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Total Abstinence From Alcohol Is Better To Treat Alcohol-Dependent Patients

Total abstinence from alcohol might be the better way to treat people from alcohol dependence (as opposed to only drinking in moderation), says a new study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.


The study was conducted by researchers from Sweden‘s University of Gothenburg working in collaboration with London Business School, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and Copenhagen Business School. It focuses on comparing the different approaches used to tackle alcohol problems by care providers in Sweden; some support controlled drinking as treatment while others hold that people should take to total abstinence. Studies normally do not test for the effect of the method of treatment on the final outcome. Rather, previous research shows that the choice of treatment method has a lesser role than patients and care providers having the same opinion as to the treatment.

The new findings, however, demonstrate the opposite: the shared view is not decisive as to the treatment outcome, and people suffering from alcohol dependence who wish to give up on drinking will have a greater chance at being successful at achieving this if their care provider calls for them to abstain completely while those endeavouring towards the same goal, but whose care provider advocates controlled consumption, are less likely to fulfill their intention. One of the authors, Associate Professor Kristina Berglund, explains that “patients whose goal was total abstinence were more successful than those who had chosen to control their drinking“.

The majority of the patients under study (about 90% of them) who agreed with their care provider on total abstinence were found to be sober after the treatment while only half of those who were in agreement with their care provider on controlled consumption were able to actually control their consumption after the treatment.

Commenting on this finding, Berglund says:

“It is easy to believe that the patient and care provider having a common goal is the most important factor in achieving good treatment outcomes, but it is not that simple. Our study shows that, regardless of agreement on goals and methods, in the end it is more difficult to stick to controlled drinking than to give it up entirely.”


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