More than one-third (35.9 percent) of U.S. adults with alcohol dependence (alcoholism) that began more than one year ago are now in full recovery, according to an article in the current issue of Addiction.
The fully recovered individuals show symptoms of neither alcohol dependence nor alcohol abuse and either abstain or drink at levels below those known to increase relapse risk. They include roughly equal proportions of
- abstainers (18.2 percent) and
- low-risk drinkers (17.7 percent).
The analysis is based on data from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
One-quarter (25.0 percent) of individuals with alcohol dependence that began more than one year ago now are dependent, 27.3 percent are in partial remission (that is, exhibit some symptoms of alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse), and 11.8 percent are asymptomatic risk drinkers with no symptoms but whose consumption increases their chances of relapse.
“Results from the latest NESARC analysis strengthen previous reports that many persons can and do recover from alcoholism,” said NIAAA Director Ting-Kai Li, M.D. “Today’s report is valuable as a snapshot of current conditions and for information about some of the characteristics associated with different recovery types.”
The recovery analysis is based on a subgroup of 4,422 adults who met the clinical criteria for alcohol dependence that began more than one year before the 2001-2002 survey. These individuals were primarily middle-aged, non-Hispanic white males. Sixty percent had attended or completed college. More than half had experienced the onset of alcohol dependence between the ages of 18 and 24, and only 25.5 percent had ever received treatment for their alcohol problems.
Dr. Dawson and her colleagues found that the likelihood of abstinent recovery increased over time and with age and was higher among women, individuals who were married or cohabiting, individuals with an onset of dependence at ages 18-24, and persons who had experienced a greater number of dependence symptoms.
The likelihood of nonabstinent recovery (that is, low-risk drinking with no symptoms of abuse or dependence) increased over time and was higher among individuals who were married or cohabiting, those with a family history of alcoholism and persons who had experienced fewer symptoms of dependence.