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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

An ongoing process: A qualitative study of how the alcohol-dependent free themselves of addiction through progressive abstinence

Mei-Yu Yeh1, Hui-Lian Che2 and Shu-Mei Wu13*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Nursing, Chang Gung Institute of Technology, Taoyuan, Taiwan

2 Department of Geriatric Care and Management, Chang Gung Institute of Technology, Taoyuan, Taiwan

3 Doctoral Student, Graduate Institute of Clinical Medical Sciences, Chang Gung University, Taoyuan, Taiwan

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BMC Psychiatry 2009, 9:76  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-9-76

Published: 24 November 2009



Most people being treated for alcoholism are unable to successfully quit drinking within their treatment programs. In few cases do we know the full picture of how abstinence is achieved in Taiwan. We tracked processes of abstinence in alcohol-dependency disorders, based on study evidence and results. This research explores the process of recovery from the viewpoint of the alcohol-dependent.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted in two different settings, using purpose sampling, during 2003-2004. The data were analyzed using content analysis. Participants were 32 adults, purposefully selected from an Alcoholics Anonymous group and a psychiatric hospital in North Taiwan.


We found that the abstinence process is an ongoing process, in which the alcohol-dependent free themselves of addiction progressively. This process never ends or resolves in complete recovery. We have identified three stages in the struggle against alcoholism: the Indulgence, Ambivalence and Attempt (IAA) cycle, in which the sufferer is trapped in a cycle of attempting to give up and failing; the Turning Point, in which a Personal Nadir is reached, and the Ongoing Process of abstinence, in which a constant effort is made to remain sober through willpower and with the help of support groups. We also discuss Influencing Factors that can derail abstinence attempts, pushing the sufferer back into the IAA cycle.


This study provides important points of reference for alcohol and drug service workers and community healthcare professionals in Taiwan, casting light on the abstinence process and providing a basis for intervention or rehabilitation services.