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Significant Life Events and their Impact on Alcohol and Drug Use: A Qualitative Study

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This study used a life-course perspective to identify and understand life events related to long-term alcohol and other drug (AOD) use trajectories across the life span. Using a purposive sample, we conducted semi-structured telephone interviews with 48 participants (n = 30 abstinent and 18 non-abstinent) from a longitudinal study of AOD outcomes 15 years following outpatient AOD treatment. A content analysis was conducted using ATLAS.ti software to identify events and salient themes. Caregiving for an ill or dependent family member was related to better AOD outcomes by reinforcing abstinence and reduced drinking, and contributing to alcohol cessation in most individuals who cited caregiving as a pivotal event. Grandparenting and parenting an adult child were motivational for sustaining abstinence and reduced drinking. Findings were mixed on death of a loved one, which was related to abstinence in some and relapse in others. Redemption and mutual fulfillment as caregivers, reconciliations with adult children, and legacy-building as grandparents were themes associated with maintaining abstinence and reduced drinking. AOD treatment has the opportunity to employ motivational interventions for relapse prevention that address the meaning and lifelong reach of intimate relationships for individuals and their AOD use across the life span.

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