A study of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step oriented self-help programs finds that they can help most people recover from alcoholism, even those who are not religious or have mental-health problems.

The Pacific Institute on Research and Education (PIRE) reported that researchers tracked a group of 227 alcoholics over three years and found that those who had attended AA or other self-help programs after treatment had higher rates of abstinence, and drank less if they did relapse. The results cut across gender and religious lines and held regardless of psychiatric history or whether the patient had previously attended AA or other similar programs.

“Here’s a widespread, chronic disorder that seems to respond well to an inexpensive resource — mutual-help groups such as AA,” said study co-author Robert Stout, Ph.D., director of the Decision Sciences Institute at PIRE. “Not only do we need to get more addicts engaged in these groups, but we also need to gather evidence on this issue and make sure that the public, policy-makers and practitioners know about it.”

Added co-author John F. Kelly: “There is a clear dose-response relationship: If you don’t go to any meetings, you have the worst outcomes. If you go to a few, you have a little bit better outcome, and if you go to a lot, you have an even better outcome.” Kelly is the associate director of the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Addiction Research Program.

The study was published in the August 2006 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.