Alcoholics Can Recover from Alcoholism & Drink in Moderation 1

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

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 the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

The fully recovered individuals show symptoms of neither alcohol dependence nor alcohol abuse. They 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 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a project of NIAAA. Based on a representative sample of 43,000 U.S. adults aged 18 years and older, the NESARC is the largest survey ever conducted of the co-occurrence of alcohol and drug use disorders and related psychiatric conditions. The NESARC defines alcohol use disorders and their remission according to the most recent clinical criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association.

One-quarter (25.0 percent) of individuals with alcohol dependence that began more than one year ago now are still dependent and 27.3 percent are in partial remission (that is, exhibit some symptoms of alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse). About twelve percent (11.8%) are drinkers with no symptoms but whose consumption increases their chances of relapse (for men, more than 14 drinks per week or more than four drinks on any day; for women, more than 7 drinks per week or more than three drinks on any day).

These research findings are summarized below.

Lead author Deborah Dawson, Ph.D. and her colleagues in the Laboratory of Biometry and Epidemiology in NIAAA's intramural research program released the latest NESARC analysis in an article in Addiction entitled "Recovery From DSM-IV Alcohol Dependence: United States, 2001-2002."

Research has produced evidence for decades that some alcoholics could return to moderate or controlled drinking. However, Alcoholics Anonymous and other influential and powerful groups have tended to define an alcoholic as a person who can never drink in moderation. Thus, their conceptions and definitions have caused them to reject this mounting evidence. For example, they tend to argue that if researchers identify alcoholics who can now drink in moderation, that simply means that the alcoholics were falsely diagnosed and really weren’t alcoholics or they wouldn’t have been able to drink in moderation.

Go to the Readings section to find a list of publications such as:

Crandell, J. S. Controlled Drinking Can Help Alcoholics Recover. In: Cozic, C. P., and Swisher, K. (Ed.). Chemical Dependency. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1991. Pp. 218-224.

Heather, N., and Robertson, I. Controlled Drinking. London, England: Methuen, 1983.

Miller, W. R., and Munoz, R. F. How to Control Your Drinking. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 1990.

Vogler, R. E., and Bartz, W. R. The Better Way to Drink: Moderation and Control of Problem Drinking. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.

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References and Readings

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