Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the worldwide organization for those seeking sobriety, is the most successful method for participants to give up drinking, according to an analysis performed by a team of researchers belonging to prestigious institutions.
Keith Humphreys, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and his colleagues reviewed 35 studies. They included work completed by 145 scientists and the recorded outcomes of 10,080 participants. The results of their analysis found that AA was “nearly always” more helpful than psychotherapy. Most of the studies also concluded that participating in AA lowered healthcare costs.
One of the studies found that AA and 12-step counseling reduced mental health costs by $10,000 per person. The researchers only looked at Alcoholics Anonymous. They did not look at Narcotics Anonymous or any of the other programs based on the AA model.
What is Alcoholics Anonymous?
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio. It is an international fellowship that operates on a nonprofessional, nonprofit basis. Each group is self-supporting and apolitical. All that is required for membership is the desire to do something about one’s problem drinking.
Members of AA attend meetings regularly. They give each other emotional support and offer practical suggestions to fellow attendees to help them avoid alcohol use. Dr. Humphreys noted that part of the reason AA is successful is that it relies on this social interaction. He commented that if your goal is to alter a particular behavior, it is helpful to find others who are interested in the same thing.
AA is not Professional Therapy
AA is a well-known support group for people with an alcohol abuse problem. It is used by millions of people worldwide. Mental health professionals can be skeptical of the program’s effectiveness, according to Dr. Humphreys. Trained “professional listeners” like psychologists and psychiatrists who provide Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other forms of recognized therapies to treat clients with alcohol use disorders may have difficulty admitting that AA can do a good job keeping members from picking up a drink. However, most clinicians do agree that a combination of therapy, AA and additional treatments is often the best approach.
The researchers’ review was published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Review (March 11). All authors presenting summaries for publication must undergo a detailed process to ensure that their work meets the highest standards. The evidence review must be unbiased.
Dr. Humphreys’ co-authors and fellow researchers are from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction and Harvard Medical School.
AA used in Conjunction with Treatment
Many addiction treatment facilities in Arizona and throughout the country are based on a 12-step model. AA itself is not considered treatment, but instead a recovery and aftercare support group. In addition to the wide availability of meetings to attend as often as one needs, there is also the aspect of having a Sponsor, who is a sober mentor within the group. After participants are able to demonstrate stability and long-term recovery, they are encouraged to become a Sponsor to another to help them work the steps of the program and to give back to others the way they have been helped. This fellowship and wide adoption is one of the reasons why so many treatment centers incorporate the 12-step model.