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How do people recover from alcohol dependence? A systematic review of the research on mechanisms of behavior change in Alcoholics Anonymous

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Abstract

Rigorous reviews of the science on the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) indicate that AA and related 12-step treatment are at least as helpful as other intervention approaches. Exactly how AA achieves these beneficial outcomes is less well understood, yet, greater elucidation of AA's mechanisms could inform our understanding of addiction recovery and the timing and content of alcohol-related interventions. Empirical studies examining AA's mechanisms were located from searches in Pubmed, Medline, PsycINFO, Social Service Abstracts and from published reference lists. Thirteen studies completed full mediational tests. A further six were included that had completed partial tests. Mechanisms examined fell into three domains: (1) Common processes; (2) AA-specific practices; and (3) Social and spiritual processes. Results suggest AA helps individuals recover through common process mechanisms associated with enhancing self-efficacy, coping skills, and motivation, and by facilitating adaptive social network changes. Little research or support was found for AA's specific practices or spiritual mechanisms. Conclusions are limited by between-study differences in sampling, measurement, and assessment time-points, and by insufficient theoretical elaboration of recovery-related change. Similar to the common finding that theoretically-distinct professional interventions do not result in differential patient outcomes, AA's effectiveness may not be due to its specific content or process. Rather, its chief strength may lie in its ability to provide free, long-term, easy access and exposure to recovery-related common therapeutic elements, the dose of which, can be adaptively self-regulated according to perceived need.
Addiction Research and Theory
June 2009; 17(3): 236–259
How do people recover from alcohol dependence?
A systematic review of the research on mechanisms
of behavior change in Alcoholics Anonymous
JOHN FRANCIS KELLY
1
, MOLLY MAGILL
2
,
& ROBERT LAUREN STOUT
3
1
Department of Psychiatry, MGH Center for Addiction Medicine, 60 Staniford Street, Boston,
MA 02114, USA,
2
Brown Medical School, CAAS, Providence, RI, USA, and
3
Decision Sciences Institute, Pawtucket, RI, USA
(Received 9 January 2009; accepted 18 January 2009)
Abstract
Rigorous reviews of the science on the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) indicate that AA
and related 12-step treatment are at least as helpful as other intervention approaches. Exactly how AA
achieves these beneficial outcomes is less well understood, yet, greater elucidation of AA’s mechanisms
could inform our understanding of addiction recovery and the timing and content of alcohol-related
interventions. Empirical studies examining AA’s mechanisms were located from searches in Pubmed,
Medline, PsycINFO, Social Service Abstracts and from published reference lists. Thirteen studies
completed full mediational tests. A further six were included that had completed partial tests.
Mechanisms examined fell into three domains: (1) Common processes; (2) AA-specific practices; and
(3) Social and spiritual processes. Results suggest AA helps individuals recover through common
process mechanisms associated with enhancing self-efficacy, coping skills, and motivation, and by
facilitating adaptive social network changes. Little research or support was found for AA’s specific
practices or spiritual mechanisms. Conclusions are limited by between-study differences in sampling,
measurement, and assessment time-points, and by insufficient theoretical elaboration of recovery-
related change. Similar to the common finding that theoretically-distinct professional interventions
do not result in differential patient outcomes, AA’s effectiveness may not be due to its specific content
or process. Rather, its chief strength may lie in its ability to provide free, long-term, easy access and
exposure to recovery-related common therapeutic elements, the dose of which, can be adaptively self-
regulated according to perceived need.
Keywords: Self-help, mutual-help groups, addiction, alcoholism, recovery
Correspondence: John Francis Kelly, Department of Psychiatry, MGH Center for Addiction Medicine, 60 Staniford Street, Boston
MA 02114, USA. Tel.: (617) 643-1980. Fax: (617) 643-1998. E-mail: jkelly11@partners.org
ISSN 1606-6359 print/ISSN 1476-7392 online ß2009 Informa Healthcare USA, Inc.
DOI: 10.1080/16066350902770458
Introduction
For clinical professionals, addiction patients, and laypeople alike, the topic of Alcoholics
Anonymous (AA) can arouse strong emotion. Ranging from ‘‘AA is a cult’’ and ‘‘AA
doesn’t work’’ to ‘‘AA saved my life’’ and ‘‘AA is the only way to recover’’, opinions
about its value and effectiveness vary widely (Vaillant 1983; Peele 1990; Bufe 1991; Ferri
et al. 2006). Views may differ, but since its modest beginnings in the 1930s and 1940s in
Ohio and New York in the US, AA has grown into an influential international
organization (Ma¨kela 1996). Millions of individuals are current members in more than
180 countries, and more than 28 million AA ‘‘Big Books’’ (the main AA text) have sold
making it one of the highest selling non-fiction books of all time (Humphreys 2004; AA
2008; Kelly and Yeterian 2008).
In the US, AA is the most commonly sought source of help for alcohol-related problems
(Room and Greenfield 1993; Weisner et al. 1995) with roughly 55 000 groups holding
meetings at least once per week (AA 2008; Kelly and Yeterian 2008). Recent US survey data
estimate attendance at addiction mutual-help groups, such as AA, at five million persons
annually (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) 2008).
AA’s program and practices have also influenced professional treatment in the US with the
vast majority endorsing at least some tenets of 12-step philosophy (Roman and Blum 1999;
Drug Strategies 2003). Noteworthy too, is that regardless of the theoretical orientation of
formal treatment programs, referral of alcohol-dependent patients to AA is the norm in the
US (Humphreys 1997; Kelly et al. 2008b).
Rigorously conducted empirical reviews of AA-focused research indicate that AA
participation is helpful for many different types of individuals in their recovery from
alcohol dependence (Emrick et al. 1993; Tonigan et al. 1996; Kownacki and Shadish
1999; Kelly 2003; Humphreys 2004; Ferri et al. 2006; Kelly and Yeterian 2008).
Determining exactly how and why AA is helpful has been a comparatively new, yet
intriguing, line of inquiry that has gathered increasing momentum as the broader alcohol
treatment and recovery field has moved toward understanding ‘‘mechanisms of behavior
change’’ (Morgenstern and McKay 2007; Willenbring 2007). The renewed emphasis on
mechanisms of change stems from the consistent finding that, despite a burgeoning of
empirically-supported treatments for alcohol and other drug use disorders (Finney et al.
1996; Miller and Willbourne 2002; SAMHSA 2008), these theoretically disparate
interventions appear to produce very similar outcomes under rigorous testing conditions
(Project MATCH Research Group 1997; Crits-Christoph et al. 1999; Dennis et al. 2004;
Anton et al. 2006; Imel et al. 2008; UKATT Research Team 2008). Prior reviews have
covered the question of the effectiveness of AA and 12-step treatment in some detail.
The current review is therefore focused on what is known regarding how AA helps
individuals achieve sobriety.
To begin, we clarify some important distinctions between AA and 12-step-based
treatments. Subsequently, for those unfamiliar with some of the research conducted on
AA and related 12-step treatments, we present a very brief overview of the largest
prospective 12-step-focused research studies. This is followed by a description of AA’s
own purported theory of recovery-related change and a subsequent review of the
empirical literature on what is known about how AA may exert its beneficial effects.
In the final section, we discuss the limitations of existing knowledge and approaches, and
offer some theoretical elaboration on how recovery-related change might occur as
a function of AA participation.
AA mechanisms 237
AA versus ‘‘12-step treatment’’
The community fellowship, Alcoholics Anonymous, can be confused with both ‘‘Twelve-
Step Facilitation’’ (TSF) and ‘‘12-step treatment’’ (sometimes referred to as the
Minnesota Model; McElrath 1997). To clarify, AA is a non-professional, community-
based fellowship that provides help through a network of informal gatherings, convened
at rented venues, such as churches and hospitals (AA owns no property; AA 1953).
‘‘TSF’’ is the name given to a professional, manualized, intervention designed
to facilitate engagement in AA. When the phrase ‘‘12-step treatment’’ is used, it
typically refers to a residential program in which patients receive various interventions,
but also are educated in-depth about AA and the 12 steps and may formally work
through some of these steps. Patients often attend AA during treatment and are strongly
encouraged to continue post-discharge (McElrath 1997). Although professional treat-
ments may incorporate AA practices and philosophy and refer patients to AA, AA itself
is not affiliated with any professional entity or organization (AA 1953). Next, we
describe some of the findings regarding the effectiveness of AA and related 12-step
approaches.
Evidence regarding the effectiveness of AA and 12-step treatment approaches
Despite existing for more than 70 years and influencing both formal and informal
approaches to alcohol and other drug-related treatment, it is only recently that AA has been
subjected to rigorous scientific inquiry (e.g., Institute of Medicine 1990; Emrick et al. 1993;
Tonigan et al. 1996; Kownacki and Shadish 1999; Ferri et al. 2006). Empirical reviews of
the literature on AA and 12-step treatment consistently converge on the finding that AA is,
at a minimum, helpful to many as they try to recover from alcohol dependence (Emrick et al.
1993; Tonigan et al. 1996; Kownacki and Shadish 1999; Kelly 2003; Humphreys 2004;
Ferri et al. 2006; Kelly and Yeterian 2008).
Perhaps the largest and most rigorously conducted clinical trial examining 12-step
treatment and AA participation among alcohol-dependent patients was conducted in the
US (i.e., Project MATCH; Project MATCH Research Group 1993). This study found
that the TSF condition was at least as effective as the two more empirically-established
comparison treatments (cognitive-behavioral therapy [CBT], motivational enhancement
therapy [MET]) in reducing the quantity and frequency of alcohol use at post treatment,
and 1- and 3-year follow-ups (Project MATCH Research Group 1997, 1998a, 1998b).
Moreover, TSF was superior at increasing rates of continuous abstinence. Specifically,
24% of the outpatients in TSF were continuously abstinent throughout the year after
treatment, compared to 15% and 14% in CBT and MET, respectively. Abstinence rates
at 3 years continued to favor TSF, with 36% reporting abstinence, compared to 24% in
CBT and 27% in MET (Cooney et al. 2003).
Findings also suggested that TSF may be more effective with specific types of patients.
Those with less psychiatric severity (Project MATCH Research Group 1997) and those
with more severe alcohol dependence (Cooney et al. 2003) had better outcomes in TSF
than in CBT at post-treatment and 1-year follow-up, respectively. More substantial
effects were observed in relation to patients’ social networks. Outpatients with networks
supportive of drinking at intake had better 3-year outcomes in TSF than in both
comparison treatments, and this difference was related to AA group attendance during
238 J. F. Kelly et al.
the follow-up (Longabaugh et al. 1998). Also, regardless of which original treatment
patients got, individuals who attended AA had significantly better drinking outcomes
(Tonigan et al. 2003).
Compelling evidence for the cost-benefit effects of 12-step approaches to treatment
has also been shown. A large multi-site study of US Veterans Administration (VA)
intensive treatment programs compared the 1-year outcomes of patients treated in
either intensive CBT or 12-step treatment. Those treated in 12-step treatment settings
had substantially greater 12-step group participation than patients treated in CBT
programs, who received twice the number of outpatient visits and significantly more
inpatient mental health days. This difference in professional service utilization resulted
in 64% higher annual costs for CBT than for 12-step programs. Notably, the
demographic and clinical characteristics of patients across the two types of programs at
intake were comparable. The outcomes were comparable also, except that patients
treated in 12-step programs had higher rates of abstinence (46% vs. 36%; Humphreys
and Moos 2001).
A 2-year follow-up of the multi-site VA sample (Humphreys and Moos 2007) found
a substantially higher abstinence rate among patients treated in 12-step (50%) compared to
CBT (37%) programs. Again, patients from 12-step programs were more AA-involved than
CBT patients, while CBT patients relied more on outpatient and inpatient mental health
services. This resulted in 30% lower costs for those treated in 12-step programs (savings of
$2440 per patient) while achieving significantly better abstinence rates. These results were
consistent with earlier findings in a non-VA sample that showed 45% lower treatment costs
over a 3-year period for AA attendees compared to those electing outpatient care
(Humphreys and Moos 1996).
The research reviewed shows abstinence and cost benefits of 12-step treatment. A large
number of studies have also examined community AA group participation in relation to
long-term outcomes following a variety of treatment approaches. These studies have
found AA attendance over follow-up to be associated with enhanced abstinence
outcomes and remission rates among different patient subgroups, including women,
youth, dually-diagnosed individuals, and patients of varying ethnic backgrounds
(e.g., Miller et al. 1997; Morgenstern et al. 1997; Ouimette et al. 1997; Kaskutas
et al. 1999, 2005; Fiorentine et al. 2000; Timko et al. 2000; Tonigan et al. 2002;
McKellar et al. 2003; Kissin et al. 2003; Moos et al. 2004, 2006; Dawson et al. 2006;
Kelly et al. 2006, 2008b).
The vast majority of existing research has been conducted in the U.S. However, although
research on AA has been rare in the United Kingdom, and clinician attitudes have been
generally less favorable toward 12-step approaches (Humphreys 1999; Laudet 2003; Day
et al. 2005; Kelly et al. 2008b), UK studies show similar AA-related recovery benefits post-
treatment (Gossop et al. 2003, 2007).
Summary
From an intervention dissemination and impact perspective (e.g., Glasgow et al. 2003), AA
has reach and effectiveness, appears to be readily adopted and implemented, and has evident
staying power. Given the consistent recovery-related and cost-effectiveness findings
associated with AA participation across time, a central question is how exactly AA helps
its participants. This is the focus of the next section.
AA mechanisms 239
How does AA help individuals recover from alcohol dependence?
Contrary to AA’s language and somewhat mystical terminology documented in its main
texts (AA 1939, 1953, 2001) one might argue that its mechanisms could be explained by
ordinary means, such as through common processes of change (e.g., by increasing and/or
maintaining motivation, self-efficacy, and coping skills). With equal validity, one might
argue that AA works through practices specific to AA (e.g., working the 12-steps) or by
providing access to a low-risk social network. It may be through some combination, all, or
none of the above. In this section, we attempt to clarify how AA works by first describing
AA’s own proposed mechanisms, and then by summarizing the empirical literature
regarding what is currently known about how AA may exert its effects.
How change occurs from AA’s own perspective
Given that AA grew out of a religio-spiritual tradition rather than an academic or scientific
one, a coherent or consistent description of AA’s purported mechanisms can be difficult to
grasp from its main texts (AA 1939, 1953). Some change mechanisms (i.e., the 12-steps)
and their effects are made clear: ‘‘The fact is just this, and nothing less: That we have had
deep and effective spiritual experiences which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward
life, toward our fellows, and toward God’s universe’’ (AA 2001, p. 25). On the other hand,
the social and fellowship aspects inherent in group meetings are more implicit in much of
AA’s writings, especially those in the Big Book (1939). This may be because the fellowship
was largely non-existent at the time this book was written and published (with less than 100
members across two states, Ohio and New York; AA 2001) and the original main text body
has not been changed, apart from forewords to each subsequent edition (AA 2001).
However, we believe it is safe to say that AA facilitates change via two broadly defined
components: the AA ‘‘program’’, exemplified in the 12 steps, and the AA ‘‘fellowship’’,
characterized by the network of formal and informal social gatherings and communications
between meetings.
The central proposed mechanism of recovery from alcohol addiction according to AA
is through a ‘‘psychic change’’ (AA 2001, p. xxvi), ‘‘spiritual experience’’, or ‘‘spiritual
awakening’’ (AA 2001, Appendix II) achieved through completion of the 12-step program
(as noted in Step 12: ‘‘Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps ...’’).
A measurable definition of a spiritual ‘‘experience’’ or ‘‘awakening’’ has eluded many
(Galanter 2007b). Although AA states that this ‘‘awakening’’ can take the form of a sudden
shift in belief and perspective, it also characterizes this transformation as a gradual change of
an ‘‘educational variety’’ that leads to ‘‘... a profound alteration in [his] reaction to life’’ (AA
2001, Appendix II). This is not only associated with belief in a ‘‘higher power’’, but also
involves concrete changes in specific attitudes and behaviors. Alcohol treatment researchers
have subsequently proposed that some of these attitudinal or behavioral shifts may be
consistent with those mobilized in other behaviorally-oriented treatments (McCrady 1994).
Thus, although the language and concepts may differ on the surface, underneath the same
ultimate (common) processes may be operating. Therefore, AA identifies internal cognitive-
affective and spiritual changes arising out of engagement in AA-prescribed behaviors, and,
as will be explored in more detail shortly, varying alcohol researchers have alternately
considered these purported mechanisms as AA-specific and as common factors of behavior
change.
Although often implicit in AA’s own writings on how AA conveys its beneficial effects,
another major feature of Alcoholics Anonymous is the social or ‘‘fellowship’’ dimension.
240 J. F. Kelly et al.
This vital social context in which recovery behaviors are learned, modeled, and supported,
as noted above, is less explicitly documented as an essential curative component in AA’s
main texts, but is captured in the preamble read at the start of nearly all AA meetings
(AA 1947):
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength
and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover
from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no
dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is
not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to
engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to
stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.
The explicit emphasis is on mutual ‘‘sharing’’, or communication, of experiences in an
attempt to help oneself and others. Sharing of addiction and recovery experiences may
impart important technical aspects of living sober, evoke a sense of empathy and belonging,
and instill hope. As alluded to in the preamble’s last sentence, a central goal of 12-step
organizations invokes the ‘‘helper principle’’ (Riessman 1965), which is quite simply
the notion that ‘‘helping you helps me’’. As AA states: ‘‘Practical experience shows that
nothing will so much insure immunity against drinking as intensive work with other
alcoholics’’ (AA 1939, 2001, p. 89). Thus, within the dimension of fellowship lie the
proposed processes of mutual sharing and helping others (Zemore and Kaskutas 2004;
2008; Pagano et al. 2007), but alternative interpretations include principles of observational
learning (Bandura, 1969) and group theory dynamics (Yalom 1995; Yalom and Leszcz
2005) as well as health-promoting social network changes (Kaskutas et al. 2002).
In summary, one can deduce that AA-related changes occur via intrapersonal, behavioral,
and social processes. A number of these are specifically tied to AA’s philosophy and
prescription for change, and treatment researchers have debated the existence of
AA-specific, versus common, processes. This latter point connects to the complexity
involved in establishing a mechanism of behavior change.
What is a mechanism of behavior change?
‘‘A mechanism of change refers to the process or series of events through which one variable
leads to or causes change in another variable’’ (Nock 2007, p. 5S). ‘‘Mechanisms’’ of
behavior change, of course, can be conceptualized at multiple levels of scale. Thus, the exact
same change in behavior can be simultaneously explained by social, psychological,
behavioral, and neurobiological processes. Thus different mechanisms thought to account
for behavior change during a defined time period might justifiably be measured at all of these
different levels, and statements such as, ‘‘AA works by exposure to abstinent role models’’,
and, ‘‘AA works by increasing self-efficacy’’ and, ‘‘AA works by increasing individuals’
density of dopamine D2 receptors’’ are all mechanisms that may be empirically supported
and occur simultaneously. Also, AA is a complex entity. Thus, no single mechanism is likely
to account for its entire effects. These mechanisms are also likely to change over time; the
mechanisms through which AA may help individuals achieve sobriety may not be the same
as those sustaining it.
Statistical mediation will satisfy some, but not all, of the criteria for identifying
a mechanism of change (Kazdin and Nock 2003). The requirements for demonstrating
the operation of a ‘‘mechanism of change’’ combines both the criteria for statistical
AA mechanisms 241
mediation (e.g., Baron and Kenny 1986; MacKinnon et al. 2002) and the criteria for
inferring causal relations (Hill 1965; Cook and Campbell 1979). Seven criteria have been
proposed: association, temporality, specificity, gradient, plausibility and coherence,
consistency, and, ideally, validation via experimental manipulation (Kazdin and Nock
2003; Nock 2007). Because research employing statistical tests of mediation (or a close
approximation) is the focus of this review, the first three of the Kazdin and Nock (2003)
criteria will be emphasized. The association is the first step (i.e., the variables must covary).
The causal inference is strengthened by temporality (i.e., the cause occurs before the effect),
and specificity (i.e., the mechanism is specific solely to the particular intervention).
Promising mechanisms of change in AA should therefore be correlated with the AA variable,
follow it in time and occur before the measured outcome, and ideally, possible confounding
variables should be eliminated as alternative explanations.
Literature search and criteria for inclusion in this review
We conducted a literature search to identify studies examining mediators of AA’s effect on
alcohol or other drug use outcomes. The search strategy included a title, abstract, and
keyword search in Pubmed, Medline, PsycInfo and Social Services Abstracts using the
following search terms: AA OR Alcoholics Anonymous OR Self-help OR 12-step AND
mediators OR mechanisms or process. References from articles identified in the preceding
step and from relevant reviews of the AA literature (e.g., Emrick et al. 1993; Kassel and
Wagner 1993; Khantzian and Mack 1994; Tonigan et al. 1996; Kelly 2003; Kelly and Myers
2007; Moos 2008) were searched to identify additional eligible studies. The studies
identified for inclusion were English language published between 1990 and 2007 (inclusive).
Of central interest were (1) primary analyses from naturalistic research on community
groups or 12-step oriented programs or (2) secondary analyses from controlled clinical trials
on TSF. Included studies conducted formal tests of statistical mediation or an
approximation.
A ‘‘formal’’ test of mediation was defined as the casual steps outlined by Baron and
Kenny (1986) and extended by MacKinnon and Dwyer (1993). To establish mediation,
the following conditions should be met: (1) the ‘‘a’’ path (e.g., AA participation) should
predict the outcome (‘‘c’’; e.g., reduced alcohol consumption/abstinence) (2) the apath
should predict the mediator (‘‘b’’; e.g., self-efficacy), (3) the mediator should predict the
outcome, and (4) the direct effect of aon cshould be reduced or eliminated when bis
controlled. The mediated effect can be identified by a reduction in coefficient magnitude
(Baron and Kenny 1986; MacKinnon and Dwyer 1993) or a test of the joint significance
of the a!band b!cpaths (Sobel 1982; MacKinnon et al. 2002). Studies formally
testing mediation were relatively few (n¼13). Therefore to allow for a broader discussion
of the literature and particularly of the range of mediators that have been considered in
relation to AA’s effects, research examining the ato bpaths and the bto cpaths was also
considered (n¼6).
The extracted studies’ mechanisms of focus generally fell into three classes: (1)
common factors (i.e., self-efficacy, commitment to abstinence, active coping efforts; see
Table I), (2) specific AA practices (i.e., AA behaviors/activities, AA beliefs/cognitions; see
Table II), and (3) more explicit constructs related to AA’s theory of change (e.g., social
network variables, spirituality variables; Table III). These are detailed next starting with
common factors.
242 J. F. Kelly et al.
Table I. Studies examining common therapeutic factors.
Study
References Type of sample (N)
Demographic
characteristics Primary outcome Mediator/s Findings
Connors et al.
(2001)
Outpatient and aftercare arms;
Project MATCH (N¼924)
Mean age 40
Male 75%
Caucasian 82%
PDA 7–12mo
alcohol use
Self-efficacy AA participation
1–6mo
!self-efficacy
6mo
!
PDA
7–12mo
a,b
Tonigan et al.
(2003)
Outpatient and aftercare arms;
Project MATCH (N¼952)
Mean age 40
Male 75%
Caucasian 82%
PDA 33–36mo
alcohol use
Self-efficacy
Spirituality
AA participation
1–6mo
!self-efficacy
6mo
!
PDA
33–36mo
a,b
Bogenschutz et al.
(2006)
Outpatient and aftercare arms;
Project MATCH (N¼1284)
Mean age 40
Male 77%
Caucasian 81%
PDA 10–15mo
alcohol use
Self-efficacy AA attendence
4–6mo
!self-efficacy
9mo
!
PDA
10–15mo
a,c
Morgenstern et al.
(1997)
Inpatient 12-step program
(N¼100)
Mean age 34
Male 58%
Caucasian 63%
PDU 1–6mo
substance use
Self-efficacy
Commitment
Coping
Primary appraisal
AA affiliation
1mo
!self-efficacy
1mo
!
PDU
1–6mo
d
commitment
1mo
coping
1mo
primary appraisal
1mo
Morgenstern et al.
(1998)
Inpatient 12-step Program
(N¼118)
Mean age 36
Male 58%
Caucasian 66%
PDU 1–6mo
substance use
Self-efficacy
Commitment
Negative
expectancy
12-step Program !self-efficacy
1mo
!
PDU
1–6mo
e
commitment
1mo
Kelly et al.
(2000)
Inpatient 12-step program
(N¼99)
Mean age 16
Male 40%
Caucasian 78%
PDA 3–6mo
substance use
Self-efficacy
Commitment
Coping
AA attendence
1–3mo
!commitment
3mo
!
PDA
3–6mo
a,f
Kelly et al.
(2002)
Inpatient 12-step program
(N¼74)
Mean age 16
Male 38%
Caucasian 70%
PDA 4–6mo
substance use
Self-efficacy
Commitment
Coping
AA affiliation
1–3mo
!commitment
3mo
!
PDA
4–6mo
a,f
Notes: Demographic data rounded to nearest whole number. PDA ¼percent days abstinent; PDU ¼percent days used; NDA ¼number days used; NDU ¼number days
used; AA ¼Alcoholics Anonymous; TSF ¼Twelve-Step Facilitation; VA ¼Veterans Administration; CB ¼Cognitive Behavioral; ASI ¼Addiction Severity Index;
mo ¼month; post ¼posttreatment; beh ¼behavior; abs ¼abstinence; dep ¼dependence symptoms.
a
Tested by Baron and Kenny (1986)/MacKinnon and Dwyer (1993) method in Structural Equation Model.
b
Intake symptomatology predicted AA participation; results not moderated by treatment group.
c
Results not moderated by alcoholism typology.
d
Tested by Baron and Kenny (1986) method in series of linear regression models.
e
Results moderated by cognitive impairment; process variables were stronger predictors of outcome for unimpaired compared to impaired individuals via linear regression
analyses.
f
Baseline severity predicted AA attendance and affiliation; impact of AA attendance on month 3 commitment mediated by AA affiliation.
AA mechanisms 243
Table II. Studies examining general AA practices and principles.
Study
References Type of sample (N)
Demographic
characteristics Primary outcome Mediator/s Findings
Morgenstern et al.
(1995)
Inpatient and outpatient
12-step programs (N¼79)
Mean age 35
Male 68%
Caucasian 68%
Abstinence 1mo
substance use
12-step cognitions
Common cognitions
1
12-step program !change in
12-step cognitions
post
a
1
12-step program !change in
general cognitions
post
a
General cognition
2
change in common cognitions
post
!
abstinence
1mo
b
Morgenstern et al.
(2002)
Inpatient and outpatient
12-step programs (N¼370)
Mean age 36
Male 62%
Caucasian 49%
PDA 9–12mo
substance use
12-step cognitions
Common cognitions
1
12-step program !change in
12-step cognitions
post
a
1
12-step program !change in
common cognitions
post
a
2
change in 12-step cognitions
post
!
PDA
9–12mo
b
Ouimette et al.
(1999)
Inpatient VA programs CB
and 12-step-oriented (N¼1873)
Mean age 43
Male 100%
Caucasian 50%
Abstinence 12mo
substance use
12-step behaviors
12-step cognitions
CB cognitions
Substance coping
General coping
1
coping X 12-step program !
substance coping
post
c
1
symptoms X 12-step program !
substance coping
post
c
1
Dep X 12-step program !
12-step behaviors
post
c
2
12-step behaviors
post
!abstinence
12mo
d
Johnson et al.
(2006)
Inpatient VA programs CB
and 12-step-oriented (N¼1873)
Mean age 43
Male 100%
Caucasian 50%
Abstinence 12mo
substance use
12-step behaviors
12-step cognitions
CB cognitions
Substance coping
General coping
12-step program !abstinence
goal
post
!abstinence
12mo
e
12-step reading
post
12-step program !abstinence
goal
12mo
!abstinence
12me
12-step reading
12mo
# self-help meetings
12mo
having a sponsor
12mo
Brown et al.
(2001)
Aftercare relapse prevention
or TSF group treatment (N¼131)
Mean age 38
Male 70%
Caucasian 93%
Composite outcome
6mo substance use
12-step behaviors
12-step cognitions
Temptation
Confidence
TSF X change in 12-step
beh/cog
post
!NDA
3–6mo
b
Crits-Christoph
et al. (2003)
Outpatient individual and
group 12-step counseling (N¼325)
Mean age 34
Male 77%
Caucasian 58%
ASI 1–6mo cocaine use 12-step behaviors
12-step cognitions
12-step counseling !12-step
beh/cog
1–6mo
!ASI
1–6mo
f
Notes: Demographic data rounded to nearest whole number. PDA ¼percent days abstinent; PDU ¼percent days used; NDA ¼number days used; NDU ¼number days
used; AA ¼Alcoholics Anonymous; TSF ¼Twelve-Step Facilitation; VA ¼Veterans Administration; CB ¼Cognitive Behavioral; ASI ¼Addiction Severity Index;
mo ¼month; post ¼posttreatment; beh ¼behavior; abs ¼abstinence; dep ¼dependence symptoms.
a
Tested by t-test.
b
Tested by binary logistic or linear regression.
c
Tested by analysis of variance.
d
Tested by bivariate correlation.
e
Tested by Baron and Kenny (1986) method in series of binary logistic regression models.
f
Tested by analysis of Baron & Kenny (1986) method in series of generalized mixed-model; final step tested by proportion decrease in Fratio for direct effect.
244 J. F. Kelly et al.
Table III. Studies examining AA-proposed intra- or interpersonal changes.
Study
References Type of sample (N)
Demographic
characteristics Primary outcome Mediator/s Findings
Humphreys et al. (1999) Inpatient VA programs
(N¼2867)
Mean age 43
Male 100%
Caucasian 45%
NDU 9–12mo
Substance use
Coping
Friendship quality
Network support
for abstinence
2-step involvement
post
!
coping
12mo
!NDU
9–12mo
a
friendship quality
12mo
network support
12mo
Kaskutas et al. (2002) Inpatient and outpatient
community programs (N¼654)
Mean age 38
Male 58%
Caucasian 67%
Problem
Severity 12mo
Alcohol use
Abstinence 36mo
Social network size
Network support
for drinking
AA involvement
0-12mo
!net sup
drink
12mo
!sev
0-12mo
a
Bond et al. (2003) Inpatient and outpatient
community programs (N¼655)
Mean age 38
Male 56%
Caucasian 60%
Alcohol use Social network size%
network drinker
Network sup abs
AA sup abs
AA involvement
0–12mo
!AA
sup abs
12mo
!abs
33–36mob
Laudet et al. (2004) Double Trouble Recovery
(DTR) group members
(N¼310)
Mean age 40
Male 72%
Caucasian 24%
PDU 12–24mo
Substance use
Social support DTR affiliation
0–12mo
!soc
support
12mo
!PDU
12–24mo
c
Owen et al. (2003) Inpatient 12-step program
(N¼112)
Mean age 38
Male 53%
Mean age 40
NDA 12mo Lifestyle changes
Response to life events
AA involvement
0–12mo
!lifestyle
ch
0–12m
!NDA
0-12mo
a
Magura et al. (2003) Double Trouble Recovery
(DTR) group members
(N¼310)
Male 72%
Caucasian 24%
Abstinence 12mo
Substance use -health
behavior 12mo
Locus of control
Sociability
Spirituality hope
DTR affiliation
0–12mo
!locus of
control
12mo
!abs
0–12mo
d
sociabilty
12mo
DTR affiliation
0–12mo
!loc
cont
12mo
health beh
0–12mo
d
sociabilty
12mo
spirituality
12mo
hope
12mo
Notes: Demographic data rounded to nearest whole number. PDA ¼percent days abstinent; PDU ¼percent days used; NDA ¼number days used; NDU ¼number days
used; AA ¼Alcoholics Anonymous; TSF ¼Twelve–Step Facilitation; VA ¼Veterans Administration; CB ¼Cognitive Behavioral; ASI ¼Addiction Severity Index;
mo ¼month; post ¼posttreatment; beh ¼behavior; abs ¼abstinence; dep ¼dependence symptoms.
a
Tested by Baron and Kenny (1986)/MacKinnon and Dwyer (1993) method in Structural Equation Model.
b
Tested by lagged panel model and Sobel (1982) test.
c
Tested by Baron and Kenny (1986) method in series of linear regression models.
d
Tested by Baron and Kenny (1986) method in series of binary logistic regression models.
AA mechanisms 245
A review of research on mechanisms of behavior change in AA
Common factors
A number of studies have examined cognitive (e.g., self-efficacy, motivation for abstinence)
and behavioral (e.g., active coping) changes thought to be important to recovery regardless of
the treatment received, but that have been more explicitly implicated in treatments other than
12-step approaches (e.g., CBT). Using data from Project MATCH, Connors et al. (2001)
looked at 6-month self-efficacy as a mediator of the relationship between AA participation
(including attendance, step-work, spirituality) during the first 6 months of treatment and
abstinence at 7–12 month follow-up. Self-efficacy accounted for a significant reduction in the
direct effect of AA participation on later drinking, and this mediational effect held in both the
outpatient and aftercare samples and across treatment conditions (i.e., TSF, CBT, MET;
Connors et al., 2001). The effect of self-efficacy was maintained at 3-year follow-up, and
showed that AA step-work in particular was related to perceived confidence to avoid drinking
in social situations and when experiencing negative affect (Tonigan 2003). Thus, one way that
AA appears to work is by boosting confidence in participants’ perceived ability to handle
common relapse-related situations or circumstances. In both of these studies, greater alcohol
use severity was associated with more AA participation. The benefit of AA for these patients
appeared to be at least partially explained by changes in beliefs in their capacity to abstain from
alcohol.
Research with community samples has examined common therapeutic factors as
mechanisms of behavior change. In an inpatient sample, Morgenstern et al. (1997) found
that the positive effects of an aggregated measure of AA affiliation (e.g., AA attendance,
talking with sponsor, group service, step-work) on 6-month substance use were mediated by
a set of common factors measured at 1 month (i.e., self-efficacy, commitment to abstinence,
active coping efforts, primary appraisal [i.e., recognition of sustained or anticipated
consequences of use]). A subsequent study found that these factors were stronger predictors
of later abstinence among 12-step treatment program patients without cognitive impairment
when compared to impaired individuals (Morgenstern and Bates 1999). In an adolescent
sample, Kelly et al. (2000) examined self-efficacy, motivation for abstinence, and coping as
mechanisms of the effect of AA attendance in the first 3 months following inpatient treatment
on subsequent 4 to 6-month substance use outcomes. Here, only motivation for abstinence
mediated the effect of AA, and similar to the finding among adults receiving TSF (Connors
et al. 2001; Tonigan 2003), more severely substance-involved patients attended AA more
frequently. In a follow-up study, active AA involvement (e.g., talking with sponsor, group
service, step-work) was shown to be a more important predictor than attendance alone, and
the central mediating role of motivation for abstinence remained consistent (Kelly et al.
2002). Thus, similar to adults, baseline alcohol use severity in adolescents is a predictor of AA
attendance and affiliation, and both age groups show increases in common therapeutic factors
of self-efficacy, motivation, and active coping. However, in younger patients, only motivation
for abstinence mediated the effect of 12-step involvement on outcome, suggesting AA-derived
therapeutic benefits may differ developmentally. Findings from these studies are strengthened
by formal meditational tests and temporality maintained across causal pathways (Nock 2007).
Specific AA practices
A series of studies has examined and compared AA-specific cognitive and behavioral
changes to other potential non-specific change mechanisms. Morgenstern et al. (1995)
246 J. F. Kelly et al.
tested three groups of cognitive change factors post-treatment: AA-specific (e.g., acceptance
of powerlessness, belief in a higher power, commitment to AA, disease attribution);
abstinence specific (i.e., commitment to abstinence, intent to avoid high-risk situations), and
general psychotherapy (i.e., reduction in self-criticism), in relation to 1-month follow-up
abstinence. The study found that inpatient 12-step treatment resulted in both AA-specific
and general psychotherapy changes, but it was commitment to abstinence and intention to
avoid high-risk situations that predicted abstinence at follow-up. However, among patients
who relapsed, AA-related commitment and belief in a higher power were associated with
lower relapse severity. A follow-up study demonstrated that while patients made both AA-
specific and common cognitive changes, AA cognitions at discharge predicted better
outcomes at 6 and 12 months, and findings held with baseline use severity and
psychopathology controlled (Morgenstern et al. 2002). These studies did not conduct
formal tests of statistical mediation, but showed that 12-step oriented treatment resulted in
AA-related cognitive changes and such changes predicted reduced severity of relapse in the
short- as well as longer-term.
Research with VA samples has also considered AA-specific proximal changes, and has
provided more stringent tests via comparison of 12-step to cognitive-behavioral (CB)
treatment. In a naturalistic study across five 12-step and five CB inpatient programs,
Ouimette et al. (1999) examined a series of retrospective treatment matching effects among
male veterans. This study evinced some surprising findings. Specifically, compared to CB
patients, patients treated in 12-step programs made greater changes in an important
proximal outcome thought to be specific to CB treatment (i.e., substance-specific coping),
and this effect was moderated by lower coping and higher psychological severity at intake.
Patients in 12-step programs with higher alcohol use severity made greater changes in
12-step behaviors (e.g., meeting attendance, reading AA literature, step-work), and these
behaviors were related to better 12-month outcomes (Ouimette et al. 1999). A subsequent
study with this sample conducted tests of mediation and ‘‘dismantled’’ these AA-related
cognitions and behaviors. Only abstinence as a goal and reading AA literature at post-
treatment were mediators of the effect of program type on 12-month substance use. At
follow-up (with mediators measured at the same time-point), in addition to these variables,
having a sponsor and attending a greater number of AA meetings, were additionally
predictive of better outcomes (Johnson et al. 2006). It is noteworthy that patients treated in
both types of programs did not differ on CB-related proximal changes, which speaks to the
accumulating body of evidence identifying the importance of not only 12-step cognitive
shifts and engagement in prescribed behaviors, but also of common factors of change.
Two final studies tested composite measures of change in 12-step cognition and behavior.
A comparison of TSF to CB-based outpatient group therapy found that participants may
make similar changes in variables thought to be treatment-specific. Here, TSF patients had
greater within treatment change in the composite 12-step measure than CB patients and CB
patients similarly changed more in confidence/self-efficacy. However, these differences were
not maintained at 6-month follow-up. The interaction of TSF group and change in 12-step
proximal outcome, however, accounted for a significant portion of the variance in 6-month
addiction-severity (Brown et al. 2001). Therefore, differences in treatment-specific proximal
outcomes were not maintained at follow-up, but 12-step within-treatment changes were
associated with better outcome among TSF patients.
In a study that included outpatient 12-step individual and group counseling with
individuals with cocaine use disorders, Crits-Christoph et al. (2003) found that a measure of
12-step cognition and behavior was a partial mediator of 6-month drug use. The significant
relationship between the 12-step-oriented treatment condition and the composite 12-step
AA mechanisms 247
mediator path was accounted for primarily by the comparison with the supportive-
expressive, and not the cognitive therapy treatment conditions that were the other
treatments in the trial. However, the authors further noted more fine-grained temporal
analyses that did not show changes in the mediator preceding changes in drug use.
This series of studies provides a complex picture of putative mechanisms of AA and
professionally-delivered 12-step treatments. While comparison to other psychosocial
treatments, formal meditational tests, and attention to temporality are present in some
analyses, it is difficult to know the extent to which these changes are due exclusively to AA.
Thus, determining the mechanisms’ ‘‘specificity’’ (Kazdin and Nock 2003) is not possible.
Individuals appear to make predicted AA-specific cognitive and behavioral shifts, but it is
unknown whether these same changes would be accounted for equally well by other
‘‘common process’’ measures.
Social and spiritual changes
The literature reviewed thus far has examined common therapeutic factors as well as
measures of AA-specific factors. Some explicit beliefs (i.e., abstinence as a goal; Johnson
et al. 2006) and behaviors (i.e., step-work, AA reading; Tonigan 2003; Johnson et al. 2006)
have been identified and it appears that common processes (e.g., self-efficacy, commitment
to abstinence, active coping; Morgenstern et al., 1997; Kelly et al. 2000; Connors et al.
2001; Kelly 2001; Tonigan 2003) may also play a role in recovery through AA. Relatively
less work has been done in relation to constructs specifically highlighted in the AA literature.
The concept of fellowship in AA has been studied, but has most often been reframed as
social networks. Spirituality has also been of interest, but mediation studies are rare. First,
we examine the research on social factors followed by emerging work on spirituality.
Social change mechanisms. Using a large male VA sample, Humphreys et al. (1999b) found
12-month cognitive and behavioral coping, friendship quality, and network support for
abstinence to partially mediate the relationship between 12-step involvement post inpatient
treatment and 12-month substance use outcomes. Similarly, in a mixed sample of inpatients
and outpatients, Kaskutas et al. (2002) found that social network influences were partial
mediators of 12-month abstinence (see Table III). Specifically, a larger social network and
greater network support were shown to explain the relationship between greater AA
involvement and better substance use outcomes. In tests of individual predictors, reducing
pro-drinking influences and increasing AA-related support for abstinence were shown to be
important (Kastukas et al. 2002). These two studies examined variables during the same
time-period, which limits casual conclusions, but research has supported the role of social
networks, particularly AA-related abstinent role models, in ongoing recovery. In fact,
a subsequent analysis showed that among variables related to social network size (i.e., the
percent of drinkers in the network and network support for abstinence), only AA-specific
network support mediated alcohol abstinence 3 years following treatment (Bond et al.
2003). Although mutual support was not specifically measured, social support in the first
12 months of mutual-help involvement has also been shown to mediate the relationship
between affiliation and substance use 2 years later among individuals with co-occurring
substance and mental health disorders (Laudet et al. 2004).
There are a number of potential dimensions of ‘‘fellowship’’ as a mechanism of behavior
change, but with respect to social network support for abstinence, the evidence derived from
mediation research is quite compelling. The task of further research is to continue to parse
248 J. F. Kelly et al.
out the construct of fellowship, to maintain temporality in pathways, and to provide evidence
of specificity through mediation analyses that include comparison to other psychosocial
treatments or psychosocial processes. Critical too will be to place these social mechanisms
within a multi-level theoretical framework that describes how social changes influence
change mechanisms at other levels (e.g., individual-psychological and neurobiological) and
vice-versa, in what is most likely a reciprocal process that changes dynamically over time.
Spiritual change mechanisms. The 12-step philosophy is explicitly spiritual in nature, and
the stated mechanism of action for recovery, as noted previously, is a ‘‘spiritual awakening’’
attained by working the 12-step program. A majority of AA meetings also include prayers
adopted from religious organizations (AA 1984). Yet very few studies have formally tested
spiritual mediators of AA or professionally delivered 12-step treatment. Research has shown
that atheists or agnostics who attend AA do not benefit any less than more religious patients,
but they are less likely to seek recovery help through AA (Winzelberg and Humphreys 1999;
Tonigan et al. 2002; Kelly et al. 2006). Another study of mutual-help group participants
from five different organizations, including 12-step, found that degree of spiritual/religious
beliefs was unrelated to staying sober (Atkins and Hawdon 2007). A study that considered
both self-efficacy and the extent of endorsed ‘‘spiritual awakening’’ as mediators among
Project MATCH patients found that greater AA participation in the first 6 months was
associated with greater 6-month spirituality, but spirituality did not predict subsequent
outcome 3 years following treatment (Tonigan 2003). Among community mutual-help
participants with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders attending an AA-
based dual-focused recovery group (i.e., Double Trouble in Recovery), 12-month locus of
control and sociability were mediators of 12-month abstinence, while spirituality and hope
mediated other health behaviors (Magura et al. 2003). Other research examining specific
links in the causal chain suggests a complex picture. For example, AA members were found
to have more spiritual beliefs and external locus of control than SMART Recovery (Ellis and
Velton, 1992) members (Li et al. 2000), but internal locus of control has been associated
with long-term sobriety among AA members (Murray et al. 2003). Long-term AA sobriety
has also been related to a shift from recovery-specific, to more general community, helping,
as well as endorsement of religiosity or ‘‘theism’’ (Kaskutas et al. 2003).
The evidence to date regarding spirituality is as yet too limited to support or refute
a central role for spirituality in recovery through AA; further research is needed (Galanter
2007a). From the standard scientific perspective, defining and measuring spirituality has
presented a consistent challenge. It may be also that spiritual processes interact with other
mechanisms and spiritual changes in particular may be more important at specific stages of
recovery, such as maintaining, rather than attaining, sobriety, or be related to indices other
than abstinence, such as enhancing quality of life (Spaulding and Metz 1997).
Discussion
AA has been shown to be beneficial for many different types of individuals seeking help for
alcohol problems and professionally-delivered 12-step treatment shows at least comparable
efficacy and appears more cost-effective than other treatments to which it has been
compared. AA’s pragmatic community approach was never designed to facilitate empirical
validation and many AA constructs have eluded explicit operationalization. Consequently,
what we know is colored by the research lens that observes it. However, a limited, but
AA mechanisms 249
growing body of research provides support for three broad areas through which AA may
exert its beneficial effects: (1) common factors; (2) specific AA practices; and, (3) social and
spiritual factors related to AA’s theory of change.
Common factor mechanisms
Research examining common processes tells a beginning story about the effects of AA as at
least partially transmitted through these constructs. This line of research has its theoretical
roots in social cognitive learning theory (Bandura 1986) and the more specifically related
cognitive-behavioral relapse prevention (RP) theory explicated by Marlatt and Gordon
(1985). RP highlights the importance of coping and self-efficacy as critical mediators in
increasing or decreasing the probability of relapse. Studies measuring these constructs have
primarily conducted proper mediational tests and maintained temporality of the constructs
in assessment and analysis. Findings suggest that self-efficacy, motivation for abstinence and
commitment to recovery, and behavioral coping, are mechanisms through which AA exerts
its beneficial effects. The effects of AA participation among Project MATCH treatment
participants were partially explained by self-efficacy to resist drinking for up to 3 years
following treatment (Connors et al. 2001; Tonigan 2003). Also of note is this finding’s
salience with more severely involved alcohol patients. Changes not only in self-efficacy, but
also in commitment for abstinence and active coping have mediated the effects of AA
affiliation on 6-month substance use (Morgenstern et al. 1997). Although similar constructs
were examined with adolescent inpatients, only abstinence commitment was found to
mediate subsequent outcome (Kelly et al. 2000, 2002). Mechanisms may thus differ
developmentally, but for both adolescents and adults, greater addiction severity predicts
more AA involvement.
AA practice mechanisms
Regarding the specificity of AA’s effects (Nock 2007), research on AA practices has moved
forward by conducting comparative tests of the treatment to mediator (a!b) path. These
efforts to identify ‘‘active AA ingredients’’ have, however, met with mixed results. Most
often, 12-step treatment will predict changes in AA-specific cognitions and behaviors, but
such changes will not necessarily lead to changes in alcohol or other drug use. Variables
predictive of outcome often reflect a return to proposed common factors such as
commitment to abstinence (Morgenstern et al. 1995; Johnson et al. 2006) or intention to
avoid high-risk situations (Morgenstern et al. 1995). AA-specific cognitive commitment and
belief in a higher power were associated with reduced severity of relapse (Morgenstern et al.
1995), but these were not mediational tests. One specific behavior, reading AA literature,
was found to mediate 12-month substance use (Johnson et al. 2006). However, as
mentioned previously, this immediately evokes the subsequent question as to what exactly it
is about reading AA literature that leads to better outcomes. For example, it is possible that
reading AA literature leads to increased coping, self-efficacy, and motivation for abstinence.
In sum, research on AA-specific practices is less conclusive than that on common
therapeutic factors. This is partially due to less methodological consistency regarding
mediational tests and difficulties in construct definition and measurement.
250 J. F. Kelly et al.
Social and spiritual change mechanisms
The majority of extant research on other constructs of relevance to AA’s theory of change
has addressed social and spiritual themes. It may be due to the comparative difficulty
inherent in explicating these concepts, but the evidence regarding the importance of social
support and social network changes in recovery through AA is, to date, more compelling
than that on the role of spirituality. Specifically, these measures have fallen into two classes:
general social support and changes in health-promoting networks. General friendship quality
(Humphreys et al. 1999b), network support for abstinence (Humphreys et al. 1999a), and
reduced pro-drinking influences (Kaskutas et al. 2002) have shown partial mediating effects
on later reductions in drinking, and AA-specific network support has demonstrated
mediation effects 3 years later (Bond et al. 2003). Moreover, general social support plays
a similarly vital role among individuals with co-occurring substance and mental health
disorders (Laudet et al. 2004). These aspects fit within the broader social-cognitive learning
theory framework (Bandura 1986; Moos 2008).
With respect to spirituality, a large number of studies have examined a number of themes
including religiosity, meaning seeking, hope, and internal versus external locus of control.
However, in the two mediation studies that we were able to locate, spirituality did not
mediate 3-year outcomes (Tonigan 2003), but was important to other health behaviors
among an AA-based, but dual-diagnosis focused, mutual-help group (Magura et al. 2003).
Spiritual change or awakening through acceptance of one’s condition and ultimately through
service to others is a core process in the AA literature. Research in this regard, is an
important direction for future mechanisms investigations (Pagano et al. 2004; Zemore and
Kaskutas 2004, 2008; Galanter 2007a).
Limitations of existing mechanisms research
The available research in this area contains several limitations. The vast majority of studies
are naturalistic and thus possess inherent problems of self-selection (Rosenbaum 1995).
They also mostly involve treatment samples in the early phases of stabilization and recovery.
Little is known about non-treatment AA samples or the processes involved in maintaining
recovery-related changes over the long-term, which may well differ. Also, some treatment
programs may strongly emphasize AA participation while others do not, and this is rarely
assessed, reported, or included in analyses. There may also be large differences on baseline
demographic and clinical characteristics across study samples, and on the constructs
measured as well as the measures used. Available measures frequently lack adequate
psychometric validation and may have insufficient content validity in terms of capturing the
construct of interest. Also, not all studies included here conducted mediational analyses that
took temporality into account, thus weakening firm conclusions about cause and effect
relations. All of these additional variables can create inconsistencies across findings making
conclusions difficult, especially when the number of studies is small. However, this is an
important, emerging field, and appropriate methodology is becoming better known (Stout
2007). We anticipate that studies in this area will increase in quantity, consistency, and
quality.
Finally, due to the bias on measuring purely alcohol/drug outcomes in most studies of
recovery from substance dependence, this review contained studies that focused
exclusively on how AA affects changes in alcohol/drug use behavior. Noteworthy,
however, is the fact that almost half of all AA attendees have been sober for five or more
years (AA 2008). This suggests that there may be other positive quality of life factors that
AA mechanisms 251
keep many attending AA well beyond the achievement of full sustained remission from
alcohol dependence. The influence of AA participation on other indicators of functioning
such as physical and psychological well-being may be worthy areas for future mechanisms
investigation.
Toward a more comprehensive theory of AA-related change
Perhaps existing research reflects an approach of feasibility rather than comprehensiveness
or theoretical cohesiveness. It may be out of convenience that we have looked to common
psychological constructs. These measures are tangible, have been assessed with some
success, and possess established psychometric properties (e.g., self-efficacy). Yet, we have
ignored a complex reality and phenomenology of individuals who speak of ‘‘hitting bottom’’,
‘‘guilt’’, ‘‘shame’’, ‘‘loneliness’’, ‘‘fear’’, ‘‘anger’’, ‘‘self-loathing’’, ‘‘hope’’, ‘‘freedom’’, and
‘‘gratitude’’. Researchers have struggled with defining and measuring constructs such as
these and even defining recovery itself (Betty Ford Institute Consensus Panel 2007; Laudet
2007; White 2007). As Albert Einstein once remarked: ‘‘Not everything that can be counted
counts, and not everything that counts can be counted’’. These constructs would appear to
be common aspects of what is described under the phenomenological rubric of the
addiction-recovery experience. However, these experiences are rarely explicated in theories
of recovery-related change.
The general model of therapeutic change proposed by Howard et al. (1993) may provide
a useful transtheoretical developmental framework for examining AA-related change. It
emphasizes a sequential recovery process beginning with ‘‘remoralization’’ (the enhance-
ment of subjective well-being), followed by ‘‘remediation’’ (symptomatic relief), and
‘‘rehabilitation’’ (the unlearning of pervasive, maladaptive patterns of functioning and the
learning of more adaptive approaches). This broader framework provides a structure in
which AA practices may operate producing different stage-related benefits. Table IV shows
this developmental framework, along with some potential parallel AA-related dimensions
and elements. Also described are some potential intermediate outcomes, or mechanisms,
associated with the framework and AA-related dimensions.
AA itself, at least in its core texts, may have ignored explicating perhaps its most potent
influence on individuals’ recovery – that of social group dynamics in the AA meeting, the
broader fellowship, and the expression of support that can be healing to many. Explicit in
its meeting preamble, the ‘‘...fellowship of men and women who share their experience,
strength and hope with each other ...’’ may be the most critical element of AA’s
effectiveness. The potency of the non-specific group dynamic elements associated with
the 12-step and 12-tradition organizational template (AA 1953) may be supported by the
fact that in addressing a diverse set of problems and disorders and problems of living (e.g.,
drug addiction, sexual compulsivity, gambling, mental illness, shopping, eating, debt)
popular support groups have emerged that use the same template (e.g., Narcotics
Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Schizophrenics Anonymous, Depression
Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous). However, research on
these other organizations remains scarce. AA-influenced adaptive social context changes
are supported by available evidence. The ‘‘down-stream’’ mechanisms of these social
changes are likely to be stimulus control (i.e., absence of alcohol and related cues),
recovering role models, access to low-risk social activities, and strong social reinforcement
for abstinence (Moos 2008).
252 J. F. Kelly et al.
One prime function of AA is that the reported testimony and personal stories of ‘‘...what
happened, what we use to be like, and what we are like now’’ (AA 2001, p. 58) expose
meeting attendees to stories similar to their own that can revive fading or suppressed aversive
memories regarding past painful alcohol-related negative experiences. These ongoing
reminders in conjunction with positive (sober) experience and observable examples of
recovery may serve to continually re-motivate individuals tipping the decisional balance
toward ongoing recovery and AA participation. This common aspect of AA meetings may be
a more specific active ingredient of AA worthy of investigation.
Conclusions
Why have spiritually-oriented organizations, like AA, become so popular among alcohol and
other drug addicted individuals and not as popular among those suffering from other kinds
of mental disorders? One reason perhaps is that the disinhibiting effects from heavy alcohol
and drug use frequently generate deviations from one’s own moral code or set of values.
Repeated over and over this ‘‘Jekyll and Hyde’’ scenario can lead to a sense of profound
moral failing, self-blame and self-loathing. As structural and functional brain alterations
Table IV. Theoretical elaboration of AA’s active ingredients and mechanisms.
Therapeutic developmental stage
AA elements
Remoralization
(abstinence)
Remediation
(sobriety)
Rehabilitation
(recovery)
AA program-, or
fellowship-related
activity
Meeting attendance;
observational learn-
ing: (hearing and
seeing how others
recovered); positive
attention and strong
social reinforcement
for abstinence and
participation.
Sharing at meetings;
having and using AA
sponsor; AA connec-
tions between meet-
ings by phone or in
person; self-assess-
ment and collabora-
tive appraisal of
personal strengths
and weaknesses.
Sharing of personal
story: addiction and
recovery experiences
(chairing meetings);
continued self-
assessment, increase
spiritual practice;
helping and sponsor-
ing others; AA
service work.
A Relevant AA steps 1–3 4–9 10–12
Effect (intermediate
outcome or
mechanism)
Instillation of hope;
decreased sense of
aloneness; increase
self-esteem; realiza-
tion that personal
experience can be of
value to others.
Decreased shame, guilt,
and fear; increased
sense of belonging;
human connected-
ness (spiritual
experience); consis-
tency of behavior
with personal values
(cognitive
consonance).
Increased self-esteem;
mastery; increased
identity as recovering
person; community
and social
re-engagement.
Potential explanatory
theoretical principle
Instillation of hope;
interpersonal learn-
ing; social-cognitive
learning.
Universality; dimin-
ished self-discrepan-
cies between ‘‘actual-
ideal-ought’’ sense of
self.
Altruism (Group ther-
apy theory); helper
principle; spirituality.
AA mechanisms 253
caused by continued alcohol use exacerbate impairment over the regulation of drinking
behavior negative feelings may intensify and be deepened and reinforced further by the
reproach of affected onlookers and significant others. For many, the sense of ‘‘salvation’’,
historically and implicitly embedded within AA philosophy and in many other recovery
mutual-help societies throughout US history (White 1998), may feel cleansing and self-
soothing, providing a framework for self-forgiveness. This may account for the rather odd
AA mix of spirituality and, ‘‘alcoholism as a medical disease’’ (see the Doctors’ Opinion,
xxv; AA 1939, 2001), which may have been initially a purely pragmatic hybrid constructed to
alleviate common feelings of guilt, shame, and self-loathing that serve as barriers to salutary
change. The attenuation of these feelings and self-perceptions as a function of AA exposure
may be more specific to the spiritual/disease framework of AA and worthy of future
mechanisms research.
Despite AA’s clearly ‘‘spiritual’’ roots, language, and emphasis, this central aspect of AA
has received very limited research attention. The few studies that have examined spirituality,
have not found it to be a clear mechanism. This important dimension warrants more
research. It may be that, for the most part, underneath there is little unique or miraculous
about the specific content or format of AA; the same common therapeutic elements inherent
in most, if not all, formal and informal group and individual interventions may be similarly
operating in AA (Moos 2007, 2008). These elements appear to help individuals stay
motivated and gain the ability and confidence to cope with the demands of recovery within
a supportive context. Arguably, in the same way that we observe similar outcomes from
studies of different professional treatments, if alcohol-dependent individuals were to attend
other recovery-focused mutual-help groups (e.g., SMART Recovery, Secular Organization
for Sobriety) at the same intensity, it is conceivable that they may experience benefits similar
to those derived from AA. However, these other organizations have seldom been studied
and, as yet, cannot approach AA’s widespread availability (Kelly and Yeterian 2008). The
main benefit of AA in aiding addiction recovery may lie in its accessibility and its long-term,
‘‘extensive’’, focus (Humphreys and Tucker 2002). The fact that individuals can gain
exposure to these therapeutic elements ‘‘on demand’’ at a self-regulated dosing intensity for
as long as desired, makes AA a highly adaptive recovery management tool (White 2008).
The fact that it is free and widely available in almost every community on every day of the
week, notably during high-risk relapse periods when professional services are often not
available (i.e., on Holidays/nights/weekends), also makes AA a highly cost-effective public
health resource in helping alleviate the massive burden of disease attributable to alcohol
problems.
Declaration of interest: The authors report no conflicts of interest. The authors alone
are responsible for the content and writing of this article.
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... These theories have been used to describe processes that promote the remission of SUDs (Moos, 2007), as well as to explain the means through which in-person mutual-help organizations (MHOs) operate (Moos, 2008). Drawing from these theories, there are several empiricallysupported therapeutic mechanisms of recovery-related behavior change (e.g., instillation of hope; enhancing self-efficacy, coping skills, and motivation; facilitating adaptive social network changes) resulting from participation in MHOs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (Kelly, 2017;Kelly et al., 2018Kelly et al., , 2012Kelly et al., , 2009). These mechanisms of behavior change involved in the recovery process have been posited to operate in a similar manner with regard to D-RSS participation . ...
... More specifically, we adapted coding variables from studies examining portrayals of intoxication on YouTube (Primack et al., 2015; i.e., user sentiment) and mental health stigma on Twitter J o u r n a l P r e -p r o o f (Budenz et al., 2020;stigmatizing language). We also used a directed approach (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005) to develop several original content codes based on prior research explicating the mechanisms of behavior change and therapeutic benefits of RSS (Kelly et al., 2009;Kelly et al., 2012;Kelly et al., 2018;Moos, 2007;Moos, 2008; i.e., social support and other social network influences, spiritual change mechanisms, social identity in recovery, alternative rewarding activities). Such prior literature also provided guidance on the inclusion of content codes related to demographic variables commonly associated with SUD problem-resolution ) and use of D-RSS i.e., age, sex, race/ethnicity, substance, recovery modality, abstinence time, mutual-help group attendance, mutual-help group type, SUD treatment, and criminal justice history). ...
Article
Background There are many effective treatment options for substance use disorder (SUD), yet most individuals with SUD do not seek formal treatment services. Given the rising popularity of TikTok and need to foster innovative means through which to attract and engage individuals with SUD with treatment, we sought to characterize how TikTok users in SUD recovery are using this platform to bolster their recovery support and/or give hope to others who are struggling with substance use. Methods Our sample consisted of 82 of the most liked TikTok videos related to attempts to cut down on or abstain from substances and/or strengthen SUD recovery. We employed an iterative process to codebook development resulting in codes for demographics, user-sentiment, video type, and mechanisms of recovery-related behavior change. Videos were independently double-coded and evaluated for inter-rater reliability. Results Video in this sample were heavily viewed, accounting for over 2 million views per video and 325,000 likes on average. Most common video themes were sharing a journey from active SUD to recovery (40.2%) and sharing/celebrating a recovery milestone (37.8%), followed by recurrence of substance use (12.2%). Commonly exemplified mechanisms of recovery-related behavior change included embracing a strong social identity as a person in recovery (81.7%), social support (45.1%), and participation in rewarding alternative activities (39.0%). Conclusion TikTok SUD recovery-focused videos can potentially reach millions with portrayed themes similar to established therapeutic mobilizers and mechanisms. More research is needed to better understand whether digital recovery narratives can effectively normalize experiences of addiction and help-seeking behaviors.
... Mechanisms of behaviour change have been conceptualised in the work of Moos (2008) and Kelly et al. (2009) and refer to a process or series of events through which one variable leads to or causes change in another variable (Nock, 2007). Consequently, similar changes in addictive behaviours can be explained by various social, psychological, behavioural and neurobiological processes, while different mechanisms that account for behaviour change may occur simultaneously or cumulatively (Kelly et al., 2009). ...
... Mechanisms of behaviour change have been conceptualised in the work of Moos (2008) and Kelly et al. (2009) and refer to a process or series of events through which one variable leads to or causes change in another variable (Nock, 2007). Consequently, similar changes in addictive behaviours can be explained by various social, psychological, behavioural and neurobiological processes, while different mechanisms that account for behaviour change may occur simultaneously or cumulatively (Kelly et al., 2009). No single mechanism is likely to account for recovery, while the availability of mechanisms may change over time and different mechanisms may be involved in initiating and maintaining recovery. ...
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Addiction recovery is a complex, dynamic and non-linear process of change on multiple life domains, and in substance use patterns in particular (Dekkers et al., 2020; White, 2007). While early definitions equated recovery with ‘remission’, ‘abstinence’ or absence of symptoms of dependence, later conceptualisations have also emphasised the importance of health, well-being, quality of life, citizenship and social participation, as illustrated in the Betty Ford Consensus Panel definition (Betty Ford Institute Consensus Panel, 2007, p. 222): ‘a voluntarily maintained lifestyle, characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship’. Although abstinence may be an important feature, it is not a prerequisite for recovery (Laudet & White, 2010). The addiction recovery literature has grown quickly over the last few years, including a variety of recovery indicators, resources and instruments (Ashford et al., 2020; Best & Laudet, 2010; Best et al., 2021; Cano et al., 2017; Cloud & Granfield, 2008; Groshkova et al., 2013; Neale et al., 2016). Far less is known about how recovery takes place and which mechanisms and mediators are central to addiction recovery.
... Recent studies have indicated that involvement in AA influenced recovery was mostly measured as abstinence and reduced alcohol use through the social and spiritual change mechanisms [103]. The relationships between involvement in AA and abstinence and alcohol use indicators were mediated through social networks and social support [34,37,38,[104][105][106], self-efficacy [36,37], motivation and active coping [36], as well as spirituality/religiousness [40][41][42]. The achieved results have confirmed that another mechanism underlies the relationship between involvement in self-help groups and subjective well-being among the alcohol-addicted exists. ...
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Involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an important psychosocial factor for the recovery of alcohol-dependent individuals. Recent studies have confirmed the beneficial role of involvement in AA for abstinence and reduction in drinking alcohol. Little is known about the mechanism underlying the relationship between involvement in AA and subjective well-being. This study aims to verify whether in a sample of Polish AA participants involvement in AA is indirectly related to subjective well-being through existential well-being consisting of hope and meaning in life. The achieved results have confirmed that involvement in AA is positively related to existential well-being, which in turn positively predicts subjective well-being including life satisfaction as well as positive and negative affect. It was confirmed that AA involvement in self-help groups indirectly via existential well-being is related to subjective well-being. Theoretical and practical implications were discussed.
... A possible consequence of this is that older adults with elevated alcohol consumption and cognitive impairment are less likely to receive a timely assessment of either problem. Furthermore, people with elevated alcohol consumption are less likely to have a stable informal network [42][43][44][45][46] and are at greater risk of developing a variety of neuropsychological impairments [47][48][49][50][51], some of which might lead to misattribution or reduced awareness of dementia symptoms. Importantly, the lack of network support, misattribution of dementia symptoms, and unawareness of dementia symptoms have all consistently been identified as barriers to receiving an assessment of cognitive impairment [36]. ...
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Introduction: The time from symptom debut to assessment of cognitive impairment (TSA) is usually substantial, and many factors can influence the length of this interval. Our objective was to discern whether elevated alcohol consumption is associated with TSA. Methods: Alcohol consumption was measured among 3,236 older Norwegians assessed for cognitive impairment. Elevated consumption was defined as drinking 4-7 times a week. TSA was defined as the number of months between symptom debut and assessment. The association between alcohol consumption and TSA was examined with a multiple regression analysis controlled for sociodemographic and clinical covariates. Results: Mean (SD) and median TSA were 34.8 (35.8) and 24.0 months, respectively. Elevated alcohol consumption was not associated with TSA. Longer TSA was associated with being male, having a high education level, being retired or unemployed, being single, having low scores on the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) or Personal Activities of Daily Living (PADL), having high subsyndrome scores of depression or agitation on The Neuropsychiatric Inventory - Questionnaire (NPI-Q), or having a spouse/cohabitant as the designated next of kin. Conclusion: This study indicates that elevated alcohol consumption does not influence TSA. Possible explanations are discussed, but further research is needed to determine the effect of alcohol definitively. We did identify other novel characteristics associated with TSA which may be important in minimizing the risk of delayed cognitive assessments and should be kept in mind when considering assessment.
Article
Background: Digital recovery support services (D-RSS) use technology to engage individuals seeking recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD). Given sparse data on use of these emergent services as well as longstanding and stark gender disparities in use of traditional alcohol treatment services, we sought to quantify lifetime and current D-RSS use and to test associations with several recovery outcomes, with particular attention to gender differences. Methods: We analyzed data obtained in fall 2020 in a national survey of adults with a resolved alcohol problem (n = 1487). We estimated lifetime and current D-RSS use, prevalence of various types of D-RSS, and related outcomes (e.g., recovery stability, relapse events, quality of life). Stratified logistic regression models identified correlates of D-RSS use for women and men, controlling for demographic and AUD characteristics. Results: Overall, an estimated 14.9% of the population of adults with a resolved alcohol problem reported lifetime use of D-RSS, with no difference by gender. Current use was lower and was reported by more men than women (9.9% vs. 5.8%, respectively). Men had higher odds of D-RSS use if they had <1 year of recovery (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 7.84), 1 to 5 years of recovery (aOR 2.17), and if never married (aOR 3.29). Among women, higher odds of D-RSS were associated with AUD symptom count (aOR 1.30), being unemployed (aOR 9.85), and having minor children in the household (aOR 3.58). Among women, there was no association between D-RSS use and recovery stability, relapse events, and quality of life. However, among men D-RSS use was associated with reporting that the COVID-19 pandemic had made it more difficult to resist alcohol or drugs and with lower self-reported quality of life. Conclusions: D-RSS are a promising technological approach to support recovery. There is room to increase their use, and gender-specific approaches may be needed given different correlates of use for women and men. In addition, further research is needed to explore whether D-RSS may confer benefits through similar mechanisms as in-person recovery services.
Article
Objectives: This qualitative evaluation was guided by two questions: 1) How does peer recovery support (PRS) support American Indian (AI) people in recovery from substance use disorders? and 2) What makes PRS effective? Methods: We utilized a descriptive qualitative study design to explore the essence of PRS. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with six AI peers to explore the perceptions and lived experiences of recovery from one urban Montana location. Data analysis involved coding all the transcripts using the priori codes developed, then identifying key themes from the coded data. Results: Themes and interview data helped us explore how PRS supports recovery and potential reasons why it is effective for AI populations. Peers indicated that the program helped them maintain their recovery, and the role of peer mentors was critical to their success. Themes of belonging, connection, and compassion were common among peers interviewed. They also felt that recovery is a spiritual process. The peers had limited recommendations for improving the program, except the need for funding sustainability. Conclusions: Understanding how people recover is the first step in addressing the current substance misuse epidemic facing our nation. This evaluation outlined the qualitative impacts of PRS, the spiritual nature of PRS, the context of PRS, and recommendations from peers involved in the program. More work is needed to explore how to sustain PRS programs and integrate PRS into existing community-based settings, like churches, social services, urban AI centers, and other locations.
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In the United States, alcohol is the most common substance used and the spectrum of unhealthy alcohol use is highly prevalent. Complications of unhealthy alcohol use affect nearly every organ system. One of the most frequent and potentially life-threatening of these complications is alcohol withdrawal syndrome for which benzodiazepines remain first-line therapy. Pharmacologic treatment of alcohol use disorder, the most severe form of unhealthy alcohol use, is underutilized despite the availability of multiple effective medications. Although behavioral therapies are an important component of treatment, they are overemphasized at the expense of pharmacotherapy.
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Social support (SS), or having people to depend on during times of stress, may offer an emotional and neurological buffer to problem drinking. Specifically, SS may modulate reward and stress-related brain responses to mitigate perceptions of alcohol reward and stress. There is limited evidence, however, on this topic and specifically on brain networks that may modulate SS effects on stress and alcohol reward. Here we present a review of the current literature on this topic as well as data from a large community sample of 115 social drinkers. Findings from a novel fMRI task viewing alcohol cue, stress, and neutral images, in separate blocks, while providing ratings on subjective feelings of alcohol craving, stress, and arousal are included. Lower SS significantly predicted greater alcohol craving during alcohol cue and stress conditions, higher baseline levels of stress, and greater arousal in the alcohol cue, relative to neutral condition. Remarkably, individuals with low SS showed greater reward activation (ventral medial prefrontal cortex (VmPFC) and ventral striatum) during alcohol cue exposure, while those with high SS showed no such activation (p < 0.001, family wise error corrected at 0.05). Furthermore, individuals with lower SS showed greater stress circuit (VmPFC, dorsal striatum, and periaqueductal gray) activation not observed in the high SS groups. Both groups showed increased amygdala activation under stress condition. The findings support the notion that SS is a powerful modulator of stress response and reward motivation. High SS buffers neural and subjective stress responses, while low SS potentiates greater reward seeking with higher alcohol craving and greater brain activation during alcohol cue exposure. Previous research and current results suggest the need to further explore the role of SS in those at risk of developing alcohol use disorder and assess novel prevention strategies to boost SS in at-risk drinkers.
Chapter
This extensively revised new edition provides a practical guide to understanding, assessing and managing physical, psychological and social complications related to drug and alcohol use. It presents a clear review of the aetiology, epidemiology, prevention and treatment of the problematic use of and dependence on alcohol, illicit and prescribed drugs. In doing so it strikes a balance between theory, recent research and practical clinical guidance. New chapters focus on novel psychiatric substances, smoking cessation interventions, mutual aid groups and family interventions. Written by leading specialists in the field and closely following the MRCPsych curriculum, this book is an ideal resource for trainees preparing for their RCPsych membership examinations, but is also relevant to psychiatrists at all career levels. It will also appeal to other healthcare professionals, all of whom should be able to screen for alcohol and drug use disorders, deliver brief interventions, and signpost those with more severe disorders to specialist care.
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A 3-phase model of psychotherapy outcome is proposed that entails progressive improvement of subjectively experienced well-being, reduction in symptomatology, and enhancement of life functioning. The model also predicts that movement into a later phase of treatment depends on whether progress has been made in an earlier phase. Thus, clinical improvement in subjective well-being potentiates symptomatic improvement, and clinical reduction in symptomatic distress potentiates life-functioning improvement. A large sample of psychotherapy patients provided self-reports of subjective well-being, symptomatic distress, and life functioning before beginning individual psychotherapy and after Sessions 2, 4, and 17 when possible. Changes in well-being, symptomatic distress, and life functioning means over this period were consistent with the 3-phase model. Measures of patient status on these 3 variables were converted into dichotomous improvement-nonimprovement scores between intake and each of Sessions 2, 4, and 17. An analysis 2 × 2 cross-classification tables generated from these dichotomous measures suggested that improvement in well-being precedes and is a probabilistically necessary condition for reduction in symptomatic distress and that symptomatic improvement precedes and is a probabilistically necessary condition for improvement in life functioning.
Book
Recent Developments in Alcoholism Volume 18: Research on Alcoholics Anonymous and Spirituality in Addiction Recovery Edited by Marc Galanter, NYU School of Medicine, and Lee Kaskutas, UC Berkely School of Public Health It was once taken for granted that peer-assisted groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous had no "real" value in recovery from addiction. More recently, evidence-based medicine is recognizing a spiritual component in healing—especially when it comes to addiction. The newest edition of Recent Developments in Alcoholism reflects this change by focusing on the 12-step model of recovery as well as mindfulness meditation and other spiritually oriented activity. More than thirty contributors bring together historical background, research findings, and clinical wisdom to analyze the compatibility of professional treatment and nonprofessional support, day-to-day concepts of relapse prevention, the value of community building in recovery, and much more. Among the topics covered: • How and why 12-step groups work. • The impact of the spiritual on mainstream treatment. • The impact of AA on other nonprofessional recovery programs. • AA outcomes for special populations. • Facilitating involvement in 12-step programs. • Methods for measuring religiousness and spirituality in alcohol research. Whether one is referring clients to 12-step programs or seeking to better understand the process, this is a unique resource for clinicians and social workers. Developmental psychologists, too, will find Volume 18—Research on Alcoholics Anonymous and Spirituality in Addiction Recovery a worthy successor to the series.
Conference Paper
Objective: The role of changes in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) involvement and social networks in relation to abstinence following substance abuse treatment is studied. Specifically, the role of AA and network support for abstinence are examined in relation to their effect on changes in abstinence states between follow-ups. Method: Study sites were 10 representative public and private alcohol treatment programs in a northern California county. A recruitment of 367 men and 288 women seeking treatment were interviewed at intake and re-interviewed I and 3 years later to collect information about alcohol consumption, dependence symptoms, social support for reducing drinking, number of heavy drinkers in the social network and AA involvement. Results: Significant predictors of 90-day abstinence at both the 1- and 3-year follow-up interviews included AA involvement in the last year, percentage of heavy or problem drinkers in the social network, percentage encouraging alcohol reduction and AA-based support for reducing drinking. Panel models estimated an increase in AA participation between 12 and 36 months posttreatment increased the odds of abstinence at 3 years by 35% above those at 12 months. The only significant mediator of AA's effect on abstinence was the number of AA-based contacts supporting reduced drinking, which reduced the magnitude of the relationship by 16%. Conclusions: AA involvement and the type of support received from AA members were consistent contributors to abstinence 3 years following a treatment episode. The enduring effects observed from supportive networks demonstrate the importance of ongoing mechanisms of action that contribute to an abstinent lifestyle.
Article
Previous research revealed an additive effect of recovery activities in that those who attended Twelve-Step meetings on a weekly basis during and after outpatient drug-user treatment had higher rates of abstinence compared to those who participated in either treatment or Twelve-Step programs alone. The current investigation extends the previous research by examining the possible effects of Twelve-Step ideology on participation in Twelve-Step programs and abstinence from drug use. The findings from this treatment outcomes study indicate that the acceptance of Twelve-Step ideology, particularly strong agreement with the need for frequent, lifelong attendance at Twelve-Step meetings, and the need to surrender to a "higher power" are significant predictors of weekly or more frequent attendance at Twelve-Step meetings independent from other potentially mediating variables. Twelve-Step ideology, specifically the notion that controlled or nonproblematic drug use is not possible, predicted abstinence independent from Twelve-Step participation and other potentially mediating variables. These findings often a number of implications concerning group process and recovery from drug misuse which are addressed in the Discussion section under the following topics: 1) spirituality and group cohesion, 2) spiritual transcendence, social transcendence, and recovery; 3) spirituality and the obstruction of recovery; 4) Twelve-Step ideology and learning; 5) perceived control of drug use, self-efficacy theory, and recovery; and 7) perceived control of drug use and optimistic illusions. Directions for future research are discussed.
Article
This study examined the influence of the duration and frequency of a baseline episode of participation in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) among 473 individuals with alcohol use disorders on 1-year and 8-year outcomes and the effect of additional participation and delayed participation on outcomes. Compared with individuals who did not participate, individuals who affiliated with AA relatively quickly, and who participated longer, had better 1-year and 8-year alcohol-related outcomes. Individuals who continued to participate, and those who continued longer,had better alcohol-related outcomes than did individuals who discontinued participation, but individuals who delayed participation in AA had no better outcomes than those who never participated. In general, the frequency of participation was independently associated only with a higher likelihood of abstinence.