Study Shows Benefits of 12 Steps for Youth


One of the difficulties in treating younger people for alcohol and drug addiction is keeping them on track once they leave an inpatient treatment facility. It’s often impossible to separate them from peers who are still actively using, and many are drawn right back into the culture.

A study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence and cited in Science News Daily now shows that attendance at 12-step meetings, either AA or NA, can make a difference.

The study, “Emerging adults' treatment outcomes in relation to 12-step mutual-help attendance and active involvement,” was a collaboration among three respected institutions, including Harvard Medical School. With more than 300 participants, aged 18-24, the results are considered significant.

Attending often and actively participating are key

Importantly, it wasn’t just attendance that mattered, but how often someone attended a meeting and whether or not they actively participated. Participants were tracked by how many meetings a week they went to and outcomes at the one-year mark. For those showing the most success, attendance peaked at about three times a week early on and then fell to about once a week by year’s end. Participation was gauged by whether or not a subject regularly spoke at meetings.

Speaking about your life and problems and connecting those to topics offered in AA and NA are part of most meetings, though members are not required to talk if they do not want to.

Researchers were a bit surprised at how strong the effect was. They had anticipated that regular meeting attendance would help to replace some peer pressures, but because many such groups are top heavy with older men, they didn’t expect as strong a connection as they found.

These findings validate the aftercare often recommended by treatment facilities. Twelve-step groups offer a community-based, inexpensive maintenance mechanism, which is something those in recovery desperately need. The take-home message for 12-step groups is to encourage participation by new members as a way to bond them to the process and to yield the best results.

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