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Keywords:

  • Alcoholics;
  • Anonymous;
  • alcohol use disorder;
  • relapse;
  • remission;
  • treatment

ABSTRACT

Aims  This study examined the rates and predictors of 3-year remission, and subsequent 16-year relapse, among initially untreated individuals with alcohol use disorders who did not obtain help or who participated in treatment and/or Alcoholics Anonymous in the first year after recognizing their need for help.

Design and measures  A sample of individuals (n = 461) who initiated help-seeking was surveyed at baseline and 1 year, 3 years, 8 years and 16 years later. Participants provided information on their life history of drinking, alcohol-related functioning and life context and coping.

Findings  Compared to individuals who obtained help, those who did not were less likely to achieve 3-year remission and subsequently were more likely to relapse. Less alcohol consumption and fewer drinking problems, more self-efficacy and less reliance on avoidance coping at baseline predicted 3-year remission; this was especially true of individuals who remitted without help. Among individuals who were remitted at 3 years, those who consumed more alcohol but were less likely to see their drinking as a significant problem, had less self-efficacy, and relied more on avoidance coping, were more likely to relapse by 16 years. These findings held for individuals who initially obtained help and for those who did not.

Conclusions  Natural remission may be followed by a high likelihood of relapse; thus, preventive interventions may be indicated to forestall future alcohol problems among individuals who cut down temporarily on drinking on their own.