Does Alcoholics Anonymous Really Work?

A new study recently published by the Cochrane Library dove deep into evidence surrounding the effectiveness of 12-step programs in helping alcoholics and addicts maintain long-term sobriety. For years, Cochrane has been known as the leading source of health-related scientific analysis. In this study, three researchers studied existing results in-depth, ultimately finding that 12-step programs are successful in helping those in recovery stay sober long-term – when combined with a combination of other therapeutic modalities. The studies didn’t conclude that 12-step programs work for everyone that attempts to work them long-term, either. Some who entered in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) ended up relapsing. However, those that actively participated in the program for over 9 months generally saw longer periods of sobriety thereafter.

It was discovered that AA and other 12-step programs were especially beneficial to those that might not be able to afford traditional inpatient treatment for alcoholism or drug addiction, seeing as all 12-step programs are completely donation based. At Immersion Recovery Center we believe whole-heartedly in the importance of AA involvement, which is why we incorporate 12-step meetings as a mandatory part of all of our addiction treatment programs. We also believe that long-term sobriety is more likely if an individual undergoes a comprehensive curriculum of care, including AA but not excluding medically monitored detox, inpatient treatment or continuous aftercare. For this reason we work closely with a variety of health insurance providers to ensure that everyone is getting the level of care they both need and deserve.

The Study – An Overview

The study, which is called “Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs for alcohol use disorder,” closely examined 27 previous studies published by the Cochrane Library. Overall these studies included roughly 11,000 subjects who suffered from various degrees of substance abuse and substance dependency. There was one previous study on the same subject, which was conducted in 2006. The findings of this study were generally inconclusive, but a significant amount of the date was re-examined for the recent study and was ultimately found to be of relative importance. Researchers found that during the 2006 study, AA and other 12-step programs were equally as effective as other methods of recovery like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), talk therapy and other methods of therapeutic intervention. This time around, more concrete evidence was unearthed that pointed to 12-step programs being at least as effective as other modalities – if not more.

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One of the researchers noted that the study could simply suggest that support groups as a whole work well to keep people motivated to stay in recovery – this may not be unique to AA specifically, or even to addiction treatment. There are several reasons why the formatting of AA is so effective, including:

  • Creating a new social circle.

12-step programs encourage men and women of all ages and stages of recovery to come together under one rough and share their personal experiences. Being emotionally vulnerable with a group of people leads to strong emotional connections, which ultimately leads to authentic friendships. Those that enter into a 12-step program like AA will find themselves quickly forming a new social circle – one made up of like-minded individuals that all share the same common goal.

  • Instant accountability. 

Being a member of a 12-step program leads to instant accountability, assuming the individual involved has been consistently honest about their personal journey of recovery. One of the fundamental principles of the program is honest – those that are honest will be held accountable by their peers.

  • Being encouraged to share both problems and triumphs.

AA is unique in the sense that it promotes a lack of judgment and unconditional compassion. Those that experience a relapse are not shunned or omitted from the group; instead, they are welcomed back with open arms. This further promotes honesty and encourages participants to be transparent about their problems. Triumphs and milestones are also celebrated. This leads to increased self-esteem, which is a big motivating factor in continuing to stay sober.

  • Working closely with other like-minded people. 

The structure of AA allows those who have finished the 12 steps to begin working with other alcoholics and helping them through the steps in turn. Not only does this further boost self-esteem but working with like-minded people helps individuals stay sober. It can serve as a reminder of how bad things can get as well as how good things can be if recovery is maintained.

  • Structure in daily routine. 

Structure is massively important to the maintenance of long-term sobriety, and attending a 12 step meeting on a daily basis definitely helps with consistency. We recommend that our residents find one meeting every day along with a homegroup, and we encourage them to attend seven meetings every week.

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  • Formulating a sense of faith and belief in something outside of oneself. 

AA refers to this notion as finding a higher power. Essentially, the spirituality component of the program requires those new to recovery to begin putting faith in something other than themselves. While this may be difficult to do at first, fostering a belief in something “greater” has been proven to further bolster sobriety and prevent eventual relapse.

Combine these factors with cost-effectiveness and it makes sense that so many newly sober addicts and alcoholics find success working within the 12-step parameters.

More on the Study Findings 

The study closely examined how joining a 12-step program affected people’s ability to stay sober long-term. However, the study focused predominantly on alcoholics and did not conclusively determine how effective such programs were for those battling drug addiction. The researchers did note that because alcohol is just as habit-forming as many other chemical substances (with a few exceptions) the results would likely be the same.

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When looking at the data, the three researchers compared how AA stood up to other methodologies as far as the amount of time the subjects remained sober, the severity of the physical dependency, the amount consumed when drinking and the personal consequences suffered by the subjects while they were drinking. While the study didn’t explore the how and the why of 12-step treatment success, it did ultimately find that those involved in such programs for between 6 and 9 months had a greater chance of avoiding relapse and going on to become healthy, alcohol-free and productive members of society.

There are numerous additional studies that prove how essential medical detox, inpatient treatment and aftercare are to the maintenance of long-term sobriety. Evidence shows that alcoholics who attend 12-step meetings as part of a more broad and cohesive recovery plan have greater success rates in years to come. We have taken all of this data into careful consideration and carefully formulated a program that is both effective and proven. Not only is AA a major part of our inpatient treatment program, but we introduce our patients to the importance of the 12 steps as early as detox (depending on how severe withdrawal symptoms are), and we mandate the continuation of program involvement in our aftercare program as well. For more information on our program of alcohol recovery or to learn more about the scientific studies that back our chosen methods, reach out today. We’re looking forward to speaking with you soon and answering all questions you may have.

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Reviewed for accuracy by :

Serving as the Inpatient Clinical Director at Immersion Recovery Center, Susan will work directly with staff members, clients, and family members to ensure the clinical program remains as effective and individualized as possible. Susan is no stranger to the fields of behavioral health and addiction. She has over 25 years of experience, working in an inpatient setting, an outpatient setting, acute stabilization and nearly all other settings in the realm of addiction recovery.