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J Abnorm Psychol. 2003 May;112(2):219-27.

Relapse as a nonlinear dynamic system: application to patients with alcohol use disorders.

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Department of Psychology, University of Montana, USA.


Understanding the relapse process is one of the most important issues in addictive behaviors research. To date, most studies have taken a linear approach toward predicting relapse based on risk factors. Nonlinear dynamical systems theory can be used to describe processes that are not adequately modeled using a linear approach. In particular, the authors propose that catastrophe theory, a subset of nonlinear dynamical systems theory, can be used to describe the relapse process in addictive behaviors. Two small prospective studies using 6-month follow-ups of patients with alcohol use disorders (inpatient, n = 51; outpatient, n = 43) illustrate how cusp catastrophe theory may be used to predict relapse. Results from these preliminary studies indicate that a cusp catastrophe model has more predictive utility than traditional linear models.

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