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J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2009 Sep;70(5):714-25.

Treatment, alcoholics anonymous, and 16-year changes in impulsivity and legal problems among men and women with alcohol use disorders.

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



The link between impulsive personality traits and alcohol use disorders (AUDs) is well established. No studies, however, have investigated whether receipt of help for AUDs predicts change in impulsivity or whether such change is associated with relevant outcomes such as legal problems. The present study examined predictive associations between the duration of help for AUDs (Alcoholics Anonymous [AA], professional treatment) and impulsivity and legal problems over 16 years in men and women with AUDs.


Participants who were initially untreated for their AUDs (n(men) = 332, n(women) = 296) completed follow-up telephone interviews at 1 and 16 years after their baseline assessment.


Impulsivity and legal problems declined between baseline and the 1-year and 16-year follow-ups among both women and men. A longer duration of participation in AA predicted a decline in impulsivity at both follow-up assessments, and, in turn, a decline in impulsivity predicted a decline in legal problems at Years 1 and 16. In addition, a longer duration of participation in AA predicted fewer legal problems at Year 1, and this association was moderated by gender (significant in men) and impulsivity (significant for individuals with higher baseline scores).


The results highlight the potential for AA and professional treatment to reduce the expression of impulsivity and related disinhibitory traits and legal problems in individuals with AUDs.

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