Evidence-Based Treatment Study Shows AA Attendance Helps

By John Lavitt 04/13/15

Do people benefit because they're more motivated to attend AA or is there something unique that happens at meetings?

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A recent study of evidence-based treatment showed the positive impact of AA attendance. One of the difficulties involved in studying the efficacy of 12-step programs and other support groups is that the people who attend such meetings have obviously chosen to do so. Therefore, they do not represent a random sampling of the population that could benefit from support groups, since the participants in most studies of AA do not include people who choose not to attend.

So this raises an interesting question: Do people who benefit from AA benefit simply because they are more motivated to attend AA, and perhaps more motivated to achieve abstinence, as compared with those who choose not to attend? Or is there something unique that happens at the meetings, apart from the participants’ motivation, that leads to the benefits?

A new piece of research claims to have separated these variables so that the impact of AA itself could be evaluated separate and apart from the type of individuals who tend to seek help from 12-step programs. Published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the study confronted this challenging problem of selection effects in both social and medical science. The researchers—Keith Humphreys, Janet Blodgett and Todd Wagner—focused on those participants who were assigned to attend AA meetings.

For many years, researchers and clinicians have debated whether the association of AA with greater abstinence was caused by the actual treatment. Some felt it was only a result of the type of people AA attracted. The Humphreys' study concluded that there was a treatment effect that should be attributed directly to the impact of AA itself. For those participants assigned to attend AA, attending two additional meetings a week led to an improvement in the number of days abstinent per month.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.