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Summary

The issue of whether alcoholics can become moderate drinkers has recently been debated on empirical and ideological grounds. The present study compared residentially treated alcoholics who subsequently abstained with those who became moderate drinkers.

Data were analysed separately for two groups of patients: 262 patients who were low in socio-economic status and related variables and who had been discharged from one of three programmes - Salvation Army, public hospital-based setting, or a half-way house that functioned as a therapeutic community; and 167 patients who were relatively high in socio-economic status and related variables and who had been treated at either an aversion conditioning programme or a milieu oriented programme. Three sets of variables were studied: socio-demographic and pre-morbid psycho-social and drinking factors; post-hospital treatment experiences; and post-hospital psycho-social and drinking factors.

Six to eight months after discharge, 22 per cent of ‘low-bottom’ alcoholics and 29 per cent of ‘high-bottom’ alcoholics were drinking moderately; 15 per cent of ‘low-bottom’ alcoholics and 46 per cent of ‘high-bottom’ alcoholics were abstinent. Few predictive or concurrent differences between abstaining and moderate drinking alcoholics were found. In light of the absence of controlled studies which incorporate biological and psycho-social data, the authors cautioned against drawing clinical and theoretical conclusions from existing research.