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Harvard: 5 Years of Sobriety, Lower Chance of Relapse

Old 10-07-2015, 03:32 PM
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Harvard: 5 Years of Sobriety, Lower Chance of Relapse

Five Years Is Magic Number for Recovering Alcoholics

Five Years Is Magic Number for Recovering Alcoholics
Attempts at social drinking frequently lead to relapse
By William J. Cromie

Gazette Staff

Harvard alumni and others who became alcoholics were not likely to return to drinking if they remained sober for five years, according to a Medical School study.

In the longest investigation to date, researchers tracked 268 Harvard graduates and 456 poor, inner-city men from adolescence to age 60-70 years. While the economically disadvantaged drinkers were more likely to become alcoholics, they were twice as likely as the college men to kick the habit. By age 60, 59 percent of the Harvard group still abused alcohol, compared to 28 percent of the inner-city men.

Forty percent of those who managed only two years of abstinence eventually went back to the bottle.

"After five years of sobriety, however, relapse was rare," notes George Vaillant, professor of psychiatry, who headed the research. "Before this study no one knew how long an alcoholic has to be sober to be cured."

The study concludes that it is difficult, if not impossible, for men who abuse alcohol to return to social drinking. "Of 21 men who returned to social drinking after age 40, all but five relapsed before they went five years without abusing alcohol," Vaillant noted.

"Liberal-minded people are upset by the idea that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other groups insist you must remain abstinent," Vaillant said "It's an ongoing controversy, but this study supports the AA point of view. If you follow former abusers long enough, you see that most of the social drinkers relapse."

Education Doesn't Help

Vaillant, who directs psychiatric research at Brigham and Women's Hospital, took over the study 30 years ago after the men had already been tracked for 25 years. He found that the Harvard men began alcoholic abuse later than the poor, inner-city males and experienced fewer problems.

"Socially disadvantaged men, in part as a function of early onset of severe alcohol dependence, often become stably abstinent," Vaillant explained. "However, because of poor health habits (especially smoking and diet) they are more likely to die [sooner].

"On the other hand, alcohol abusers with excellent social supports, high education, good health habits, and late onset of alcohol abuse are more likely to survive and to maintain a pattern of lifelong intermittent alcohol abuse. Thus, the college men, despite their educational and social advantages, were less likely to abstain from alcohol abuse."

By age 60, 18 percent of the Harvard alcohol abusers had died, compared to 29 percent of inner-city men. Thirty-two percent of the latter group were abstinent compared to 11.5 percent of the college men.

Surprisingly, after 5 to 15 years of worsening symptoms, the severity of alcoholism leveled off. "After age 40, instead of progressing, it is rather like chronic obesity -- it doesn't get better, it doesn't get worse," Vaillant commented.

Alcohol, directly or indirectly, kills 100,000 people in the United States each year, according to the study, published in the March issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. Also, the risk of heart disease and cancer is twice as high for alcohol abusers than for nonabusers, and heavy smoking dramatically increases the death rate among abusers.
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Old 10-07-2015, 04:40 PM
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Very interesting. I'm curious if the 5 year mark has to do with cell regrowth.
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Old 10-07-2015, 05:26 PM
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I posted this because so many people put a too much stock in someone not drinking for a few days, weeks and months.

I've never read anything about addiction and cell growth. Alcoholism/addiction is a mental illness. Recovery takes quite a while, it's along process of hard work and willingness to work a program (frequently, but not always, AA). What takes place in recovery (and therapy, which is recommended) is addicts learn tools to curb their addictive urges. For example, active alcoholics are self-centered, have very strong self-will, plus selfishness and grandiosity. I changed through the 12 Steps that taught me I'm responsible for all my actions and words.

These things take hard work and a lot of time. It's about much more than drinking. Bill Wilson (founder of AA) said that drinking is but a symptom of a much bigger problem.

I'm writing this as both a recovering alcoholic and a codependent. In an effort not to deal with my low self-esteem and other issues, to not experience painful feelings I first drank. Then in my tenth year of recovery I picked another recovering alcoholic (no program) and had the worst relationship of my life. Getting my life back was another 12 Step program, Alanon.
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Old 10-07-2015, 05:46 PM
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Interesting. Yesterday when speaking to my ex I asked him how work with his sponsor was going. He responded he doesn't currently have a sponsor; that his sponsor, sober 2-3 years, had relapsed and is back in rehab. It would stand to reason, in my brain anyway, that one shouldn't pick someone so young in recovery especially based on the above article.
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Old 10-07-2015, 10:32 PM
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What an interesting study! Thanks for sharing!
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Old 10-08-2015, 01:01 PM
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Interesting. Yesterday when speaking to my ex I asked him how work with his sponsor was going. He responded he doesn't currently have a sponsor; that his sponsor, sober 2-3 years, had relapsed and is back in rehab. It would stand to reason, in my brain anyway, that one shouldn't pick someone so young in recovery especially based on the above article.
The first year is about not drinking but that's the tip of the iceberg. But as an AA sponsor said, "the person who first walked in these rooms will drink again." Alcoholics must change their selfishness, irresponsibility, enormous egos, low self esteem or they will drink again. So there must be willingness to do the hard work of change through a program and therapy (cognitive works best).

It's hard, change is slow and that's why the majority of people drink again.
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Old 10-08-2015, 08:34 PM
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Thank you so much for posting this!! As a former alcohol abuser myself and codependent, this is fascinating. And as former spouse of an alcoholic, I can say those character traits are 110% accurate. Thank you!
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Old 10-09-2015, 06:42 PM
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Great post, thank you!! As I've said before in this forum (maybe I'll stop qualifying my comments soon, lol) I'm a recovering alkie. My mom died from her addictions, so reading here is both good to see my disease from the "other side," and comforting somehow to see others who have loved someone with an addiction, like I loved my mom.

Absolutely true comments, too. My first year sober was about learning how to not drink, and the beginnings of figuring myself out. Second year was about becoming, then becoming comfortable with, the new me. I haven't quite figured out what this third year is about, but there has been a fair amount of helping others.

It's nice to think it's possible that in just over two years, my chance of relapse can go way down. I still worry that the day will come I'll truly think I can safely drink. As if!
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Old 10-09-2015, 06:52 PM
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^^ congrats on your sobriety!! It's amazing how much your insides, heart and mind changes when you commit to sobriety. Kind of like starting life over, right?!
Peace to you
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Old 10-09-2015, 09:12 PM
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It is like starting over! I find myself referring to recovery as my second chance at life. It is. I've been given a second chance, it's precious. When you are able to live in the solution, you want to protect it and also share the solution with others.
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Old 10-10-2015, 11:26 AM
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Great post NYC. Thanks for sharing!
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