Alcoholics Anonymous May Be Most Effective Path to Abstinence

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) may be the most effective path to abstinence for people with alcohol use disorder, according to a new analysis published Wednesday. 

To reach their findings, the researchers reviewed 35 studies, which involved 145 scientists and 10,080 participants. They found that AA was almost always more effective than psychotherapy at helping people with alcohol use disorder achieve abstinence. Most studies also showed that AA helped lower health care costs.

AA is a somewhat controversial support group for people seeking sobriety, as it relies on lay people rather than trained behavioral health clinicians to help coach people to recovery. Members of the fellowship walk through a 12-step process, with peers and mentors who have been in their shoes helping along the way.


Lead researcher on the study, Keith Humphreys, said the model’s success lies in the social aspect of it.

“If you want to change your behavior, find some other people who are trying to make the same change,” Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, said in an article published by the university touting the findings.

None of the studies in the analysis found AA to be less effective than other methods of recovery in achieving abstinence. Additionally, studies that looked at factors other than complete abstinence also found AA to be as effective or more effective than other methods.


While the review only looked at AA, it is “certainly suggestive that these methods work for people who use heroin or cocaine,” Humphreys said.

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