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J Stud Alcohol. 1998 Nov;59(6):640-6.

Predictors of relapse in long-term abstinent alcoholics.

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Psychiatry Service, VA San Diego Healthcare System, California, USA.



The goals of this study were to examine the hazard of relapse during an average 11 years of follow-up in alcoholics who had achieved long-term abstinence and to determine predictors of later relapse.


Male alcoholics (N = 77) with at least 18 months of stable abstinence at time of entry were followed for 2 to 17 years (mean follow-up = 10.9 years). During follow-up, detailed information regarding relapse/abstinence and interim drinking behavior was recorded. Potential predictors of relapse collected at enrollment included past drinking history, severity of alcohol-related life problems, degree of neurocognitive impairment based on neuropsychological (NP) tests, psychological distress (MMPI) and past medical health.


Twenty-four of 77 (31%) long-term abstainers relapsed during the follow-up period. The average annual hazard rate of relapse was 3.8% in the first 5 years of follow-up and 2.6% over the next 6-11 years. Based on Cox proportional hazard regression analyses, the only significant variables to predict relapse were MMPI Scale 4 (Psychopathic Deviate, relative risk = 3.16, 95% CI = 1.19-8.38) and prior history of alcohol-related life difficulty (i.e., citation for driving while intoxicated, relative risk = 2.64, 95% CI = 1.05-6.64) (chi2 = 14.2, 2 df, p < .001).


There is approximately a 3% annual risk of relapse in alcoholics who have been able to achieve long-term abstinence, even after 5 years of abstinence. Alcoholics who resumed drinking had greater indicators of longer standing psychological trait disturbance, reflected in elevated MMPI Scale 4 and history of more alcohol-related social difficulties. Placing the present study in the context of previous research that focused primarily on predictors or relapse in the shorter term, it appears that, whereas mood disturbance predicts short-term outcome, more enduring personality traits predict long-term success in remaining abstinent.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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