What Influences Quality of Life for Long-Term Recovering Alcoholics?

Alcoholism (known more formally as alcohol dependence) is the well-known addiction characterized by such things as a physical/mental reliance on alcohol consumption and a destructive pattern of alcohol-fueled behavior. After going through the initial stages of alcoholism recovery, people affected by this addiction have a common goal of maintaining their sobriety for the remainder of their lives. In a study published in 2013 in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, a team of German researchers assessed the factors that influence relative quality of life in recovering alcoholics seven years after they complete their initial treatment programs.

Alcoholism Basics

In May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association officially designated alcoholism (alcohol dependence) as a specific form of a condition called alcohol use disorder. This disorder also includes all cases of clinically significant, non-addicted alcohol abuse. All alcoholics have consumed enough alcohol over a long enough period of time to change their normal brain chemistry and create a reliance on alcohol’s continuing presence. They also feel ongoing urges to drink more alcohol, experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking or sharply lower their alcohol consumption and have no success when they try to limit their alcohol intake on their own. In addition, individuals affected by alcoholism establish dysfunctional patterns of alcohol-related behavior that commonly result in such things as a failure to fulfill personal or social responsibilities, involvement in alcohol-related accidents or incidents, and damaged relationships with intimates, family members, friends or peers. Treatment programs for alcoholism typically produce their benefits by helping alcoholics discontinue drinking, go through the withdrawal process, learn the personal and social skills required to avoid turning to alcohol in stressful situations and establish a long-term daily routine that features continuing alcohol abstinence. Most programs combine the use of anti-alcohol or alcohol withdrawal medications with some form of counseling or psychotherapy. Recovering alcoholics also frequently participate in 12-step support groups that emphasize mutual reinforcement of sobriety among their members.

Quality of Life Basics

Quality of life is a general term for the overall balance of positive, health-supporting factors and negative, health-diminishing factors in any person’s life. The specific factors that play positive and negative roles vary according to individual circumstances, as well as cultural and social norms. However, considerations that typically influence quality of life for human society as a whole include physical and mental health, the availability of employment, access to goods and services, and access to community resources. Many people also consider spiritual or religious practice to be an essential influence on well-being. Scientific and social researchers commonly use questionnaires or interviews to estimate the quality of life for an individual or group.

Quality of Life and Long-Term Alcoholism Recovery

In the study published in Alcohol and Alcoholism, researchers from Germany’s Central Institute of Mental Health used both questionnaires and telephone interviews to gauge the quality of life among of a group of 127 individuals who had received treatment for alcohol dependence. These questionnaires and interviews were conducted seven years after the study participants completed their initial treatment programs and returned to their everyday lives. In addition, all 127 participants were asked to give details about a number of factors that could potentially influence their quality of life, including their level of alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking in the 12 months prior to the study, their level of involvement with the healthcare system and their exposure to significantly stressful events in the seven-year timeframe following their alcoholism treatment. The researchers found that two key factors – complete abstinence from alcohol consumption or a substantial overall reduction in the amount of alcohol consumed – predict a quality of life boost in the long-term aftermath of initial alcoholism recovery. Conversely, three other factors – an increased use of the healthcare system, exposure to significant stressful events and consumption of the same amount of alcohol before and after alcoholism treatment – predict a long-term quality of life decrease. The researchers also found that tobacco smoking has neither a negative nor a positive influence on the long-term quality of life among recovering alcoholics.


All told, the authors of the study published in Alcohol and Alcoholism concluded that level of alcohol consumption plays a much bigger role in quality of life for long-term recovering alcoholics than any other factor. Even when they have relatively extensive healthcare needs and experience relatively high levels of stress, recovering alcoholics still generally report a good quality of life as long as they either abstain from alcohol intake altogether or keep their drinking well below pre-treatment levels.

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