• Dependence;
  • help-seeking;
  • recovery;
  • treatment;
  • 12-Step


Aims  To investigate the effect of help-seeking on the likelihood of recovery from Diagnostic and Statistical Manual version IV (DSM-IV) alcohol dependence, specifically examining the impact of model selection, factors that moderate the effect of help-seeking and distinctions between the effects of 12-Step participation and formal treatment.

Design  This analysis is based on data from the Wave 1 2001–02 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a cross-sectional, retrospective survey of a nationally representative sample of US adults 18 years of age and over. The analytical sample consisted of 4422 individuals with prior-to-past-year (PPY) onset of DSM-IV alcohol dependence.

Methods  Logistic regression, proportional hazards and time-dependent proportional hazards models were used to estimate the effects of help-seeking on three outcomes: (1) any recovery from alcohol dependence, which required full remission of all symptoms of alcohol abuse and dependence and excluded asymptomatic drinkers whose alcohol consumption exceeded low-risk drinking guidelines; (2) non-abstinent recovery (NR), representing low-risk asymptomatic drinkers; and (3) abstinent recovery (AR), representing abstainers.

Findings  Only one-quarter of individuals with PPY-onset alcohol dependence had ever sought help for alcohol problems, including 3.1% who had participated in 12-Step programs only, 5.4% who had received formal treatment only and 17.0% with both 12-Step and formal treatment. Based on the most appropriate model, help-seeking increased the likelihood of any recovery [hazard rate ratio (HRR) = 2.38], NR (HRR = 1.50) and AR (HRR = 4.01). The impact of help-seeking on AR did not show any significant variation across the exposure period but was modified by severity among other factors. Individuals who participated in 12-Step programs in addition to formal treatment had almost twice the chance of recovery and more than more than twice the chance of AR compared with those who received formal treatment alone.

Conclusions  Help-seeking plays a significant role in the achievement of abstinent recovery from alcohol dependence, with 12-Step participation playing a major role. Appropriate model selection is critical to assessing the impact of help-seeking.