Do Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings Really Work?
Alcoholics Anonymous is probably the best known support group for alcoholics and addicts. It is sort of the gold standard, if you will. For example, If you have a DUI, the court may mandate that you attend AA meetings. While AA alone is rarely recommended, it may be one helpful component of a successful rehabilitation/treatment program.
There have been a vast number of studies done on the effectiveness of AA, and consequently, there have been very mixed results.
For purposes of anonymity, the AA organization won’t allow research to be done on its members.. Other factors complicate the issue, such as using AA in conjunction with other treatment options. And of course, alcoholism is a very personal disease, prone to many variables in individuals.
Studies of Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings
Fortunately, AA does its own surveys every three years. The updated membership survey (2014) can be found here.
Unfortunately, there are key facts missing from their studies which would reveal more about AA’s effectiveness. For example, they didn’t address the duration of time in which members were actually involved with AA in relation to their success.
Also, there was little mention of relapsing or leaving the group altogether. For example, from 1977 to 1989 it was revealed that 81% of engaged members stopped attending AA within one year. indeed, only 5% had been involved for more than a year.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence performed a 2007 study which revealed that about half of all persons engaged in a 12-step program maintained abstinence for a year. However, those in cognitive behavioral therapy came in at just under 38%. But then again. these rates are relatively close and don’t really depict a clear winner.
Part of the problem is that AA does not have professionals treated patients in a controlled environment. And they do not really offer a treatment program – only verbal support and a community environment.
In 2004, a study published in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse reported that support groups such as AA did help alcoholics to recover and remain abstinent.
The Journal of Clinical Psychology (2006) reported that persons who attended at least 27 weeks of meetings had better outcomes for social functioning and abstinence than those who did not attend.
As it turns out, a fairly high percentage of alcoholics may simply recover on their own over the course of a year, regardless of treatment. In other words, a fair number of persons who recovered while attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings would have done so anyway. This might have more meaning when placed beside a control group.
Also, AA statistics do not account for partial recoveries or harm reduction. That is, some persons may learn to control their alcohol, at least to a point that improves their function. Or, they may relapse occasionally, but jump back on the wagon within a reasonable amount of time.
While abstinence is a lofty goal and considered ideal, any improvements made could be seen as an indication of some success.
AA alone may help some, but ideally, Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings should be just one aspect of a total recovery regimen, The best chance for recovery is involvement in an integrated, comprehensive program, which includes support, counseling, and professional guidance.
If you or someone you know is an alcoholic, please seek help immediately.