Alcohol craving and withdrawal at treatment entry prospectively predict alcohol use outcomes during outpatient treatment


Chronic alcohol use increases risk of alcohol craving and withdrawal symptoms (AW) as well as abstinence-related distress symptoms, in those entering alcohol use disorder (AUD) treatment. Here, we examined whether AW and alcohol craving in AUD patients entering outpatient treatment prospectively predicts future heavy drinking days/week (HDD) and additional alcohol use outcomes during 8-weeks of outpatient treatment, and their relationship to abstinence symptoms of depression, anxiety and sleep difficulties. Participants were 80 treatment-seeking adults with current DSM-5 AUD (39% female; 43% White; 20–60 years) who completed assessments of AW and alcohol craving and also alcohol abstinence symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep quality at treatment intake. Participants were prospectively followed using daily diaries for alcohol intake during 8-week of standardized weekly relapse prevention counseling to support recovery. After accounting for demographic and pre-treatment alcohol use, greater alcohol craving at treatment entry predicted higher HDD (p < .013) as well as greater drinking days (DD p < .004), average drinks per drinking day/week (AvgD p < .001) and relapse to heavy drinking (p < .05), while higher levels of pretreatment AW symptoms interacted with treatment week to predict greater HDD (p < .018). Abstinence symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep difficulties were associated with craving and AW but did not predict any drinking-related outcomes. These results provide evidence that increased alcohol craving and AW may serve as prognostic indicators of greater risk of heavy drinking in outpatient treatment. Findings suggest the need to evaluate craving and AW at outpatient treatment entry and develop targeted treatments to specifically address the effects of craving and AW on drinking outcomes in outpatient AUD treatment.

Drug and Alcohol Dependence
Jorge S. Martins
Jorge S. Martins
Postdoctoral Researcher