AIMS: This study examined the rates and predictors of 3-year remission, and subsequent 16-year relapse, among initially untreated individuals with alcohol use disorders who did not obtain help or who participated in treatment and/or Alcoholics Anonymous in the first year after recognizing their need for help. DESIGN AND MEASURES: A sample of individuals (n = 461) who initiated help-seeking was surveyed at baseline and 1 year, 3 years, 8 years and 16 years later. Participants provided information on their life history of drinking, alcohol-related functioning and life context and coping. FINDINGS: Compared to individuals who obtained help, those who did not were less likely to achieve 3-year remission and subsequently were more likely to relapse. Less alcohol consumption and fewer drinking problems, more self-efficacy and less reliance on avoidance coping at baseline predicted 3-year remission; this was especially true of individuals who remitted without help. Among individuals who were remitted at 3 years, those who consumed more alcohol but were less likely to see their drinking as a significant problem, had less self-efficacy, and relied more on avoidance coping, were more likely to relapse by 16 years. These findings held for individuals who initially obtained help and for those who did not. CONCLUSIONS: Natural remission may be followed by a high likelihood of relapse; thus, preventive interventions may be indicated to forestall future alcohol problems among individuals who cut down temporarily on drinking on their own.
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