There have been many studies extolling the benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) participation. Indeed, 12-Step therapy (TS) is the prevailing alcohol treatment model in the United States. The focus of current research has now shifted from whether TS is beneficial to those with alcohol-related problems to questions of why and how TS is successful.
Research presented at a symposium in 2001 indicates that AA participation directly affects abstinence and affects abstinence indirectly through lifestyle changes.
Researchers confirmed that those with support from AA members were more likely to remain abstinent than those whose support came only from non-AA members or those with no support at all.
The results of another study suggest that even in partner-involved treatment programs (i.e., couple therapy), AA participation is highly effective in achieving and sustaining positive drinking outcomes.
Why? One researcher suggests that progress through the prescribed steps of AA and involvement in the social fellowship of AA leads to an increase in personal confidence to maintain sobriety. For example, members may offer support through mentoring (including round-the-clock availability for a supportive phone call), and through role modeling of how to refuse a drink in social situations.
Another factor unique to AA is that the core literature and philosophy of TS emphasizes spiritual growth, which facilitates improvements in psychosocial functioning and, ultimately, sustained abstinence. The following points were emphasized in the symposium summary:
- AA cannot be ignored in understanding treatment outcomes.
- It is possible to facilitate AA attendance during treatment and counseling.
- Studies indicate that while meeting attendance may diminish, involvement in the program’s Steps and life changes will increase.
- AA participation promotes better outcomes.
- Continued abstinence is the most likely outcome produced by AA.
- There is no evidence that the abstinence-only emphasis of AA resulted in adverse outcomes for those who do not remain abstinent.
The results from these and similar studies point the way for the next generation of research to investigate the change mechanisms of AA involvement.
(Owen, PL, Slaymaker, V, Tonigan, JS, McCrady, BS, Epstein, EE, Kaskutas, LA, Humphreys, K, Miller, WR: Participation in Alcoholics Anonymous: Intended and unintended change mechanisms. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 27: 524–532, 2003.) Corresponding author: Patricia Owen, Butler Center for Research at Hazelden’s. Box 11, Center City, MN, 55103.