Since 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been the cornerstone of programs that help people quit drinking or taking drugs. In the United States alone, there’s an estimated 23 million people who struggle with addiction and approximately 1.2 million who attend AA’s 55,000 groups across the country. In addition, at treatment centers everywhere, countless other addicts embark on the organization’s 12-step program, the core tenets of AA that upon completion, are said to lead to sustainable sobriety.
Studies show that even limited participation in AA’s 12-step recovery program can help people remain sober and make them less likely they are to relapse. The chances of success are even better members who routinely take advantage of the program’s services or participate in community service events sanctioned by the group.
Alcoholics Anonymous: A Closer Look
Alcoholics Anonymous groups are not led by medical professionals. Rather, groups are led by recovering addicts who share their personal experiences and strategies and offer their time to individually mentor other members.
Groups often grow through personal recommendations, whether by people in the group or outside of it. Almost 60% of members in 2014 said they were introduced to their AA group by someone who was already a member or because their family pointed them toward the group.
The organization recognizes the importance of embracing and involving new members quickly in order to provide better support to those who are new to recovery. Thus, AA tries to get “sponsorship” as quickly as possible. A sponsor is someone who a member can call and count on to be there for them during the tough times of temptation. According to one report, 74% of new members get a sponsor within their first 90 days of joining a group.
Does AA Work?
The effectiveness of AA is hard to quantify because, as its name implies, it is anonymous. As a result, the “cure rate” for those in AA is approximately as high as 75% or as low as 5%.
One of the most scientific studies of AA was a 16-year study at Stanford University. In this study, of the alcoholics that attended a minimum of 27 weeks of AA meetings during their first year of recovery, 67 percent were abstinent after 16 years. In contrast, only 34 percent of those who did not participate in AA were sober at the 16-year mark.
Those who are critical of the effectiveness of AA point to studies like a 1999 meta-analysis of 21 prior studies of alcoholics that relied on AA. This study found that those who attended AA actually had a lower instance of sobriety than those that received no treatment at all, although the authors acknowledged that many of those in the “fail” group attended meetings due to court order rather than of their own volition, and many accept that addiction recovery is most successful when the addict is a willing participant.
While studies have come to widely divergent conclusions about the effectiveness of AA, there is much more agreement amongst the studies that when AA is used in conjunction with professional treatment, it yields vastly better results than when it is relied on as the sole method of recovery.
Challenges that Face AA
While AA continues to be a stalwart program of addiction treatment plans, as the tide turns culturally, it faces many challenges in continuing to stay relevant for the long term.
First and foremost, AA has its roots as a non-secular organization, and while AA has taken steps to become more religiously inclusive, the fact remains that agnostic recovering addicts often have difficulty relating to the program’s first step – surrendering to a higher power.
In addition, lack of ethnic and gender diversity at meetings is a growing issue for AA. According to one survey, almost 90% of AA members are white — almost 3/4 of which aged between 41-70 years old. Plus, females only comprise about one-third of all AA members.
Like AA, many people still debate the success of these groups, but most addiction therapists agree that group therapy and building a system of emotional support does have a positive impact on maintaining a sober lifestyle.
Alternatives to AA: “Non 12-Step” Support Groups
Because of the challenges outlined above, there has been a major growth in “Non 12-Step” addiction support groups that address some of the shortcomings of AA. A few of these are Women for Sobriety, SMART Recovery, and Secular Organizations for Sobriety.
Many of these Non 12-step support groups focus more on the individual and finding the internal power to control addiction by addressing the underlying issues that have caused the individual to turn to substance abuse.
Are You Considering Alcoholics Anonymous?
Studies have found that being a part of a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous is a great indicator of whether a person will remain sober for an extended period. At Morningside Recovery, we help patients get sober through a variety of addiction treatment services, and we ensure that our patients find ongoing support that best fit their personal preferences.
For more information about how we can help you achieve sustainable sobriety, call us at 855-631-2135. Our helpline is open 24/7 and our specialists will work with you to help find the treatment option that works for you.