BACKGROUND: The World Health Organization (WHO) categorizes alcohol consumption according to grams consumed into low-, medium-, high-, and very-high-risk drinking levels (RDLs). Although abstinence has been considered the ideal outcome of alcohol treatment, reductions in WHO RDLs have been proposed as primary outcomes for alcohol use disorder (AUD) trials.
OBJECTIVE: The current study examines the stability of WHO RDL reductions and the association between RDL reductions and long-term functioning for up to 3 years following treatment.
DESIGN AND PARTICIPANTS: Secondary data analysis of patients with AUD enrolled in the COMBINE Study and Project MATCH, two multi-site, randomized AUD clinical trials, who were followed for up to 3 years post-treatment (COMBINE: n = 694; MATCH: n = 806).
MEASURES: Alcohol use was measured via calendar-based methods. We estimated all models in the total sample and among participants who did not achieve abstinence during treatment.
KEY RESULTS: One-level RDL reductions were achieved by 84% of patients at the end of treatment, with 84.9% of those individuals maintaining that reduction at a 3-year follow-up. Two-level RDL reductions were achieved by 68% of patients at the end of treatment, with 77.7% of those individuals maintaining that reduction at a 3-year follow-up. One- and two-level RDL reductions at the end of treatment were associated with significantly better mental health, quality of life (including physical quality of life), and fewer drinking consequences 3 years after treatment (p < 0.05), as compared to no change or increased drinking.
CONCLUSION: AUD patients can maintain WHO RDL reductions for up to 3 years after treatment. Patients who had WHO RDL reductions functioned significantly better than those who did not reduce their drinking. These findings are consistent with prior reports suggesting that drinking reductions, short of abstinence, yield meaningful improvements in patient health, well-being, and functioning.