Interviews were conducted with 29 alcoholics who claimed a "spontaneous" remission from alcoholism to elucidate the cognitive processes associated with the initiation and maintenance of absolute or relative abstinence. Factors associated with the initiation of abstinence included hitting a personal bottom, alcohol-induced physical problems, allergy or physical aversion, change in lifestyle and spiritual-mystical experiences. With respect to the maintenance of abstinence, the majority periodically resorted to willpower, some claimed the disappearance of craving and others were protected by their physical aversion to alcohol. Cognitive factors underlying the maintenance of abstinence overwhelmingly involved negative associations to the notion of drinking. The implications of these findings for psychotherapy are discussed.