How effective is alcoholism treatment in the United States?

J Stud Alcohol. 2001 Mar;62(2):211-20. doi: 10.15288/jsa.2001.62.211.


Objective: Following in the footsteps of several prior attempts, this review seeks a meaningful and data-based answer to the common question of how people fare, on average, after being treated for alcoholism (broadly defined as alcohol use disorders).

Method: Findings from seven large multisite studies were combined to derive estimates of the average effectiveness of alcoholism treatment. To provide common outcome measures, conversion equations were used to compute variables not reported in the original studies.

Results: During the year after treatment, 1 in 4 clients remained continuously abstinent on average, and an additional 1 in 10 used alcohol moderately and without problems. During this period, mortality averaged less than 2%. The remaining clients, as a group, showed substantial improvement, abstaining on 3 days out of 4 and reducing their overall alcohol consumption by 87%, on average. Alcohol-related problems also decreased by 60%.

Conclusions: About one third of clients remain asymptomatic during the year following a single treatment event. The remaining two thirds show, on average, large and significant decreases in drinking and related problems. This substantial level of improvement in "unremitted" clients tends to be overlooked when outcomes are dichotomized as successful or relapsed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Alcoholism / therapy
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology