Some Implications of the RAND Alcoholism and Treatment Study for Alcoholism Research

by Harriet B. Braiker, J Michael Polich

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Reflections on findings of the RAND study and their implication for alcoholism research. The study was the subject of intense controversy throughout the popular press and media as well as scientific journals centering on implications of one of the findings — that some alcoholics return to moderate drinking. This finding challenges the basic underpinning of most therapeutic approaches to alcoholism which demand total abstinence as a goal. The requirement of abstinence is based on the disease model for alcoholism postulated by E. M. Jellinek that holds alcoholism is a progressive and irreversible process that can be successfully arrested only by total abstinence. Numerous studies have raised doubt about the model by documenting a return to social drinking without relapse by some alcoholics. The RAND study is only another in a long list of such studies. Reaction to the RAND study may be viewed as symptomatic of a transition to a new paradigm and may result in a vigorous and healthy debate over fundamentals.

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