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New Study Digs Into The Effectiveness Of AA

For generations, Alcoholics Anonymous has helped people overcome their drinking issues with regular meetings and a support network promoting sobriety. And one critique of the program has come from the medical community, regarding its approach and success rates. Well now new study stats have been released, supporting AA’s mission and accomplishments.


USA Today covered the news on their site this week, speaking with authors of the study (who hail from Harvard Medical School). Dr. John Kelly, who is an addiction medicine psychiatry professor at the school and helped write the report, made a point to support AA and their ongoing work.


“In the popular press, there’s been reports of AA not working or being even harmful for people,” he said. “So, we wanted to clarify the scientific picture to the highest scientific standard.”


To help come to that conclusion, Dr. Kelly and his colleagues monitored more than 10,000 people who were currently in  AA. Factors measured included the length of time that the group abstained from alcohol and the overall health improvements of people enrolled in the program.


Prior criticisms of AA judged its overall effectiveness and the methods it uses to help people get clean. Many notable psychologists and psychiatrists have been skeptical because the program does not use cognitive behavioral therapy to treat its members.


Stanford University professor Keith Humphreys also participated in the research and admitted to USA Today that, for a long time, he did not believe in AA’s methods. But after seeing tangible results from the research group, he has changed his view.


“I used to think, how dare these people do things that I have all these degrees to do?” Humphreys told the outlet. ““But then I realized that AA didn’t come from the scientific community. It came from people who were suffering addiction. They’re just people with lived experience, and that’s powerful when you multiply that by a couple of million people.”


There have also been criticisms about the way that AA brings faith into their program. It has often been said that discussing a person’s “higher power” reflects more of a personal choice rather than an actual sobriety tool. Researchers called that point out as well, but still emphasized that the elements their 12-step mantra include do work.


At the end of the day, the researchers did endorse AA as a credible option for anyone battling alcoholism. There are certainly a lot of option out there, but as study co-author Mark Ruth told USA Today, that is certainly not a bad thing.


“As an organization, we have nothing but great respect for the AA 12-step program,” he concluded. “It’s like choosing a vanilla shake versus a chocolate shake.”