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J Stud Alcohol. 2006 May;67(3):354-62.

Predictors of untreated remission from late-life drinking problems.

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  • 1Center for Health Care Evaluation, Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, and Stanford University School of Medicine, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA.



Studies of mixed-aged samples have suggested that a majority of problem drinkers achieve remission "naturally", without formal treatment. We sought to describe the life history predictors of untreated remission among older adults.


We compared 330 older untreated remitters to 120 older treated remitters and to 130 untreated nonremitters.


A majority (73%) of remitted, older problem drinkers attained remission without any formal treatment for drinking problems. Compared with treated remitters, late-life untreated remitters were more likely to be women and had completed more schooling, reached their peak alcohol consumption and ceased development of new drinking problems earlier, had much less severe drinking and depression histories, and were less likely to have received any advice to reduce consumption. Compared with untreated nonremitters, untreated remitters were more likely to be women, reached their peak alcohol consumption and stopped developing new drinking problems almost a decade earlier, had somewhat less severe drinking histories, were less likely to have been advised to reduce consumption, and were more likely to have reacted to late-life health problems by reducing their alcohol consumption.


Many late-life problem drinkers with milder drinking problems achieve remission without treatment or advice to reduce consumption. However, a notable percentage of untreated older individuals who have more severe drinking problems could benefit from public health efforts to aid detection of late-life drinking problems and interventions aimed at reducing alcohol consumption. Results suggest that such interventions should highlight the negative health consequences of excessive late-life drinking.

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