Background: There is little information on the stability of abstinent and nonabstinent remission from alcohol dependence in the general U.S. population. The aim of this study was to examine longitudinal changes in recovery status among individuals in remission from DSM-IV alcohol dependence, including rates and correlates of relapse, over a 3-year period.
Methods: This analysis is based on data from Waves 1 and 2 of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults aged 18 years and older originally interviewed in 2001 to 2002 and reinterviewed in 2004 to 2005. The Wave 1 NESARC identified 2,109 individuals who met the DSM-IV criteria for full remission from alcohol dependence. Of these, 1,772 were reinterviewed at Wave 2, comprising the analytic sample for this study. Recovery status at Wave 2 was examined as a function of type of remission at Wave 1, with a focus on rates of relapse, alternately defined as recurrence of any alcohol use disorder (AUD) symptoms and recurrence of DSM-IV alcohol dependence. Logistic regression models were used to estimate the odds of relapse among asymptomatic risk drinkers and low-risk drinkers relative to abstainers, adjusted for a wide range of potential confounders.
Results: By Wave 2, 51.0% of the Wave 1 asymptomatic risk drinkers had experienced the recurrence of AUD symptoms, compared with 27.2% of low-risk drinkers and 7.3% of abstainers. Across all ages combined, the adjusted odds of recurrence of AUD symptoms relative to abstainers were 14.6 times as great for asymptomatic risk drinkers and 5.8 times as great for low-risk drinkers. The proportions of individuals who had experienced the recurrence of dependence were 10.2, 4.0, and 2.9%, respectively, and the adjusted odds ratios relative to abstainers were 7.0 for asymptomatic risk drinkers and 3.0 for low-risk drinkers. Age significantly modified the association between type of remission and relapse. Differences by type of remission were not significant for younger alcoholics, who had the highest rates of relapse.
Conclusions: Abstinence represents the most stable form of remission for most recovering alcoholics. Study findings highlight the need for better approaches to maintaining recovery among young adults in remission from alcohol dependence, who are at particularly high risk of relapse.