A new study published in a special issue of Substance Abuse finds that recovering alcoholics who help others in 12-step programs have better outcomes in terms of their time sober, consideration for others and long-term meeting attendance.
These novel findings are from a 10-year, prospective investigation led by Maria Pagano, associate professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and principal investigator of the “Helping Others” study (helpingotherslivesober.org).
Pagano and colleagues evaluated a decade worth of treatment outcomes using data from a single site in Project MATCH, the largest multisite randomized clinical trial on behavioral treatments of alcoholism sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Using a large sample with a high representation of Hispanic problem drinkers, this study investigated the impact of programmatic activities in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) on long-term outcomes. Results showed that participation in Alcoholics Anonymous-related Helping (AAH) produced lowered alcohol use and increased interest in helping others at each subsequent follow-up assessment.
“Our study is the first to explore the 10-year course of engagement in programmatic 12-step activities and their simultaneous influence on long-term outcomes,” Pagano said. “The AAH findings 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.”
This study also found that alcoholics engaged in AAH did more step-work and attended more meetings than those not helping others. In effect, they found, AAH strengthens the commitment to the program that many newcomers have difficulty with in the beginning.
“Consequently, 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,” said Pagano.
Pagano’s continued research in this area is exploring whether or not similar patterns emerge among minors in recovery.