Examining the Effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous

Substance abuse is extremely difficult to overcome. Many who enter treatment for alcohol abuse struggle against relapse. Cognitive behavioral therapy and the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous are both popular approaches to fighting the problem of relapse.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a program often sought out by those wishing to recover from alcohol use disorders. Because of AA’s strict adherence to the protection of their population’s anonymity, it is very difficult to determine the full effect of its philosophies and practices. Many experts, however, believe that AA provides the tools that make recovery possible.

Some studies have attempted to measure the success rate of combining the enrollment in an AA program with participation in therapy centered on cognitive behavioral therapy. Research has often shown that individuals who also enroll in AA experience a higher rate of abstinence than those who do therapy alone.

While AA does not allow its members to be contacted for research studies, it conducts its own random surveys every three years. In 2007, the results indicated that AA’s program was effective. A survey involving 8,000 participants showed that 33 percent were sober 10 years after enrolling. An additional 12 percent were sober 5 to 10 years and 24 percent had been sober between 1 and 5 years. Thirty one percent were sober for less than 12 months.

A report from 1990 that compiled five membership surveys ranging from 1977 to 1989 found that 81 percent of alcoholics that attended an AA meeting for the first time gave up coming within a year. At any given time over the compilation, only 5 percent of those coming to AA had been attending for over a year.

However, many experts believe that it does not matter. AA works well for many people, and for those it helps, it is life-changing.

Some studies show that when AA is compared to other types of treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, the success of recovery is equal or better than those therapies. The National Council on Alcoholism found in a 2007 study that AA programs had a abstinence rate of 49.5 percent after 12 months. Cognitive behavioral therapy had a 37 percent success rate. The study did not take into account those individuals who have relapsed several times in either type of approach.

Many experts also believe that the tools offered in AA and cognitive behavioral therapy are similar and equally effective. They both focus on trying to identify the cues that tend to lead to problematic drinking and developing healthy life habits. When used together the potential successful recovery is even higher.