The results may help to better tailor AA for a new generation,
researchers say, and help young adults feel more comfortable in the
heart of the program, the group meetings.
“We now know that in addition to the mechanisms we traditionally
target, there may be other mechanisms that are particularly
important for younger people,” said Bettina Hoeppner, a psychologist
at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, who led the study.
Hoeppner and her team write that young people - who may face more
temptations to drink in a social context and have shorter addiction
histories, and hence less to share - may face a “barrier” to
becoming engaged with the values of AA.
“Yes, it may feel alienating to attend meetings with folks who
likely will have quite different life circumstances, but chances
are, going to the meetings will help, possibly exactly because the
other members will be able to provide a new and wider perspective on
substance use and the problems it causes, and the efforts to
overcome it,” Hoeppner told Reuters Health.
AA is by far the most accessible support for recovery, with over
100,000 local groups, 2 million members worldwide and no financial
cost to join, she said.
The 12-step program with spiritually-grounded principles focuses on
helping an addict avoid the compulsion to drink alcohol.
Past research has identified several key ways the regimen helps
addicts resist the urge to drink, Hoeppner’s team writes in the
journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
These include learning to cope in a high-risk social context;
dealing with setbacks such as depression, anger, boredom and
anxiety; embracing spiritual practices; and creating a social
network that includes people who drink alcohol as well as those who
People under age 30 make up only 13 percent of AA’s membership,
according to a 2011 survey conducted by the organization, Hoeppner
points out, yet “young adults are currently the age group with the
highest prevalence of substance use - so that’s one reason we should
To see what accounts for successful recovery in AA among young
people, Hoeppner’s team analyzed the recovery efforts of almost
2,000 adults who participated in a 12-week treatment program. They
compared almost 300 participants between the ages of 18 and 29, to
about 1500 counterparts 30 years old or older.
After treatment, the participants were required to check-in every
three months for a year and a half and describe their alcohol use,
AA meeting attendance, spiritual or religious practices, depression,
self control and social networks.
Even though both groups attended a similar number of meetings,
younger people were slightly less successful at abstaining from
alcohol than older members of the program. Thirty percent of young
adults were still completely abstinent at 15 months, compared to 39
percent of the over-30 group.
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The young adults who did drink reported consuming less alcohol than
they had before the intervention, however.
In the analysis of why participants were successful in the program,
the over-30 group benefited from up to five of the six “key” skills
known to help recovery, but the young adults benefited from only
Socializing with fewer “pro-drinkers” and being able to “refuse a
drink” in high-risk social situations were the skills from AA that
determined the young adults’ success.
“I agree with their conclusions as far as they go, but I think the
study method obscures some pretty important points,” said Ned
Presnall, a clinical social worker at Clayton Behavioral in Saint
Presnall, who was not involved in the study, questioned its
relevance to substance abuse, a bigger problem for young adults.
Referring to a 2012 database of Americans entering treatment for
addiction, he pointed out that only 23 percent of adults between the
ages of 18 and 20 reported alcohol as their primary abused substance
compared to 55 percent of adults between 40 and 45.
“Since part of AA's strategy is attracting people with drug and
alcohol problems, one measure of its effectiveness is its ability to
attract young adults,” he emphasized.
Hoeppner said, “If you are a young adult struggling with substance
use, try AA. Don’t let the fact that you’ll likely be among the few
younger people there deter you: that might actually be one of the
things that helps you. And if you want to help a young person,
suggest going to AA or another mutual help group. It’s not for
everyone, but it can help.”
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1n3SM72 Drug and Alcohol Dependence, online
July 23, 2014.
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