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To identify independent risk factors of the recurrence of alcohol dependence (AD) in people with a remitted disorder at baseline and persistence of AD in people with a current disorder at baseline.Prospective cohort study with assessments at baseline and 2-year follow-up.Recruitment from the general population, primary care and out-patient mental health-care services.People with remitted AD (n = 253) and current AD (n = 135).Recurrence and persistence of AD during 2-year follow-up were established using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) interview based on DSM-IV. Logistic regression analyses were performed to explore the role of potential risk factors (i.e. baseline severity of alcohol problems, measures for depression and anxiety, socio-demographics, vulnerability factors and addiction-related factors) as independent predictors of a negative course.Overall recurrence and persistence rates of AD were 14.6 and 40.7%, respectively, and were highly conditional on the severity of alcohol problems [adjusted odds ratio (OR) per standard deviation (SD) increase: OR = 3.64, 95% confidence interval (CI): 2.21–6.01 and OR = 2.12, 95% CI: 1.32–3.40, respectively). Severity of depressive/anxiety symptoms was an additional independent predictor of the recurrence of AD, whereas male gender and high education were significant independent risk factors of the persistence of AD.Alcohol dependence has a dynamic course, with only moderate levels of diagnostic stability. Both recurrence and persistence of alcohol dependence are highly dependent on severity of baseline alcohol problems, whereas severity of depressive/anxiety symptoms predicts only the recurrence of alcohol dependence. Both measures may be useful in identifying people at an increased risk of a negative course and who could be targeted by prevention strategies.