This secondary data analysis examined patterns of drinking during alcohol treatment and associated drinking outcomes during the first year following treatment. The goal was to provide clinicians with guidance on which patients may be most at risk for negative long-term outcomes based on drinking patterns during treatment.
This study was an analysis of existing data (N = 3,851) from three randomized clinical trials for alcohol use disorder: the COMBINE Study (n = 1,383), Project MATCH (n = 1,726), and the United Kingdom Alcohol Treatment Trial (n = 742). Indicators of abstinence, non-heavy drinking, and heavy drinking (defined as 4/5 or more drinks per day for women/men) were examined during each week of treatment using repeated-measures latent class analysis. Associations between drinking patterns during treatment and drinking intensity, drinking consequences, and physical and mental health 12 months following intake were examined.
Seven drinking patterns were identified. Patients who engaged in persistent heavy drinking throughout treatment and those who returned to persistent heavy drinking during treatment had the worst long-term outcomes. Patients who engaged in some heavy drinking during treatment had better long-term outcomes than persistent heavy drinkers. Patients who reported low-risk drinking or abstinence had the best long-term outcomes. There were no differences in outcomes between low-risk drinkers and abstainers.
Abstinence, low-risk drinking, or even some heavy drinking during treatment are associated with the best long-term outcomes. Patients who are engaging in persistent heavy drinking are likely to have the worst outcomes and may require a higher level of care.