The effects of drinking goal on treatment outcome for alcoholism

J Consult Clin Psychol. 2013 Feb;81(1):13-22. doi: 10.1037/a0030886. Epub 2012 Dec 10.


Objective: It is well known to clinicians and researchers in the field of alcoholism that patients vary with respect to drinking goal. The objective in this study was to elucidate the contribution of drinking goal to treatment outcome in the context of specific behavioral and pharmacological interventions.

Method: Participants were 1,226 alcohol-dependent individuals enrolled in a large, multisite trial of combined behavioral intervention, acamprosate, and naltrexone. Drinking goal was coded as follows: (a) controlled drinking, (b) conditional abstinence, and (c) complete abstinence.

Results: Analysis revealed a main effect of drinking goal on percent days abstinent (p < .0001), days to relapse to heavy drinking (p < .0001), and global clinical outcome (p < .001). These results were such that a goal of complete abstinence was associated with the best outcomes, followed by conditional abstinence; controlled drinking was associated with the poorest outcomes. Conversely, a main effect of drinking goal was observed on drinks per drinking day (p < .01), such that controlled drinking was associated with fewer drinks per drinking day whereas complete abstinence was associated with the highest number of drinks per drinking day. Combined behavioral intervention performed better than medical management alone for participants whose drinking goal was not complete abstinence.

Conclusion: These results suggest that drinking goal represents a highly predictive clinical variable and should be an integral part of the clinical assessment of patients with alcohol dependence. Assessment of patients' drinking goals may also help match patients to interventions best suited to address their goals and clinical needs.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acamprosate
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Deterrents / therapeutic use*
  • Alcohol Drinking / drug therapy
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Alcohol Drinking / therapy
  • Alcoholism / drug therapy
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Alcoholism / therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Naltrexone / therapeutic use*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Recurrence
  • Taurine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Taurine / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Alcohol Deterrents
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Taurine
  • Naltrexone
  • Acamprosate