Genetic associations among internalizing and externalizing traits with polysubstance use among young adults. Journal Article uri icon



  • Though most genetic studies of substance use focus on specific substances in isolation or generalized vulnerability across multiple substances, few studies to date focus on the concurrent use of two or more substances within a specified time frame (i.e., polysubstance use; PSU). We evaluated whether distinct genetic factors underlying internalizing and externalizing traits were associated with past 30-day PSU above variance shared across general psychopathology and substance use (SU). Using Genomic Structural Equation Modeling, we constructed theory-driven, multivariate genetic factors of 16 internalizing, externalizing, and SU traits using genome-wide association studies (GWAS) summary statistics. Next, we fit a model with a higher order SU-related psychopathology factor as well as genetic variance specific to externalizing and internalizing (i.e., residual genetic variance not explained by SU or general psychopathology). GWAS-by-subtraction was used to obtain single nucleotide polymorphism effects on each of these factors. Polygenic scores (PGS) were then created in an independent target sample with data on PSU, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. To evaluate the effect of genetic variance due to internalizing and externalizing traits independent of variance related to SU, we regressed PSU on the PGSs, controlling for sex, age, and genetic principal components. PGSs for SU-related psychopathology and non-SU externalizing traits were associated with higher PSU factor scores, while the non-SU internalizing PGS was not significantly associated with PSU. In total, the three PGSs accounted for an additional 4% of the variance in PSU above and beyond a null model with only age, sex, and genetic principal components as predictors. These findings suggest that there may be unique genetic variance in externalizing traits contributing to liability for PSU that is independent of the genetic variance shared with SU.

publication date

  • April 5, 2023

has restriction

  • green

Date in CU Experts

  • August 30, 2023 2:14 AM

Full Author List

  • Brick LA; Benca-Bachman CE; Johnson EC; Gustavson DE; Carper M; Palmer RH

author count

  • 6

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