AA Proven Effective for Abstinence

Dan Schimmel, LCSW, CAP that it’s a well-established fact that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and many other twelve-step programs based on AA, are successful. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be over 2 million AA members worldwide. Joining is free and as simple as showing up. It’s a wonderful program for recovering alcoholics, and it’s a brilliant option for those with limited resources, unable to enter into a professional treatment program or receive professional aftercare. However, AA and similar groups are not treatment programs. They are meetings that encourage long-term sobriety using open conversation and the famous twelve steps.

So is AA truly an effective method of staying sober? Members would obviously say yes, and this is something known as self-selection bias. AA works for people who join because they were motivated to join. Nobody forces membership – it is entirely voluntary. The effectiveness of AA cannot be measured for those who are not in AA.

Here’s a simpler way to describe self-selection bias… Say 100 students are going to take an exam a week from now. The day before the exam, there is a study course, which half of the students take. Exam scores are significantly higher for those who took the course, but that does not necessarily mean the study course was effective. Motivation, status, studiousness, prior exam-taking experience, and many more factors caused that half of the students to take the study course. The study course’s effectiveness can only be measured if all 100 students take it and then test scores are compared from before and after.

So what if self-selection bias were to be removed from the equation? What if there was a way to determine the effectiveness of AA overall, not just for those who self-selected themselves into the group? A study published recently by UK-based Drug and Alcohol Findings (DAF) found a way.

The DAF Study

Although AA is not an official treatment program, joining is often recommended as a part of aftercare for patients in such programs. In fact, there are professional interventions held nationwide that promote and AA membership. Sometimes patients in treatment are referred to these interventions as parts of voluntary trials.

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