What Makes Alcoholics Anonymous Successful?

The fact that Alcoholics Anonymous offers strong potential for success in helping an individual recover from alcohol addiction is not news. Although most medical and addiction professionals recognize its effectiveness, no one had investigated which elements of the 12-Step approach make it so, until recently. A new study investigates this question: Which aspects of Alcoholics Anonymous account for its high rate of success?

Researchers worked with 1,700 participants through a federally funded trial called Project MATCH. This trial set out to compare three separate approaches in alcohol abuse treatment: cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy and AA’s 12-Step approach. Participants were asked to follow one of the designated treatment protocols but were also permitted to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings if they so chose.

The researchers scheduled follow-up interviews at three months, nine months and 15 months after the conclusion of the Project MATCH trial. The follow-ups focused on five key indicators to measure and examine behavioral changes:

  1. Participants were asked to describe both the frequency and intensity of any recent drinking.
  2. Participants were asked to describe their involvement in the AA meetings along with current spiritual and/or religious habits.
  3. The researchers used customized assessments to determine participants’ confidence about their ability to remain alcohol-abstinent even in social settings.
  4. Participants were checked for symptoms of depression.
  5. Participants were asked about current social connections and whether those tended to support or discourage their efforts to remain alcohol-abstinent.

A Social Support Network

The researchers discovered those critical factors which seem to contribute most strongly to the widespread successes for AA participants. The key element is that those involved with Alcoholics Anonymous develop a new social support network.

This new social support encourages the person in a couple of ways. First, the person struggling with alcoholism is brought into contact with more people who are supportive of their efforts to overcome alcohol addiction and spends less time with those who continue to drink and do not support efforts toward sobriety. Secondly, the person’s social network helps to build self-confidence in their ability to successfully face and manage social situations which require alcohol-abstinence.

The benefits of this new social support are key to the success of the Alcoholics Anonymous program, according to the study. Researchers examined the distinct mechanisms of AA and found that other elements which positively impact behavior are:

Alcoholics Anonymous is the most popular resource in the United States for people who are seeking to live sober. The program boasts high levels of short-term as well as long-term success. This study reinforces those success stories with data that show definite, positive behavioral changes flow from the improved social supports gained through following the 12-Step approach.