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Research Summary

Help Seeking Quadruples the Likelihood of Abstinence

To quantify the effect of help seeking on recovery from alcoholism, researchers in the United States analyzed data from 4422 adults who had participated in a nationally representative survey and developed alcohol dependence at least 1 year before their participation.

  • Only 26% of subjects had ever sought help for their alcohol problems; 3% participated in a 12-step program only, 6% in formal treatment only, and 17% in both.
  • Help seekers drank more and had higher lifetime prevalences of other drug use, mood disorders, and personality disorders than did subjects who had not sought help.
  • In analyses adjusted for potential confounders, help seeking significantly increased the likelihood of any recovery (odds ratio [OR] 2.4) and of abstinence (OR 4.0). Any recovery was defined as, in the past year, having no symptoms of alcohol abuse or dependence and either drinking low-risk amounts* or abstaining.
  • The odds of recovery were greater for those who had participated in 12-step programs with or without formal treatment than for those who had participated in formal treatment only.


Even though they had more comorbidity and therefore were at risk for worse outcomes, seekers of formal and informal treatment had better odds of recovery from alcohol dependence. This study could not separate the motivation inherent in seeking help from the therapeutic effects of help received. However, help seeking—regardless of the patient’s level of readiness—should be encouraged.

Peter D. Friedmann, MD, MPH
*<=14 drinks per week and <=4 drinks on any day for men; <=7 and <=3, respectively, for women


Dawson DA, Grant BF, Stinson FS, et al. Estimating the effect of help-seeking on achieving recovery from alcohol dependence. Addiction. 2006;101(6):824–834.