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Long-Term Outcomes of Alcohol Use Disorders: Comparing Untreated Individuals with Those in Alcoholics Anonymous and Formal Treatment

Christine Timko, Rudolf H. Moos, John W. Finney, Michelle D. Lesar

Objective: The aim of this study was to examine how the type and timing of help received over 8 years by previously untreated problem drinking individuals were linked to drinking and functioning outcomes. Method: At the time of the 8-year follow-up, individuals (N - 466, 51% male) had self-selected into four groups: no treatment (n = 78), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) only (n = 66), formal treatment only (n = 74), or formal treatment plus AA (n = 248). Results: Individuals who received some type of help--AA, formal treatment or both--were more likely to be abstinent at 8 years than were untreated individuals. Although the AA only group was better off than the formal treatment only group at 1 and 3 years, the informally and formally treated groups were equivalent on drinking outcomes at 8 years. Similarly, despite the formal treatment plus AA group having been better off at 1 and 3 years than the formal treatment only group, the two formal treatment groups were comparable on drinking at 8 years. Both helped and untreated individuals improved between baseline and 1 year on drinking outcomes, but only formally treated individuals showed continued improvement over 8 years on drinking indices. Participation in AA or formal treatment during Year 1 of follow-up was associated with better drinking outcomes at 8 years. Conclusions: Individuals who obtain help for a drinking problem, especially relatively quickly, do somewhat better on drinking outcomes over 8 years than those who do not receive help, but there is little difference between types of help on long-term drinking outcomes. (J. Stud. Alcohol 61: 529-540, 2000)