in SUD patients are anxiety disor-
ders, mood disorders, and personality disorders. Many
also have more than one SUD. Much research has been
undertaken in this field.
The estimated prevalence of panic disorder and agora-
phobia in patients with alcohol use disorders ranges
from 5% to 42% . The prevalence of panic disorder
varies with the substance used, and only 1.7% of
cocaine-dependent patients experienced panic disorder
in a large study . Some symptoms of generalized
anxiety disorder (GAD) largely overlap those of acute
intoxication with stimulants or withdrawal from alcohol,
sedative/hypnotics, or opiates. Therefore, it is not sur-
prising that the prevalence of GAD in different studies
varies between 8% and 53% in alcohol-dependent
Langås et al. BMC Psychiatry 2011, 11:25
Page 4 of 12
individuals. The same variance has been observed in
comorbid alcoholism and social phobia . In cocaine-
dependent individuals, social phobia has a lifetime pre-
valence of 14% . Substance users have a high preva-
lence of posttraumatic stress disorder of 36%-50% .
MDD has been found in 16.5% of patients with alcohol
use disorder and in 18% of patients with drug use disor-
der. Depressive disorder in treatment-seeking alcoholic
individuals ranges from 15% to 67% . The preva-
lence of affective disorders ranges from 33% to 53% in
cocaine-dependent individuals and from 16% to 75% in
opiate-dependent individuals. In studies of treated
addicts, 45% to 80% of the patients had personality dis-
orders . In a study of 370 SUD patients in the USA,
57% had one or more personality disorders, most often
in cluster B (45.7%) .
In a clinical sample of SUD patients in Norway, 90%
had at least one lifetime substance-independent mental
disorder, most often an axis I disorder . Further-
more, 79% of polysubstance abusers and 66% of alcohol
abusers had one or more axis II disorders.
In a nationwide study in Norway , only 25% of
patients undergoing treatment for SUD were assessed
for a psychiatric disorder, and 65% of the patients pre-
senting with psychiatric problems were not diagnosed.
Of the diagnosed patients, 47% had a nonsubstance-
related psychiatric disorder, most often an anxiety disor-
der (34%), mood disorder (25%), or personality disorder
The wide range of results within diagnostic groups
probably does not reflect real differences in prevalence
but demonstrates the complexity of reliable assessment.
The main aim of this study is to diagnose all mental dis-
orders in substance users from a single catchment area,
without any history of treatment for addiction or psy-
chiatric disorder, consecutively admitted to the specialist
health services. Because this sample represents patients
in whom problematic substance use is identified for the
first time, i.e., not readmitted or chronically ill patients,
we expect to find a lower prevalence of psychiatric dis-
orders than in previous studies. Because the inpatients
and outpatients will be recruited from both addiction
treatment clinics and psychiatric treatment clinics, a
complete sample of first-time-admitted patients from a
single catchment area can be identified and included in
the study. To the best of our knowledge, this has not
been done in previous studies.
The prevalence of axis I disorders in SUD patients will
be described, with special emphasis on whether the dis-
orders are independent mental disorders or induced by
substance use. The prevalence of different personality
disorders in the sample will also be studied. The time
from the first diagnosis of abuse or dependence until
the first admission for treatment-the duration of
untreated substance use disorder (DUSUD)-will be
The sample can be divided into two groups that can
be compared: patients who use alcohol only and patients
who also use illegal drugs. There may be differences in
the types and numbers of comorbid disorders, sociode-
mographic data, or DUSUD between the groups.
1. Which mental disorders are found, and what is their
prevalence and severity, when comorbidity is studied in
all first-time-admitted substance users consecutively
admitted to specialist health services from a single
2. What is the average time from the onset of an SUD
until the patient’s first admission for treatment, the
3. What is the prevalence of substance-induced versus
substance-independent depression and other axis I dis-
orders in SUD patients?
4. Are there any differences in mental disorder diag-
noses of patients using legal substances and patients
using illegal substances?
5. Are there any differences in the sociodemographic
data of patients using legal substances and those using
The first part of the study will be a naturalistic cross-
sectional descriptive diagnostic study of a clinical sam-
ple. The second part will be a comparative study of the
two main groups of patients with SUD: (i) patients with
alcohol use disorder only, and (ii) patients with SUD
caused by psychoactive substances other than alcohol.
The patients will be substance users, admitted for the
first time as inpatients or outpatients for specialist
addiction treatment or specialist psychiatric treatment,
from a single catchment area in Norway. In order to
ensure that the patients have not previously been treated
in the specialist health services, the patients will be thor-
oughly asked about treatment history, and also asked for
written consent to give access to previous medical
records. If the patient has been treated elsewhere, he/
she will be offered help to find out whether the treat-
ment was on a specialized level (i.e. treatment where a
specialized psychologist or physician is responsible). Pre-
vious treatment before the age of 16 will be accepted.
The home address of the patients must be in the local
hospital area of Kongsberg, which has about 50,000
Langås et al. BMC Psychiatry 2011, 11:25
Page 5 of 12
inhabitants. This region consists of a large rural area,
one town with 18,600 inhabitants, and some villages.
The distance from one end of the area to the other is
about 150 km. There is only one outpatient addiction
clinic and one psychiatric inpatient/outpatient clinic in
the catchment area. Some patients are referred to psy-
chiatric hospitals or addiction inpatient institutions else-
where. These institutions will be asked to identify
patients who meet the inclusion criteria and to ask
them for their consent for inclusion in the project. The
youngest patients will be found in child and adolescent
psychiatry centers. It may be possible to include all
patients admitted for the first time for inpatient addic-
tion treatment because we have an intimate knowledge
of, and contact with, all the communities and clinics
working with the target group. All possible subjects,
aged 16 years and older and admitted consecutively dur-
ing a specific time period, will be identified by their
therapists, who will supply information and ask for the
patient’s written consent for referral to the study. The
time period must be sufficiently long to recruit a repre-
sentative sample, with a minimum of 60 patients. The
substances included in this study will be alcohol, legally
prescribed drugs with misuse potential, and illegal drugs.
To identify all the patients with substance-related dis-
orders in psychiatric inpatient and outpatient clinics, all
the patients will be screened with the Alcohol Use Dis-
orders Identification Test (AUDIT), with a cutoff of 8
points for men and 6 points for women [82-84]. Those
who state that they have tried illegal drugs will be
screened with the Drug Use Disorders Identification
Test (DUDIT), with a cutoff of 6 points for men and 2
points for women . These cutoffs were chosen
because they have been commonly used in other studies.
Those patients who use prescribed drugs with misuse or
dependence potential will complete the DUDIT. To col-
lect the same data from all the patients included, the
patients from addiction clinics will also be screened
with the AUDIT and DUDIT. The relatively low cutoffs
on these tests have been chosen to increase the sensitiv-
ity of the tests, to ensure that all SUD patients are
The patients included must be able to consent to, and
cooperate in, the study. Patients with acute intoxication,
acute withdrawal symptoms, or acute psychosis will be
assessed when the acute symptoms have declined suffi-
ciently for the patient to be able to give reliable infor-
mation. However, it is not necessary for the patients to
be abstinent for a certain period of time or to be com-
pletely without psychosis or withdrawal symptoms. If
the assessment of a patient gives reason to suspect that
he/she has an organic brain disorder, this will also be
examined. When referring a patient with suspected
organic brain disorder, to further neurological or
neuropsychological assessment, the patient will be asked
for written consent to receive the results from such
assessment. If an organic brain disorder makes it diffi-
cult for the patient to give reliable information, he/she
will be excluded from the study.
As the assessment is comprehensive, and most of the
sample probably will be outpatients, the assessment may
take several appointments. The following is planned in
order to prevent attrition: (i) all patients will be asked
how they want to be contacted if they fail to appear to
appointments, (ii) they will be contacted for new
appointments as long as they express the agreement to
new appointments, (iii) the researchers may do the
interviews in any suitable places and at times suggested
by the patient, (iv) the patients are motivated by the
assurance that the results from the assessments will be
communicated to them or to their therapist. The results
will, with the patients’ consent, be written in the medi-
cal record where the patient gets his/her treatment.
Thereby their therapist can concentrate on the treat-
ment, and not on further assessment. In the analyzes,
the patients will be included if they have given enough
information. An overview of drop-outs will be provided
within limits decided by the Regional Committee for
Medical Research Ethics (REK).
Clinical and psychometric assessments
Sociodemographic and basic data about the patient’s
general health will be registered with the shortened ver-
sion of the Stanley Foundation’s Network Entry Ques-
tionnaire (NEQ). The NEQ has been used in several
major studies of mood disorders and also assesses atti-
tudes/stigma issues about mental disorders . The
NEQ will also provide information related to the differ-
entiation of bipolar and unipolar depression.
The screening instrument for psychiatric symptoms is
the revised version of the 90-question Symptom Check
List (SCL-90R) . Studies have shown high sensitivity
and moderate specificity for SCL-90 when used as a
screening instrument for mental disorders in SUD
patients [88,89]. The sum score, the Global Severity
Index (GSI), can be used as a measure of overall psycho-
logical distress. However, the nine subscales may not be
considered to reflect separate independent dimensions
The patients will also be assessed with the Global
Assessment of Functioning, split version (GAF-S and
GAF-F). The GAF has high reliability when used by
trained researchers [91,92]. Ten random patients will be
rescored blindly with GAF, using all available data, to
ensure its reliability.
The patients’ diagnoses will be based on diagnostic
interviews supplemented with clinical judgment. The
diagnoses will be defined according to the DSM-IV text
Langås et al. BMC Psychiatry 2011, 11:25
Page 6 of 12
revision (TR) because the diagnostic interviews used in
this study have been developed for this nomenclature.
The sample will be interviewed by a trained psychiatrist
using the Psychiatric Research Interview for Substance
and Mental Disorders for DSM-IV (PRISM). PRISM is a
semistructured interview covering current and lifetime
diagnoses of abuse and dependence, 20 axis I disorders,
and the two most common personality disorders in sub-
stance abusers (antisocial and borderline disorders).
PRISM was designed to improve the reliability of the
diagnosis of comorbid SUD and mental disorders
[93,94]. It has shown promising results on reliability
tests . The Norwegian version has recently been
The PRISM interview is expected to be an instrument
suitable for the diagnosis of comorbidity in SUD
patients. However, clinicians must still combine various
instruments to identify disorders not evaluated by
PRISM; e.g., most of the personality disorders and atten-
tion deficit (hyperactivity) disorder (AD[H]D). ADHD is
a common comorbid diagnosis in SUD patients. The
ADHD modules from the extended version of the Mini
International Neuropsychiatric Interview (M.I.N.I. plus)
will be included. M.I.N.I. is a widely used and well-
documented diagnostic interview .
Because PRISM only assesses two personality disor-
ders (PD), the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV
axis II personality disorders (SCID-II) will be adminis-
tered to diagnose PDs. SCID-II is an instrument with
good reliability in the diagnosis of PD .
The Inventory of Depressive Symptoms (IDS) will be
used to assess the severity of depressive symptoms
[97,98], and its reliability and validity are good . The
IDS will collect information about symptoms that is also
important for differential diagnoses. The Montgomery
Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) will provide
further information about the severity of depression
[100,101]. The Young Mania Rating Scale (YMRS) ,
which has proven good psychometric properties ,
will be used to rate manic and bipolar symptoms. The
interviewers will attend reliability training on IDS,
MADRS, and YMRS until they have reached a consen-
sus correlation above 0.7. On the basis of the IDS,
MADRS, and YMRS, the severity of the affective disor-
der will be evaluated using the Clinical Global Impres-
sion. The Angst Hypomania Check List (HCL-32)
provides information about previous episodes of possible
hyperactivity and hypomania, and is useful as a screen-
ing instrument for bipolar II disorder [104,105].
The PRISM and SCID-II interviews will be videotaped
if the patients give their written consent. Ten randomly
chosen diagnostic interviews will be rerated by an
experienced clinician blind to the first interviewer’s
diagnosis. The information from PRISM, SCID-II, and
IDS should make it possible to reclassify the symptoms
later into the International Classification of Diseases and
Related Health Problems (ICD-10) or newer versions of
The PRISM interview includes present and lifetime
diagnoses. The first occurrence and the lasting symp-
toms that qualify as SUD are registered. The duration of
untreated SUD (DUSUD) can then be calculated.
The patients will be asked their reasons for starting to
use these substances. Similar questions have been used
in other studies. The general clinical impression of the
patient and the diagnostic hypothesis will be described
in text format, shortly after the diagnostic interviews.
The patient will also be asked to sign a statement of
agreement to be contacted for a follow-up study about
3-5 years after the first contact.
To rule out undetected medical disorders that may be
associated with psychiatric symptoms, blood samples
will be analyzed for anemia, ongoing inflammation,
blood, kidney, and liver diseases, thyroid and parathyr-
oid diseases, diabetes, and vitamin B metabolic disor-
ders. Carbohydrate-deficient transferrin together with
liver enzymes will give further information about alcohol
abuse or dependence disorders. The biological material
will be included in the Bipolar Research and Innovation
Network (BRAIN) biobank (see below) and will be ana-
lyzed for genetic molecular markers and cellular
mechanisms underlying vulnerability to severe mental
Estimation of sample size
The strength of this study lies not in the number of
subjects but in the possibility of finding all subjects in a
single catchment area who are consecutively admitted
for treatment, and in the very thorough assessment of
each subject. The estimation of sample size to ensure
that statistically significant differences will be found
between groups is problematic because earlier preva-
lence studies have varied to a large degree. The differ-
ences between the various groups of patients can only
be estimated as qualified guesses. In this matter this
study may be considered a pilot study for the creation
of hypotheses for further studies.
The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences version
16.0 will be used for all analyses. Statistical significance
is defined at the 0.05 level with two-tailed tests of signif-
icance. The Chi squared test and Fisher’s exact test will
be used to investigate group differences in categorical
data. Group differences in independent samples will be
explored with Student’s t test and analysis of variance
Langås et al. BMC Psychiatry 2011, 11:25
Page 7 of 12
(ANOVA) for normally distributed continuous variables
and with the Mann-Whitney U test and Kruskal-Wallis
test for variables with skewed distributions. The distri-
butions of skewed variables will be presented as medians
and interquartile ranges. Binary logistic regression ana-
lyses will be used to investigate the relationships
between a dichotomous dependent variable and multiple
dependent variables. Hierarchical multiple regression
analyses will be used to investigate the relationships
between one continuous dependent variable and multi-
ple independent variables. Two-way ANOVA will be
used to investigate possible interactions between
All Norwegian psychiatric and addiction services are
public and available to everyone. Most patients with
mental or addiction problems are referred to the psy-
chiatric department of the local hospital for their catch-
ment area. Patients referred to other hospitals or
institutions will be identified through close contact with
these hospitals, institutions, general practitioners (GPs),
and social services. In this way, it will be possible to
identify and include most of the patients from a single
catchment area who meet the study criteria. By selecting
a sample of first-time-admitted patients, we will avoid
the overrepresentation of chronically ill patients. We
will use robust and validated diagnostic and psycho-
metric instruments. The main diagnostic interview will
be undertaken to differentiate between substance-inde-
pendent and substance-induced disorders. The inter-
viewer will choose the time and place of the
appointments, and if necessary will provide transport to
ensure that the patients are able to complete the inter-
views. This will limit the number of dropouts. The Nor-
wegian Data Inspectorate has permitted some basic
(unidentifiable) data to be collected from those patients
who refuse to participate in the study, to assess whether
the sample is representative. The interviewer has taken
part in PRISM training and interrater reliability training
for the different assessment and rating scales. All the
PRISM and SCID-II interviews will be performed by the
same psychiatrist, so interrater reliability problems
should be avoided. Some of the PRISM and SCID-II
interviews will be videotaped (with the patients’ written
consent) and scored blindly by another qualified rater.
Some of the patients will be users of psychoactive sub-
stances during the period of the interviews, so there will
not be a four-week period of abstinence before the
assessments. This may weaken the reliability of the
information given by these patients. The study does not
have a system for identifying all substance users in the
catchment area. There will be some uncertainty about
whether the treatment seekers are representative of the
whole population. The sample size may be too small for
the comparison of subgroups.
All patients with SUDs, admitted for the first time as
inpatients or outpatients for psychiatric or addiction
treatment, from a single catchment area during a speci-
fic time period, will be studied and diagnosed for sub-
stance use, and axis I and axis II comorbidity. As far as
we know, this has not been done previously. At first-
time admission, the first symptoms to occur and the dis-
order itself can be assessed more reliably than in later
life, when this information must be reconstructed from
memory. Therefore, this sample will make it possible to
differentiate more accurately between independent and
substance-induced disorders. Consequently, this study
will better describe the prevalence of dual disorders
than have most previous studies.
This study will be one of the first Norwegian studies
to use the PRISM interview. A Norwegian version of
this interview has recently been authorized. The inter-
view is designed to diagnose comorbid substance-related
and mental disorders. It is very important to acquire
experience with the different recommended instruments
within this field of clinical research.
For some decades now, attention has been directed to
the complicated issue of diagnostic problems in patients
with multiple disorders. It is extremely important to
identify any independent psychiatric comorbidity in
SUD patients and any comorbid SUDs in patients with
mental disorders. Comorbidity seems to be the rule
more often than the exception. In planning treatment,
the following must be considered: the severity of the
condition; whether the disorders are induced or inde-
pendent; whether they should be treated separately,
sequentially, or integrated; and where to find qualified
treatment. An adequate diagnosis is necessary for this
process. This study may show that the chosen assess-
ment instruments are suitable. However, the interviews
used in this study are time-consuming. It is probably
not possible to perform this kind of diagnostic work in
a time-efficient way.
Because the prevalence of these disorders varies widely
between studies, it will be interesting to make a thor-
ough diagnostic assessment of all first-time-admitted
patients in a single catchment area, using a diagnostic
interview which is proven to be reliable in dual disorder
patients. More valid estimates of the prevalence of
comorbidity in treatment seekers can then be presented.
Langås et al. BMC Psychiatry 2011, 11:25
Page 8 of 12
The catchment area based concept makes it possible to
study a complete naturalistic sample, while most of the
earlier studies have chosen convenience samples. This
study of first time treatment seekers will avoid the pro-
blem of over representation of the most severely ill
patients, and the retrospectively recalled symptoms will
be less influenced by time lag and the effect of disease
The duration of untreated SUD will be calculated. If
the study shows that the duration of untreated SUD is
long, e.g. several years, this will call for attention and
better strategies for identifying SUD at an earlier stage.
In many treatment settings for substance users, the skills
in assessment and treatment of non substance mental
disorders are limited. This is unproblematic if we find
that most first time treatment seekers are mentally
healthy except for their SUD, or if their mental disor-
ders to a large extent are substance induced. If, however,
this study reveals that most treatment seekers have
comorbid disorders that demand specialized psychiatric
treatment, today’s treatment settings are insufficient.
The division of patients with SUDs and psychiatric dis-
orders into separate treatment clinics is based on tradi-
tion and not on professional consensus. This study may
reveal new information that justifies either separate or
This project is approved by the Regional Committee for
6.2008.100), and by the Norwegian Data Inspectorate.
The BRAIN study, including the biobank, has the neces-
sary approvals. The project will be carried out according
to the Declarations of Helsinki and Madrid.
None of the procedures used in this study presents
any risk to the patients’ health. All screening instru-
ments and interviews are internationally acknowledged
and validated. All of them have been used in previous
studies in other projects worldwide.
Our common experience is that patients are not
averse to being thoroughly examined and that they
usually do not find the examinations too strenuous. All
patients will be given oral and written information
about the study before they give their written consent. If
a patient refuses to take part in any of the assessments,
this will be respected. If the patient refuses most of the
interviews, it will be understood that he/she does not
want to participate in the study. To test for bias, it will
be necessary to record some basic, unidentifiable data
about the patients who refuse to participate in the
study; e.g., age, sex, and type of substances used.
It is possible that the biomedical or other examina-
tions reveal information that makes the provision of
adequate care necessary to avoid compromising the
patient’s health. With the patient’s consent, such infor-
mation will be passed on to the patient’s therapist or
GP. In some situations, the patients might not wish to
inform their therapists or GPs. In such cases, the
patients’ wishes will be respected. If life-threatening
depression, psychosis, or intoxication is identified, the
patient will be referred for adequate treatment.
Patients between the ages of 16 and 18 years are con-
sidered able to give their full consent regarding their
participation in a study of this kind. If the research fel-
low encounters problems that require treatment for
which a young patient cannot give his/her consent, or
the parents must be informed to exercise their parental
responsibility, the patient’s therapist or GP will be
All patients of 18 years or older will be asked to agree
to videotaped recordings of the interviews. Refusal will
have no consequences for the patient. If the patient
accepts, he/she will sign a separate statement of agree-
ment. The purpose of the recording, the use of the
videos, their safekeeping, and erasure will be described.
The patients will also be asked for their permission for
the research fellow to contact them within 10 years to
ask them to participate in a follow-up study. To take
part in the follow-up study, they will sign a new written
consent at the time of the follow-up. Refusal of this per-
mission will have no consequences for the patient.
List of abbreviations
ADHD: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; APA: American Psychiatric
Association; AUDIT: Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test; BRAIN: Bipolar
Research and Innovation Network; DSM-IV: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (APA); DUDIT: Drug Use Disorder
Identification Test; DUSUD: Duration of Untreated Substance Use Disorder;
GAF-F: Global Assessment of Functioning, Function Score; GAF-S: Global
Assessment of Functioning, Symptom Score; GP: General practitioner; HCL-
32: Angst Hypomania Check List, 32 Questions; IDS: Inventory of Depressive
Symptoms; MADRS: Montgomery Asberg Depression Rating Scale; M.I.N.I.:
the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview; NEQ: Stanley Foundation’s
Network Entry Questionnaire; NORMOOD: Norwegian Research Network on
Mood Disorders; PRISM: Psychiatric Research Interview for Substance and
Mental Disorders; SCID-II: Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV, axis II
disorders; SCL-90R: Symptom Check List, 90 questions, Revised; SID:
Substance-induced disorder; SUD: Substance use disorder (abuse or
dependence of a psychoactive substance); TOP: Thematic Research Area
Psychosis (Tematisk Område Psykose); YMRS: Young Mania Rating Scale
Professor Stein Opjordsmoen is the main supervisor of this project. He is a
special consultant at the Department for Research and Education, Division
for Mental Health and Addiction, at Oslo University Hospital, Ullevål, and
Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Oslo. The project will be
associated with the research milieu at Oslo University Hospital Ullevål
through Professor Opjordsmoen.
Professor Ulrik Fredrik Malt is the cosupervisor of the project. He is Professor
of Psychiatry at the University of Oslo and the Department of
Neuropsychiatry and Psychosomatic Medicine, Division of Clinical
Neurosciences, Oslo University Hospital, Rikshospitalet.
The project is part of the Norwegian Research Network on Mood Disorders
(NORMOOD), initiated by Helse SørØst RHF and directed by Professor Ulrik F.
Langås et al. BMC Psychiatry 2011, 11:25
Page 9 of 12
This study, as part of the NORMOOD project, will be associated with the
(Bipolar Research and Innovation Network (BRAIN) study. Some of the same
assessment methods are used. With the patients’ written consent, the results
from the interviews, tests, and blood sample analyses will be included in the
BRAIN study. The BRAIN study involves a biobank that is used to identify the
molecular genetic and cellular mechanisms underlying susceptibility to
severe psychiatric disorders. The director of the BRAIN study is Assoc.
Professor Gunnar Morken, Norwegian University of Science and Technology,
BRAIN collaborates with the TOP project. The director of the TOP project is
Professor Ole A. Andreassen, MD, Institute of Psychiatry, University of Oslo.
The BRAIN study uses the biobank of the TOP project, which has been
approved by the Norwegian health authorities until 2050. The data from all
NORMOOD projects obtained using BRAIN instruments (MINI, NEQ, IDS,
YMRS, HCL-32, SCL-90) and examinations (blood tests, blood for genetic
testing) are stored (unidentifiably) in a database run by TOP.
The research fellow responsible for this project is Anne-Marit Langås, MD,
psychiatrist at the local hospital of Kongsberg, Department of Psychiatry,
Vestre Viken Health Trust. The project is associated with the local research
committee at Vestre Viken Health Trust. Local clinicians will be coworkers in
the project. Dr Langås will be the main author of the articles based on this
study, and the supervisors will be coauthors.
1Vestre Viken Hospital Trust, Kongsberg, Norway.2University of Oslo, Institute
of Clinical Medicine, Oslo, Norway.3Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway.
4Norwegian Research Network on Mood Disorders (NORMOOD), Oslo,
UFM organized and secured the financial support for the study. All authors
have contributed to the background, design, and drafting of the manuscript.
All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.
The study is financed by governmental money and non commercial charity
funds: Vestre Viken Hospital Trust, Psychiatric Department, Kongsberg;
Innlandet Hospital Trust, Regional Center for Dual Diagnoses; University of
Oslo, Institute of Clinical Medicine; Solveig and Johan P. Sommer’s
Foundation (non commercial charity research fund); Brukseier Jon Nielsen
and Maja-Jonn Nielsen’s Legacy (non commercial charity research fund). The
activities of the NORMOOD research network are financed by Helse SørØst
RHF (South-Eastern Norway Regional Health Authority).
AML declares that she has no competing interests. UFM has been given fees
for lecturing by Astra Zeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo Smith Kline, Lilly,
Lundbeck, MSD (Organon), and Wyeth. His research group has been given
an unrestricted research grant by Lundbeck. His spouse worked as a medical
advisor for Pfizer Norway until 2010. SO has been given fees for lecturing by
Bristol-Myers Squibb, as principal investigator for investigations sponsored by
Astra Zeneca and Janssen Cilag, and as member of a Nordic expert group
on antipsychotic drugs sponsored by Janssen Cilag. None of the
pharmaceutical companies listed have any connection with or influence on
the current project.
Received: 6 September 2010 Accepted: 12 February 2011
Published: 12 February 2011
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The pre-publication history for this paper can be accessed here:
Cite this article as: Langås et al.: Comorbid mental disorders in
substance users from a single catchment area - a clinical study. BMC
Psychiatry 2011 11:25.
Langås et al. BMC Psychiatry 2011, 11:25
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