Natural Remission and Relapse

Much is known about the rate of relapse after formal alcohol treatment but not after “spontaneous” or “natural” remission. Researchers studied remission and relapse in 461 individuals with an alcohol use disorder who had not received help before study entry. Subjects were interviewed at baseline and then 1, 3, 8, and 16 years later. At each follow-up, they were asked about their alcohol use and whether they had obtained professional treatment or participated in Alcoholics Anonymous at any time since the last follow-up.

• At the 3-year follow-up, remission occurred in 62 percent of subjects who had received help and in 43 percent of subjects who had not received help (P <0.01).

• Among these remitted subjects, relapse by year 16 occurred in 43 percent of those who had received help and in 61 percent of those who had not received help (P <0.05).

Comments by Peter Friedmann, MD, MPH:

Like previous studies, this study found that receiving help improves the chances of short-term remission and decreases the risk of relapse. Therefore, clinicians should emphasize the importance of early help seeking to their patients with alcohol use disorders and should offer ongoing support to help their patients in remission remain remitted.

Source: Moos RH, Moos BS. Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders. Addiction. 2006;101(2):212–222.

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