Pretreatment changes in drinking: Theoretical and methodological implications for alcohol use disorder treatment outcome research

Jared A. Davis, Becky K. Gius, Cory A. Crane, Stephen A. Maisto, Robert C. Schlauch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: There is a growing recognition of the importance of changes in drinking prior to the first treatment session (i.e., pretreatment change). A major limitation of past studies of pretreatment change is the reliance on retrospective reporting on drinking rates between the baseline assessment and the first treatment session collected at the end of treatment. The present study sought to extend previous findings by examining 12-month treatment outcomes and correlates of pretreatment changes in drinking measured weekly during treatment. Methods: Data from a randomized behavioral clinical trial examining the effect of therapeutic alliance feedback on drinking outcomes were analyzed (n = 165). All participants received cognitive behavioral therapy for alcohol dependence, completed pre and posttreatment assessments, and provided weekly measures of drinking during treatment. Results: Results indicated that approximately half of the sample reduced their heavy drinking days by 70% or more and number of drinking days by 50% or more prior to beginning treatment. Further, individuals who reported greater consideration of how their problematic drinking affected their social environment displayed greater changes in drinking days prior to treatment. Changes in heavy drinking days were also related to relationship status, such that individuals who were single/never married were less likely to change prior to treatment than those who were married/cohabitating or separated/divorced. Conclusion: These confirm the importance of pretreatment change in the study of treatment outcomes, and suggest that interpersonal processes, including the appraisal of drinking behavior in a social context, may play an important role in pretreatment changes in drinking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1406-1420
Number of pages15
JournalAlcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • alcohol use disorder
  • natural recovery
  • outcomes
  • pretreatment change
  • treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology


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