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Successful Remission of Late-Life Drinking Problems: A 10-Year Follow-Up

K.K. Schutte, F.E. Byrne, P.L. Brennan, R.H. Moos

Objective: This study sought to determine (1) the rate and predictors of long-term remission among a sample of untreated late-life problem drinkers and (2) whether successfully remitted older problem drinkers attain levels of functioning and life contexts comparable to those of lifetime nonproblem drinkers at a 10-year follow-up. Method: We compared 140 older baseline problem drinkers who were successful in achieving long-term remission to 184 baseline problem drinkers whose drinking problems did not remit over the course of 10 years and to 339 lifetime nonproblem drinkers, on functioning and life contexts at baseline and at 4- and 10-year follow-ups. Results: Being female, having more recent onset of drinking problems, fewer and less severe drinking problems, friends who approved less of drinking, and drinking less and drinking less frequently at baseline predicted long-term remission. In many regards, long-term remitted problem drinkers attained levels of functioning and life context similar to those of lifetime nonproblem drinkers. However, remitted problem drinkers continued to report more incipient drinking problems, depressive symptoms, health and financial stressors, psychoactive medication use, reliance on avoidance coping strategies and less social support from friends than did lifetime nonproblem drinkers at the 10-year follow-up. Conclusions: About a third (30%) of an untreated sample of late-life problem drinkers succeeded in attaining stable, long-term remission. The functioning and life contexts of untreated remitted problem drinkers improved significantly over time; however, some deficits persisted at follow-up. (J. Stud. Alcohol 62: 322-334, 2001)