Helping other alcoholics in Alcoholics Anonymous and drinking outcomes: findings from project MATCH.

OBJECTIVE: Although Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the largest mutual-help organization for alcoholics in the world, its specific mechanisms that mobilize and sustain behavior change are poorly understood. The purpose of this study is to examine prospectively the relationship between helping other alcoholics and relapse in the year following treatment for alcohol use disorders.

METHOD: Data were derived from Project MATCH, a longitudinal prospective investigation of the efficacy of three behavioral treatments for alcohol abuse and dependence. Kaplan-Meier survival estimates were used to calculate probabilities of time to alcohol relapse. To identify the unique value of helping other alcoholics when controlling for the number of AA meetings attended, proportional hazards regressions were conducted to determine whether the likelihood of relapse was lower for those who were helping other alcoholics.

RESULTS: There were no demographic differences that distinguished participants in regard to involvement in helping other alcoholics, with the exception of age; those who were helping other alcoholics were, on average, 3 years older than those who were not helping alcoholics.

Those who were helping were significantly less likely to relapse in the year following treatment, independent of the number of AA meetings attended.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings provide compelling evidence that recovering alcoholics who help other alcoholics maintain long-term sobriety following formal treatment are themselves better able to maintain their own sobriety. Clinicians who treat persons with substance abuse disorders should encourage their clients to help other recovering alcoholics to stay sober.

Research; Pagano ME, Friend KB, Tonigan JS, Stout RL. Helping other alcoholics in alcoholics anonymous and drinking outcomes: findings from project MATCH. J Stud Alcohol. 2004 Nov;65(6):766-73.

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