Recovery from alcohol problems with and without treatment: prevalence in two population surveys. (1996)

Recovery from alcohol problems with and without treatment : Prevalence in two population surveys

OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of recovery from alcohol problems with and without treatment, including whether such recoveries involved abstinence or moderate drinking.

METHODS: Data from two surveys of randomly selected adults in the general population were analyzed. Random-digit dialing was used to conduct telephone interviews with 11,634 and 1034 respondents. Respondents 20 years of age or older were categorized on the basis of drinking status and history. The data was collected in two separate surveys: one conducted by Statistics Canada in 1989, and the other conducted by the Institute of Research at York University (Ontario Survey). The respondents who abused alcohol were categorized into three groups: those who had quit drinking entirely (abstinent recoveries), those who had quit drinking but reduced it to a level where it is no longer an abusive amount and those who continued drinking at a level the meets the DSM criteria for a problem drinker (moderate recoveries), and those who remained problem drinkers.

RESULTS: Both surveys found that most individuals (77.5% and 77.7%) who had recovered from an alcohol problem for 1 year or more did so without help or treatment. A sizable percentage (38% and 63%) also reported drinking moderately after resolving their problem. The remaining (22.5% and 22.3%) received some type of alcohol related service such as Alcoholics Anonymous self-help group or counseling.

Most of the moderate drinking recoveries (96.7% and 90.6%) involved those who received no help, as well as the majority of abstinent recoveries (65.7% and 56%).

Those who return to moderate drinking are more likely female, more highly educated, have greater incomes and have quit smoking. This explains the glaring difference in the percentage of respondents in the Ontario survey who go back to moderate drinking (63% v 38%), as a higher percentage of those respondents fit this demographic group.

The results of both surveys were strikingly similar, which “suggests that conclusions based on these finding are likely to be robust”.

CONCLUSIONS: These two surveys are among the first to report prevalence rates for recovery from alcohol problems for treated and untreated individuals and for moderation and abstinence outcomes.

“The findings from these two surveys significantly bolster the growing body of studies showing that many individuals with alcohol problems recover on their own”.

This is one study among several that show essentially the same thing: that the majority of those who quit drinking will do so on their own. We will post all of them here, but I wanted to post this one now, because I found it interesting that it also included those who have reverted to moderate drinking. Keep in mind that these surveys did not include those whose addictions were acute enough to check into a rehab centre, and if those were included, I suspect the percentages of those who reverted to social drinkers would be significantly reduced. Still, it dispels the myth perpetuated by AA that one drink will send any alkie back into an alcoholic hell.

Warning! Soapbox, editorialized, preachy comment ahead:
Mine is just a guess, but I suspect that the more acute one’s addiction is, the less likely they are to revert to social drinking – and even though it is a possibility to go back to drinking “normally”, it isn’t worth the risk. I have had a lot of buzzes in my day, and none were worth the risk of sending me back into my own personal vortex of addictive doom. Don’t try it, kids. It ain’t worth it. Life is much better off the sauce. Drinking sucks.