Trajectories of drinking urges and the initiation of abstinence during cognitive-behavioral alcohol treatment

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry

Publication Date


Document Type



Mental and Social Health | Psychiatry | Psychiatry and Psychology | Substance Abuse and Addiction


BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Drinking urges during treatment for alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are common, can cause distress and predict relapse. Clients may have little awareness of how their drinking urges might be expected to change during AUD treatment in general and in response to initiating abstinence. The aim of the present study was to test whether drinking urges change on a daily level during treatment and after initiating abstinence.

DESIGN: Secondary data analysis was performed using daily drinking urge ratings from two randomized clinical trials.

SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: Women (n = 98) and men (n = 79) with AUDs in separate clinical trials of out-patient AUD-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy.

MEASUREMENTS: Daily dichotomous indicators of any drinking urges or acute escalations in urges (i.e. at least two more urges compared with the previous day) were examined using generalized linear mixed growth-curve modeling.

FINDINGS: Participants who initiated abstinence reported reductions in urges immediately thereafter (log odds ratios: women B = -0.701, P < 0.001; men B = -0.628, P = 0.018), followed by additional, gradual reductions over time (women B = -0.118, P < 0.001; men B = -0.141, P < 0.001). Participants who entered treatment abstaining from alcohol also reported significant reductions in urges over time (women B = -0.147, P < 0.001; men B = -0.142, P < 0.001). Participants who drank throughout treatment had smaller (women B = -0.042, P = 0.012) or no reductions in urges (men B = 0.015, P = 0.545). There was no evidence that urges increased systematically in response to initiating abstinence.

CONCLUSIONS: Drinking urges during out-patient behavioral treatment for alcohol use disorders may be maintained in part by alcohol consumption. Initiating abstinence is associated with reductions in drinking urges immediately and then more gradually over time.


Abstinence initiation, alcohol, alcohol use disorder treatment, cognitive-behavioral therapy, craving, drinking urges, process of change, quit date

DOI of Published Version



Addiction. 2016 May;111(5):854-65. doi: 10.1111/add.13291. Epub 2016 Feb 4. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Addiction (Abingdon, England)

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID