Effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)


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Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most recognized and respected rehabilitation organizations in the world. Since its foundation in Akron, Ohio in 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA for short, has helped guide millions of people who have struggled with alcohol abuse to live healthier, sober lives. According to the Alcoholics Anonymous website, their international fellowship of men and women seeking abstinence from drinking is a nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, and apolitical organization which is available almost everywhere. The AA model, which is identified by its patented 12-Step process, claims to have 2 million active members spread across 180 nations currently benefiting from the program. But how effective is AA?

Studying Alcoholics Anonymous

According to newly published research from Stanford University, the Alcoholics Anonymous program is without question a more effective path to sobriety than other available options. In March of 2020, Keith Humphreys, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford School of Medicine published a comprehensive study on the effectiveness of AA, “Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12‐step programs for alcohol use disorder.” In this review, Humphrey and his collaborators from Harvard Medical School and the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction discovered that, “AA was nearly always found to be more effective than psychotherapy in achieving abstinence.”

In the study, which was published in the internationally renowned Cochrane Database of Systematic Review, Humphrey notes that the success of the Alcoholics Anonymous program is largely due to the element of peer support. “AA works because it’s based on social interaction,” Humphrey claims. Members help keep one another in check in a multitude of ways, such as sharing personal methods on how they themselves avoid drinking. The idea is that if you want to change your lifestyle, you can do this more effectively by joining others who are trying to achieve the same goals.

About the 12-Step Program

Many of the twelve-steps taken from the AA Big Book directly involve individuals addressing or interacting with their peers. For instance, the 1st step involves new participants publicly accepting their issues with alcoholism in front of the group. While the 12th and final step of the AA method involves more veteran members sponsoring new members, which helps both parties sustain sobriety.

Essentially, having a community of peer support keeps AA participants on the right track to recovery through a network of bilateral accountability. For years, the effectiveness of the AA program has been backed by the positive testimonials of those who have attained sober living through the classic twelve-step program. However, with the publication of this new study, those who have championed the program for decades finally have the quantitative data to prove the validity of AA.

Effectiveness of 12-Step Program

But how exactly does this new study reflect the success of the program? The research published in the Cochrane Review states that, “Manualized AA interventions usually produced higher rates of continuous abstinence than the other established treatments investigated.” In other words, based on the 27 relevant studies and 10,565 participants included in the research, the Alcoholics Anonymous method proved to be predominant to other types of treatments, such as psychological clinical interventions and other 12‐step program variants. The review goes on to claim that AA, “may be superior to other treatments for increasing the percentage of days of abstinence, particularly in the longer‐term,” and also, “performs as well as other treatments for reducing the intensity of drinking.”

In fact, in one specific study, the AA program demonstrated to be at least 60% more effective than other therapies. Furthermore, the review claims that out of all the analyzed material, the Alcoholics Anonymous program never was shown to be less effective than alternative options.

Regarding drug addiction, though the researchers did not include Narcotics Anonymous in their studies, Humphreys believes that their findings are “certainly suggestive that these methods work for people who use heroin or cocaine.” This indicates that the AA model is applicable beyond just the abuse of alcohol, though there is a gap in the scientific investigations conducted so far.

Moreover, the research shows that attending local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings can be significantly cheaper than other types of therapy. The review indicates that 12-Step Facilitation Interventions, or TSF, “probably reduce healthcare costs substantially,” and that “four of the five economics studies found substantial cost‐saving benefits for AA/TSF.” Furthermore, one analysis found that participating in the 12-Step AA process could save individuals as much as $10,000 in health care expenses.

Critics of AA Program

Still, the AA program is not without its critics. Humphreys acknowledged that, “although AA is well-known and used by millions around the world, mental health professionals are sometimes skeptical of its effectiveness.” He went on to add that this is largely because mental health professionals who carry degrees and doctorates, “can have a hard time admitting that the lay people who run AA groups do a better job of keeping people on the wagon.”

Humphreys does not discourage anyone from seeking professional counseling however. On the contrary, he believes that AA can be used in tandem with medical consultation. The review states that, “clinical linkage using well‐articulated 12‐Step facilitation manualized interventions intended to increase Alcoholics Anonymous participation during and following alcohol use disorder treatment probably will lead to enhanced abstinence outcomes over the next few months and for up to three years.” In other words, the research indicates that the best route to sustained sobriety is to participate in both AA and to simultaneously seek clinically run forms of therapy.

Using AA at Cardinal Recovery Program

Hence, for those who truly wish to live healthier, sober lives, the most effective path to going dry is to simply search online for AA meetings near me, as well as to find a nationally accredited rehab center. The Cardinal Recovery Program in Franklin, Indiana is a fantastic option for those who wish to follow the advice of this Stanford Medicine review. Along with clinical treatment, the experts from Cardinal Recovery encourage patients to enroll in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Cocaine Anonymous (CA).

Cardinal Recovery Program in Franklin, IN

Additionally, although they acknowledge that substance abuse treatment comes in a wide variety of forms, and that every addict’s journey to recovery is slightly different, Cardinal Recovery places an importance on peer support during the rehab process. Specifically, the experts at Cardinal Recover believe that joining support groups such as AA or NA are extraordinarily helpful in preventing relapse, which is consistent with the research done by Humphreys and his collaborators in the “Cochrane Review”.

To further assist their clients, Cardinal Recovery has developed an alumni program which helps patients keep in touch with their peers after being discharged. This type of networking uses the AA principle of shared accountability to help addicts maintain sobriety. The alumni program is also a straightforward way for former outpatients to seek clinical support.

Join the Cardinal Recovery Program and Alcoholics Anonymous

For eight decades, the Alcoholics Anonymous program has been guiding people to sober living. Now there is hard, statistical evidence that AA, in collaboration with clinical forms of therapy, is the most effective treatment for alcohol addiction available. If you or a loved one are struggling with drinking, do not hesitate to join a local AA chapter. Visit the Cardinal Recovery rehab center based out of Franklin, Indiana for long term recovery from alcohol addiction or substance abuse.

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