How Often Do People Recover from Alcohol Use Disorder?

Woman who recovered from alcohol recovery drinking waterAlcohol use disorder (AUD) is the mental health diagnosis that doctors now use for people affected by alcoholism (alcohol dependence) or clinically significant alcohol abuse. Some people with this disorder recover from their active problems with alcohol consumption, while others don’t recover and continue to experience long-term alcohol-related difficulties. In a study published in December 2013 in the journal Addiction, researchers from three Dutch institutions sought to determine how many people with alcohol use disorder recover within a three-year period after their initial diagnosis. These researchers also looked at some of the factors that increase or decrease the odds of AUD recovery

Alcohol Use Disorder Basics

Alcohol use disorder is the alcohol-specific form of a more broadly defined condition called substance use disorder. People affected by the condition have two or more of a group of 11 symptoms that indicate the presence of alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse. Examples of these symptoms include a pattern of alcohol consumption that disrupts the ability to meet one’s commitments or obligations, repeated drinking in clearly hazardous situations, an unrealized desire to control or decrease one’s alcohol intake, persistent alcohol cravings, an increasing tolerance to alcohol’s effects and a dedication of major time or resources to either consuming alcohol or recuperating from bouts of drinking. People with relatively mild cases of the disorder have only two or three of the identified symptoms, while people with relatively severe cases of AUD have four or more of the identified symptoms.

AUD Treatment

Roughly 75 percent to 85 percent of people affected by serious alcohol-related problems never seek help or treatment, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports. Options for those who do seek help include medications that either deter drinking or help ease the effects of alcohol withdrawal, forms of psychotherapy designed to identify and change the ingrained behavioral patterns that support excessive alcohol intake, and mutual self-help support groups that promote ongoing abstinence from alcohol consumption as one of their primary goals. People with severe forms of alcohol use disorder often need to undergo treatment in a hospital setting, at least during the initial stages when withdrawal symptoms are highly prominent. People with mild or moderate forms of the disorder often receive treatment in outpatient programs that don’t require hospitalization.

Recovery Rate and Recovery Factors

In the study published in Addiction, researchers the University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University and the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction used an examination of 198 adults diagnosed with alcohol use disorder to help determine how often AUD-affected individuals successfully stop drinking within three years after their condition is first identified. These adults, ranging in age from 18 to 64, were drawn from a nationwide Dutch project designed to uncover the major factors that decrease mental health in the general population. The researchers used information gathered from this same project to uncover the factors that either promote successful AUD recovery or make a successful recovery harder to achieve.

All told, slightly less than 30 percent of the study’s participants still had the symptoms of diagnosable mild or severe alcohol use disorder three years after receiving their original diagnoses. Compared to younger participants between the ages of 18 and 24, older participants between the ages of 25 and 44 had significantly higher chances of successfully recovering from AUD. In addition, recovery chances improved substantially in individuals of any age who lowered their weekly alcohol intake by six or more drinks. Conversely, the lowest rates of successful recovery occurred among individuals who either maintained a relatively high rate of weekly alcohol consumption or who had a simultaneous case of an anxiety disorder such as panic disorder or social anxiety disorder.


The authors of the study published in Addiction note that slightly less than 36 percent of the participants who no longer met the criteria for diagnosing alcohol use disorder still drank more alcohol each week than recommended by public health officials in the Netherlands and the U.S., among other countries. For men, the standard recommendation for weekly alcohol intake is no more than 14 drinks; for women, the standard recommendation is no more than seven drinks. Any consumption above recommended levels increases the risks for future involvement in either alcohol abuse or alcoholism, as well as the risks for a subsequent alcohol use disorder diagnosis.

Posted on February 25th, 2014

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