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Addiction. 1995 Aug;90(8):1025-36; discussion 1037-51.

Loss of control and inability to abstain: the measurement of and the relationship between two constructs in male alcoholics.

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  • 1Center of Alcohol Studies, Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey, Piscataway 08855-0969, USA.


The constructs "loss of control" and "inability to abstain" have been used extensively in alcohol research. Examination of the literature, however, reveals inconsistencies in the ways researchers have operationalized and measured these constructs and a dearth of empirical investigation of the validity of the constructs. The current study examines a number of methods of operationalizing loss of control and inability to abstain and investigates the relationship of the two constructs with each other. Ninety-seven male alcoholics who participated in an outpatient conjoint alcoholism treatment study provided data on pre-treatment alcohol consumption and self-report measures of lifetime drinking behavior. Nine interview or questionnaire items that best approximated items used in the literature to measure inability to abstain and loss of control were chosen for analysis. Items measuring both constructs were highly intercorrelated and were associated more strongly with quantity rather than frequency of alcohol consumption, suggesting significant overlap between the constructs. None of the items were associated with a particular drinking pattern. The results provide support for a unitary dimension of impaired control, as used in the alcohol dependence syndrome, and suggest that the value of loss of control and inability to abstain as distinct and meaningful constructs should be reconsidered.

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