For the past 80 years, alcoholic anonymous (AA) groups have helped individuals suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD) find support and companionship while seeking addiction recovery. AA is best known for its 12-step program, which provide guidelines, practices and tactics toward achieving sustained sobriety. There is currently estimated to be more than 1 million AA participants in the U.S. alone, with more than 2 million participants worldwide.
AUD is characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol consumption and a spike in negative emotions when not using. The disorder is responsible for nearly 3.3 million global deaths every year, and alcohol is responsible for approximately 10 times the mortality rate for all illicit drugs combined. AA programs are a widely popular resource for individuals who are ready and willing to seek recovery. Not only are they typically free to join, members are able to connect with other individuals who are experiencing similar challenges, giving participants a strong sense of community and fellowship. However, only until recently has the treatment’s effectiveness been thoroughly proven.
A recent study conducted by the Cochrane Systematic Review demonstrates the overall success rate of AA, especially when paired with professional and clinical therapies or treatments. For example, professional counseling can be designed to incorporate participation with AA groups, which can result in higher abstinence rates. Conclusions suggested that clinically delivered TSF interventions designed to increase AA participation usually lead to better outcomes over the following months to years in terms of producing higher rates of continuous abstinence. This effect is achieved largely by fostering increased AA participation beyond the end of the TSF intervention. Once the 12 steps are “complete”, participants typically continue to attend group sessions and maintain their connection and commitment to the AA guidelines and practices to maintain sobriety and ongoing recovery.
There is also a cost saving element to getting consumers involved in AA. According to the study, when treatment programs proactively connect individuals to AA through the use of TFS style approaches, providers are more likely to conserve costs. Researchers attribute this correlation to the participation require in AA group settings, therefore enhances likelihood of abstinence rates. Participating in a group-based recovery program ignites a higher sense of accountability, as individuals know they will share their success or relapses with the group in meetings. They are more likely to abide by treatment efforts if others in similar situations are supporting and completing therapy together. This community-centric approach addresses the whole person and can help improve overall outcomes, a key element to value-based care.
“A relatively brief clinical intervention (AA/TSF) can help people with AUD to become engaged in a long‐term, freely available, community‐based, recovery support resource that can help them sustain ongoing remission.”
As with many methods of therapy, the COVID-19 outbreak has widely affected AA programs throughout the past several months. Although many things in our daily lives have been on hold, addiction is not one of them. Treatment needs to and has been continuing despite recent changes; it just might look a little different from place to place. Many AA programs and AUD therapies have adjusted their approach to provide care using virtual care tactics.
A major pillar of AA programs is the sense of community and connectedness, and this need does not falter, even in the face of a global pandemic. Although many groups are not able to meet in person, virtual meetings allow participants and leaders to still continue their sessions from a distance. According to the AA website, virtual sessions empower participants to focus on the program’s primary purpose: “to carry its message of recovery to the alcoholic who still suffers.” Individuals involved in AA groups are encouraged to create contact lists of other group participants and consistently reach out to each other by phone, email or social media. It’s vital for AA participants to remain connected to their support systems, especially in a time of uncertainty and physical isolation.
“AA in the digital age has certainly taken on a new meaning in these challenging times, reminding its members and those searching for help that A.A. is not just a ‘place,’ but exists in the hearts, minds and help offered,” the AA press release reads.
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