Alcohol and drug abuse among persons with multiple sclerosis.

Objective: To examine the one-month prevalence and impact of substance abuse in a large community sample of persons with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Methods: Members of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of King County were surveyed by mail. This multifaceted health survey included questions pertaining to substance abuse. Seven hundred and thirty-nine out of 1374 potential participants (54%) returned the survey, while 708 reported a medically confirmed diagnosis of MS and provided sufficient data.

Results: Fourteen per cent of the sample screened positive for possible alcohol abuse or dependence, and 7.4% reported misusing illicit drugs or prescription medications within the previous month. Possible alcohol abuse and drug misuse were associated with younger age, less severe MS related disability and being employed, as well as greater self-reported depressive symptomatology. Most persons with alcohol problems indicated interest in learning more about ways to stop or cut down.

Conclusion: Substance abuse may be present in up to 19% of this sample and contribute to high rates of depression. There may be greater risk of harm due to substance abuse in people with MS because of the potential magnification of motor and cognitive impairments. Comprehensive MS care should include substance abuse screening and advice to cut down or abstain.