Untreated remission from drinking problems in late life

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

Aim:  Little is known about untreated remission among older adults.  This presentation describes the rate, life history predictors, and outcomes associated with late-life untreated remission from drinking problems.

Design:  Data were collected in a multi-wave, 10-year longitudinal study.

Participants:  Participants comprised a U.S. sample of community-residing adults aged 55-65 at baseline.  Comparison groups were 330 former problem drinkers who had achieved remission without treatment, 120 treated remitters, 130 untreated, continuing problem drinkers, and 232 lifetime nonproblem drinkers.

Measurement:  Predictors were assessed using retrospective and prospective data collection methods and included demographics, life history of drinking problems and depression, life stressors, and reasons for remission.  Outcomes were assessed prospectively and included drinking- and health-related functioning, life context, and coping.

Findings:  A majority (73%) of those who achieved remission did so without treatment.  Late-life untreated remitters were more likely to be women than were treated remitters or untreated, continuing problem drinkers.  Although age of drinking problem onset was similar for untreated remitters, treated remitters, and continuing problem drinkers (about 32 years), untreated remitters reached their peak alcohol consumption and ceased development of new drinking problems earlier, and they had less severe drinking histories.  Health problems were the most common reason for drinking reduction among untreated remitters.  Untreated remitter’s health, depression, and coping outcomes were more favorable, and their life contexts more benign, than were those of treated remitters.  However, untreated remitters in the post-remission period were more likely to continue to drink, and their smoking rates declined more slowly over time than did those of treated remitters.  Compared to lifetime nonproblem drinkers, untreated remitters exhibited worse health- and financial-related outcomes six years post-remission.

Conclusion:  Many late-life problem drinkers with milder drinking problems achieve remission without treatment or advice to reduce consumption.  However, their prior drinking problems convey a legacy of health-related and life context deficits.


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Dr Kathleen Schutte