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Long-Term Treatment Careers and Outcomes of Previously Untreated Alcoholics

Christine Timko, Rudolf H. Moos, John W. Finney, Bernice S. Moos, Molly S. Kaplowitz

Objective: The aim of this project was to describe treatment selection and outcomes over an 8-year follow-up period for 466 individuals who had drinking problems and had not yet received formal treatment at baseline. Method: By the 8-year follow-up, individuals had self-selected into one of four groups: no-treatment (n = 78); completed treatment (help was received only in Years 1-3 of follow-up; n = 230); additional treatment (help was received in Years 1-3, with more help in Years 4-8; n = 134); and delayed treatment (no help was received until Years 4-8 of follow-up; n = 24). Results: Compared with individuals who remained untreated, the completed treatment group had more severe drinking problems and depression at baseline, but better drinking outcomes at both the 3- and 8-year follow-ups. At 3 years, the additional treatment group perceived their drinking problem as being more serious than did the untreated group and was more likely to have drinking-related problems; by 8 years, individuals who had obtained additional treatment were more likely to be abstinent, but still perceived their drinking problems as being more serious. Compared to individuals who completed treatment in Years 1-3, additional treatment group members had more severe drinking and functioning problems at 3 and 8 years. More involvement with formal outpatient treatment or AA was associated with more improvement on drinking indices. Conclusions: Persons with alcohol use disorders who elect to enter formal treatment or AA relatively soon after acknowledging their drinking problems experience better drinking-related outcomes than do those who receive no help or who delay receiving help. Accordingly, referral processes should ensure that problem drinkers enter self-help or formal treatment quickly. (J. Stud. Alcohol 60: 437-447, 1999)