Abstinence or controlled drinking – a five-year follow-up on Swedish clients reporting positive change after treatment for substance use disorders [2020]

The purpose of this paper is to investigate how clients – five years after completing treatment interventions endorsing abstinence – view abstinence and the role of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in their recovery process.

Interviews with 40 clients were conducted shortly after them finishing treatment and five years later. All the interviewees had attended treatment programmes based on the 12-step philosophy, and they all described abstinence as crucial to their recovery process in an initial interview.

At follow-up, the majority remained abstinent. For many, attending AA meetings was still important – some described attending as a routine, whereas others stressed that the meetings were crucial for remaining abstinent. For those who reported controlled drinking (CD), this was described either as a natural step in their recovery process or as associated with worries and self-doubts.

Research limitations/implications
The results suggest the importance of offering interventions with various treatment goals and that clients choosing CD as part of their sustained recovery would benefit from support in this process, both from peers and professionals.

There are heterogeneous views on the possibilities of CD after recovery from substance use disorder both in research and in treatment systems. This study on client views on abstinence versus CD after treatment advocating total abstinence can contribute with perspectives on this ongoing discussion.

Ninive von Greiff, Lisa Skogens
Drugs and Alcohol Today, 2 April 2020