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J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2010 Nov;71(6):831-6.

Following problem drinkers over eleven years: understanding changes in alcohol consumption.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, 0984-TRC, San Francisco, California 94143-0984, USA.



Much of what we know about the course of alcohol consumption in problem and dependent drinkers comes from studies of in-treatment populations. Less is known about the natural course of alcohol consumption among such drinkers in the general population and what predicts how much they drink.


This study examined alcohol consumption over the course of 11 years in a randomly selected sample of 672 problem and dependent drinkers from a single, heterogeneous U.S. county.


Alcohol consumption declined and leveled off over time but did not decrease to the average general U.S. population level. Several indicators of ongoing problems with drinking are associated with high levels of drinking over time: having a heavy-drinking network, receiving suggestions to do something about one's drinking, and going to treatment. Factors associated with less drinking include having contact with community agencies and going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).


Results suggest that problem and dependent drinkers continue to drink at an elevated level over the course of years. Gatekeepers, family members, and policymakers should encourage and facilitate contact with social service agencies and with AA for problem drinkers. Suggestions from others to do something about one's drinking and seeking specialty care occur more often in those with more severe problems and do not appear to be linked to less drinking over time.

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