With its widespread incorporation into recovery programs, many view the 12-Step program to be synonymous with treatment. But is it a standalone product? Or is it better used in conjunction with other treatment methods such as group, individual or other types of therapies? We dig through some research to find out.
A Quick Look Into AA’s Success Rates
One of AA’s most recent reports titled “Alcoholics Anonymous Recovery Outcome Rates: Contemporary Myth and Misinterpretation,” which was published in 2008, found that:
- Out of AA members with less than a month of attendance, 74 percent will stop attending by the end of the year.
- Out of those who stay more than 90 days in AA, 56 percent will still be attending by the end of the year.
- Every three years since 1983, the average length of sobriety in AA members has increased.
- In 1983, AA members’ average number of years in sobriety is 4 years. In 2004, AA members’ average number of years in sobriety is more than 8 years.
While these statistics sound promising to those who do manage to stick it out, it’s important to note that this research was conducted by AA itself and that precise numbers of those who’ve succeeded with 12-Step recovery is impossible to obtain. Other studies meant to determine whether support groups that include the 12 Steps can succeed alone or only as one aspect of a therapeutic regimen are inconclusive.
Nonetheless, these results combined with the facts that AA has been going strong for 82 years and that many current and former members swear by it proves that the 12 Steps and other support groups offer irreplaceable benefits and cannot be dismissed as irrelevant.
The Importance of Mutual Support
Many people find their way to sobriety by attending 12-Step meetings or other mutual help support groups, which offer a similar but non-faith based structure. They’re typically implemented in formal treatment and as part of continuing care post-treatment.
According to one study, there is increasing positive evidence that 12-Step involvement can lead to a successful recovery. Specifically, increased 12-Step meeting attendance and/or involvement in events within the group seem to lead to a decrease in subsequent alcohol abuse. This suggests a direct correlation between 12-Step attendance and abstinence.
Numerous studies have also found that a major success factor of mutual help support groups such as AA is the fellowship associated with them. Membership in such groups provides members the opportunity to shift their social network away from "drinking buddies" towards an expanded network of people who support abstinence. This shift is also accompanied by decreased exposure to drinking-related activities and the triggers that set up the cravings.
So, while no hard conclusions can be drawn as to whether 12-step programs alone can be a successful means to recovery, they help foster key changes in one’s environment that can in turn ripple into other areas of an addict’s life. They provide members an outlet to turn away from unhealthy drinking relationships and discover a sober circle of friends who engage in healthier activities. For a number of people, that could be a good start and for some, it just might be enough.