While I can understand the criticisms of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs, a recent study that I stumbled upon suggests that for people wanting to achieve sustained abstinence from alcohol use, increased AA meeting attendance yields positive results. That is, increasing attendance of 2 AA meetings per week yielded 3.3 extra days of abstinence per month. These results suggest that both treatment providers and non-clinicians may find benefit in referring to AA for those with an addiction to alcohol.
However, there are those who have tried AA and found that its emphasis on a “higher power” give it an almost religious tone. This religious tone can be a turnoff and deter people seeking recovery from attending AA meetings. As a treatment provider, I do think that finding and emphasizing that which is sacred to a person can be a great benefit towards overall health. But, I also think that religion can be a disaster and do far more harm than good. Because I do recognize the potential for AA to become “religious,” I tend to tread lightly before I suggest that a client attends AA meetings. I also don’t like the use of terms like “alcoholic” or “addict,” as I have little doubt that those labels are not neutral and act as self-fulfilling roles.
But evidence is hard to ignore, especially evidence that is both statistically prepared and statistically significant. In light of that evidence, I can see how AA attendance can aid as part of an overall recovery program. The authors of the study do postulate that AA’s efficacy can be attributed to, “many processes generally found to be therapeutic, including social support for health behavior change, dry friendship networks, opportunities for altruism, the availability role models, instillation of hope and practical skill teaching.” These things, especially social support, do provide great aid in achieving and maintaining sustained recovery.
Therefore, because of the importance of recovery peer-support, I recommend that people seeking abstinence and recovery (they are different) do attend some sort of 12-step program. If not AA, then perhaps, SMART Recovery, Secular Organization for Sobriety, or LifeRing can be options. Breaking patterns of behavior and finding groups of people who don’t use drugs or alcohol is critical to recovery. If a person chooses to maintain the position that he or she can achieve recovery on his or her own, I would argue that that person is maintaining a selfish mentality that probably contributed to his or her addiction. AA (and other social support groups) can be a great resource in achieving both abstinence and recovery.