In a new review article, scientists at NIAAA have released a definition of recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD) that addresses limitations associated with prior AUD recovery definitions and lays the groundwork for future recovery-related research. As they report online in the American Journal of Psychiatry on April 12, 2022, Dr. Brett Hagman, Dr. Dan Falk, Dr. Raye Litten, and Dr. George Koob of NIAAA explain that:
“Recovery is a process through which an individual pursues both remission from AUD and cessation from heavy drinking. Recovery can also be considered an outcome such that an individual may be considered ‘recovered’ if both remission from AUD and cessation from heavy drinking are achieved and maintained over time. For those experiencing alcohol-related functional impairment and other adverse consequences, recovery is often marked by the fulfillment of basic needs, enhancements in social support and spirituality, and improvements in physical and mental health, quality of life, and other dimensions of well-being. Continued improvement in these domains may, in turn, promote sustained recovery.”
NIAAA developed this definition to provide a framework for advancing recovery research and the treatment of AUD, and with input from key recovery stakeholders such as researchers, clinicians, and recovery specialists. It extends prior definitions by incorporating key empirically supported alcohol-related processes such as remission from DSM-5 AUD and cessation from heavy drinking, which NIAAA defines as consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week for men, or more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week for women. And by permitting non-heavy drinking as progress toward a successful outcome, it recognizes that recovery is an ongoing process.
In their concluding remarks, the authors note that researchers and health care professionals will now be able to more precisely operationalize and measure recovery-related processes. This, in turn, will allow for more consistent and accurate comparisons across different research studies and settings. While the new definition should help standardize how we view and measure recovery, NIAAA expects to continue to refine it over time as research continues to improve our understanding of how aspects of well-being and biopsychosocial functioning, remission from AUD, and cessation from heavy drinking affect recovery.
Hagman, B.; Falk, D.; Litten, R.; and Koob, G. Defining Recovery From Alcohol Use Disorder: Development of an NIAAA Research Definition. American Journal of Psychiatry, Published Online: 12 Apr 2022 https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.21090963. PMID: 35410494