Quitting Alcohol Can Be Easier To Maintain Than Cutting Back

A new study shows that total abstinence from drinking may be easier to maintain in the long run than trying to cut back, even when both choices are being guided by a professional.

The findings challenge the ongoing theory that the most influential factor for long-term success is that the counselor and patient share the same treatment goals — although this still plays an important role.

Overall, researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that people with alcohol dependence whose goal is to quit drinking entirely tend to be more successful when treated by a provider who encourages total abstinence.

On the other hand, those who simply want to cut back their drinking tend to be less successful, even when they are treated by a care provider who agrees and helps with controlled consumption.

Alcohol dependence counselors offer differing views on treatment options. Some believe that people with alcohol dependence can learn to control their drinking, while others suggest total abstinence.

Prior research has found that the crucial factor in treatment success is that patients and care providers share the same view, and that the choice of treatment method — either cutting back or total abstinence — plays a secondary role. But how great an influence that choice of method has on the final treatment outcome has not been studied previously.

The new study followed up 201 adult patients 2.5 years after treatment onset. The findings reveal that a shared view between patient and care provider was not decisive for the treatment outcome.

“Instead, patients whose goal was total abstinence were more successful than those who had chosen to control their drinking,” said Dr. Kristina Berglund, who studies dependence at the Department of Psychology.

The results show that approximately 90 percent of patients who were in agreement with their care provider on total abstinence were still sober at the follow-up, whereas only 50 percent who were in agreement with their care provider on controlled consumption treatment had succeeded in controlling their drinking at follow-up.

“It is easy to believe that the patient and care provider having a common goal is the most important factor in achieving good treatment outcomes, but it is not that simple. Our study shows that, regardless of agreement on goals and methods, in the end it is more difficult to stick to controlled drinking than to give it up entirely,” said Berglund.

The study findings offer a new perspective to the current debate on total abstinence vs. safe, controlled alcohol consumption as treatment goals in cases of alcohol dependence.

Source: University of Gothenburg