December 22, 2010
Research has shown that 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can be very helpful for people in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction. Many of these programs focus on the importance of spirituality, but some have contested the effectiveness of the spiritual aspect of these programs. A new study, however, has found that increased attendance to AA meetings is associated with an increased level of spirituality, especially among those who reported low spirituality at the beginning of the study.
John F. Kelly, lead author of the study and associate professor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, as well as associate director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, said that although spirituality is an important aspect of AA, it isn’t the only way to help recovering addicts.
He said that he has heard that AA is too spiritual and not spiritual enough, and that although spirituality is only one way to help recovering addicts, the study’s findings support the idea that AA works partly by enhancing people’s spirituality.
For the study, more than 1,500 adults were assessed at 3, 6, 9, 12 and 15 months into their recovery process. The study examined the participants’ attendance to AA meetings, their religious or spiritual practices, and their alcohol-use outcomes to determine whether spirituality is associated with behavioral changes.
The researchers found that there was a significant association between an increase in AA meeting attendance with increased spirituality and a decrease in the frequency and intensity of alcohol consumption over time. Interestingly, the same amount of recovery was seen in both agnostics and atheists, which suggests that while spirituality is important in behavioral change, it is not the only method used in AA.
Keith Humphreys, a career research scientist with the Veterans Health Administration and a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, said that many people will find it surprising that alcohol-dependent individuals with little or no interest in spirituality attended AA meetings and seemed to have more success than those who already had a strong sense of spirituality. He added that this suggests that AA reaches a wider audience than people may think.
The researchers noted that although spirituality can be an important aspect of recovery, it is still unknown how these beliefs work in regard to recovery methods. Kelly said that they have found that participating in AA leads to recovery because the program helps members improve their social network, as well as their coping skills, motivation to remain abstinent, and psychological well-being.
Kelly added that it will be important to conduct more research and replicate the study’s findings to better understand how spiritual practices and beliefs can influence behavioral changes in the recovery process.
Source: Science Daily, Attending Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings May Increase Spirituality and Help Decrease Frequency and Intensity of Alcohol Use, December 14, 2010
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