Understanding relapse patterns is a critical component to helping individuals overcome an alcohol use disorder. To understand relapse patterns, more must be examined. The behavior patterns of problem drinkers and whether they are able to ease in and out of problem drinking behaviors is important for improving treatment for alcohol use disorders.
A recent study examined the behaviors of problem drinkers. They were examined as they transitioned into and out of problem drinking, assessing their behaviors across seven years. The extent to which there was a transition into and out of problem drinking was studied using Markov modeling by researchers Kevin L. Delucchi and Constance Weisner.
The study examined 1,350 participants that were randomly sampled from one county’s general population. The participants were taken from those admissions to public and private alcohol treatment programs in the same county. Each participant was also assessed at 1-, 3-, 5-, and 7-years follow-ups.
The participants all met criteria for problem drinking at baseline. Classification as a “problem drinker” resulted if the participant met two of three criteria. The criteria were heavy episodic drinking, social consequences, and dependence symptoms according to the DSM-IV during the past 12 months.
The results showed all possible patterns. However, a latent Markov model with heterogeneous transitions and five patterns were shown to fit the data. The sampling frame and baseline alcohol severity related to pattern.
The results of the study indicate that problem drinkers do change over time, but their status as a problem drinker is less likely to fluctuate. Problem drinkers tend to either remain a problem drinker over time, or to cease being a problem drinker.
The study found that problem drinkers are not likely to transition in and out of problem drinking status. Once a person transitions out of problem drinking, they are more likely to remain a nonproblem drinker.
This information is encouraging for organizations creating programs for helping those with a drinking problem. While behavior is severe for a problem drinker, if causes can be identified and addressed, it is likely that a problem drinker may be able to overcome the problem without relapse.
While the information is helpful for those educating organizations, there is another group that will find the study’s research beneficial. Loved ones of problem drinkers may be reassured on hearing that once a problem drinker has reformed, there is little chance that the individual will swing between the extremes of alcohol consumption.