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Alcoholics in Recovery Do Better with Sober, Nondrinking Friends and Family

Recovering alcoholics whose family members and friends discourage their drinking can play a powerful role in their treatment, according to a new study from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

Participants who had friends or family who actively encourage them not to drink tended to be more successful at treatment, but those had social networks encouraging drinking had harder times.

"Most of us have an image of a 'pro-drinker' as someone who drinks heavily. Often, however, pro-drinkers are people who may abstain themselves or be light drinkers, but don't believe their friend who is struggling with an alcohol problem has a drinking problem that requires treatment," Dr. Stout said.

Dr. Robert Stout and his colleagues used statistical measures to analyze previous research about social networks and their effect on how people are able to cope after finishing treatment for alcohol problems. They then followed 1,756 patients in recovery, and accessed their progress at three, six, nine, 12, and 15 months, and then again at 39 months. The more pro-drinkers in their lives, especially at months 15 and 39, the worse the outcomes for participants. Social networks predicted as much as 5% to 12% of their outcomes. The study concluded that "Network composition following treatment is an important and plausibly causal predictor of alcohol outcome across three years, adjusting for multiple confounders."

One valuable technique suggested by the research team might be intervening with pro-drinkers who are involved with a recovering alcoholic and teaching them the importance of helping their friend or family member remain abstinent.

Dr. Stout acknowledged that it is hard to make such changes.

"It can be intimidating to reach out to new people or to explain to one's current friends and family that they need their support during recovery," he explained. "Breaking off older relationships can also be hard but equally important."

Previous studies have suggested similar phenomena occur in other kinds of addictions. For example, a 2007 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine implied that obesity worked something like a contagious disease, and that your risk of obesity increases 37% if your spouse is overweight and goes up by 57% if you have overweight friends, and 40% for overweight siblings. Most treatment programs require recovering drug addicts to drop their old drug-using friends. This new study takes it a step further by stating that recovery is more likely to happen if your friends and family actively keep reminding you to stop drinking.

This research was funded through a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and published in the Journal of Alcoholism and Drugs.


Posted on April 26th, 2012

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