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Post-treatment Low-risk Drinking as a Predictor of Future Drinking and Problem Outcomes among Individuals with Alcohol Use Disorders: A 9-year Follow-up

Treatment for alcohol use disorders (AUDs) has traditionally been abstinence oriented, but new research and regulatory guidelines suggest that low-risk drinking may also be an acceptable treatment outcome. However, little is known about long-term outcomes for patients who become low-risk drinkers posttreatment. This study explores a posttreatment low-risk drinking outcome as a predictor of future drinking and psychosocial outcomes over 9 years. Study participants were adults with AUDs at treatment entry who received follow-up interviews 6 months posttreatment intake (N = 1,061) in 2 large randomized studies conducted at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, a large private, nonprofit, integrated health system. Six-month drinking status was defined as abstinent, low-risk (nonabstinent, no 5+ drinking days), or heavy drinking (1 or more days of 5+ drinks). Using logistic regression models, we explored the relationship between past 30-day drinking status at 6 months and odds of being abstinent or a low-risk drinker (compared to heavy drinking), and positive Addiction Severity Index psychosocial outcomes over 9 years (9-year follow-up rate of 73%). Abstainers and low-risk drinkers at 6 months had higher odds of recent abstinence/low-risk drinking over 9 years than heavy drinkers; abstainers had better drinking outcomes than low-risk drinkers. Additionally, among those with interview data, 95% of abstainers and 94% of low-risk drinkers at 6 months were abstinent/low-risk drinkers at 9 years; surprisingly, 89% of heavy drinkers at 6 months were also abstinent/low-risk drinkers although still significantly fewer than the other groups. Abstainers and low-risk drinkers at 6 months had better psychiatric outcomes, and abstainers had better family/social outcomes than heavy drinkers; medical outcomes did not differ. Low-risk drinkers and abstainers showed no reliable differences across psychosocial measures. The findings suggest that a low-risk drinking outcome may be reasonable over the long-term for some alcohol-dependent individuals receiving addiction treatment.

Authors: Kline-Simon AH; Litten RZ; Weisner CM; Falk DE

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2017 Mar;41(3):653-658. Epub 2017-02-07.

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