Temporal progression of cocaine dependence symptoms in the US National Comorbidity Survey

Howard J. Shaffer, Gabriel B. Eber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Objective: Cocaine dependence first appeared as a diagnostic category in 1987 with the publication of DSM-III-R. While the temporal sequencing of alcohol symptoms has a long history, little such attention has been focused on cocaine dependence. This paper examines the retrospective recall of DSM-III-R cocaine dependence symptom progression among a large sample of cocaine users and the relationship of these symptoms to psychiatric comorbidity. Methods: Using data from the US National Comorbidity Survey, DSM-III-R criterion 'A' cocaine dependence symptoms were sequenced temporally based on age of symptom onset. Each of these numerical symptom strings was examined to determine its prevalence and association to comorbid psychiatric disorders. Results: Cocaine users represented 16% of the sample. Although hundreds of symptom sequence permutations are possible, only a few are highly prevalent. Subjects whose early onset symptoms are neuroadaptive (e.g. tolerance and withdrawal) are more likely to develop cocaine dependence than subjects whose early symptoms are characterized by psychosocial consequences. Furthermore, certain temporal patterns were found to increase or decrease the presence or absence of cocaine dependence and psychiatric comorbidity. Finally, psychiatric comorbidity preceded rather than followed cocaine use onset disproportionately. Conclusions: Like alcohol users, cocaine users follow a limited array of symptom sequence pathways from first use to dependence. By better understanding and examining the temporal progression of drug use symptoms, clinicians might improve screening and assessment activities and determine more effectively the extent of risks associated with continued premorbid drug use and enhance treatment-matching. We encourage clinicians to develop evaluation instruments that specifically ask patients to sequence their cocaine use-related symptoms temporally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)543-554
Number of pages12
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Cocaine-related disorders
  • Comorbidity
  • Diagnosis
  • Substance abuse detection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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