Quick Study: Lending a Hand in AA Has Its Rewards

Recovering alcoholics who help others, even casually, could reap benefits themselves.

Alcoholics Anonymous, sobriety, alcoholism, addiction

Twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous are touted as being effective, but helping another member could have added rewards. (Photo: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images)

Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

The study: Recovering alcoholics in Alcoholics Anonymous who helped others reaped benefits such as having more sober time, better meeting attendance and doing more “step” work. Researchers analyzed data from a 10-year prospective study published in the journal Substance Abuse and sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The findings, said lead author Maria Pagano in a news release, “suggest the importance of getting active in service, which can be in a committed two-month AA service position or as simple as sharing one's personal experience in recovery to another fellow sufferer.”

Pagano, associate professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, added, “Being interested in others keeps you more connected to your program and pulls you out of the vicious cycle of extreme self-preoccupation that is a posited root of addiction.”

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What we already know: Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t do studies on itself, so it’s tough to know sobriety and recidivism rates. However, according to a 2007 membership survey, a third of people said they had been they'd been steadily sober for more than 10 years. Twelve percent were sober for five to 10 years, 24 percent were sober for one to five years and 31 percent were sober for less than one year.

Other studies have focused on sobriety and abstinence rates of AA and other 12-step programs, but haven’t delved into what individual factors or influences may increase or decrease those rates.

What this means for you: Twelve-step recovery programs are highly touted by addiction experts, but maybe just going to meetings isn’t enough. One of the most interesting elements of the study is that benefits didn’t come from just formal mentoring programs, but from more casual helping relationships as well.

Have you benefitted from helping someone? Let us know in the comments.

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