Science Looks At Spirituality In Recovery
Tags: AA Alcoholics Anonymous alcoholism behavior change neurobiology Recovery spirituality
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has grown from an initial membership of less than 100 in the mid 1930’s to more than 1.2 million members meeting in 55,000 meetings in the US alone. Evidence supports the fact that AA can play a valuable role in recovery from alcoholism. Rigorous research over the last 15 years shows also that AA is a cost effective treatment adjunct. A recent study from the Center for Addiction Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School hypothesized that AA attendance is associated with positive alcohol use outcomes as well as enhanced spirituality/religiousness (S/R), that AA increases S/R more for those initially low on this variable at treatment intake, that greater S/R is associated with positive alcohol outcomes, and that the effect of AA on subsequent alcohol use is partially the consequence of enhanced S/R.
Participants (1,726), already engaged in a study of psychosocial treatments for alcohol use disorders (project MATCH), were assessed on their AA attendance, spiritual/religious practices and alcohol use at treatment intake, and at 3, 6, 9, and 15 months after treatment. Analyses showed that AA attendance was associated with an increase in spiritual practices and better alcohol use outcomes. This effect was observed in outpatient and inpatient samples and in both abstinent days and drinks per drinking day. The findings suggest that “AA leads to better alcohol use outcomes, in part, by enhancing individuals’ spiritual practices, and provides empirical support for AA’s emphasis on increasing spiritual practices to facilitate recovery from alcoholism.”
The researchers comment that spiritual concepts and practices persistently play a role in treatment for addictions even though in this age of neuroscience they can seem “archaic and odd.” But they conclude that,” participation in groups like AA is not only likely to produce changes in spirituality, but also coping, abstinence self-efficacy, motivation, negative affect, social networks, and at the neurobiological level.”
Kelly, JF, Stout, RL, Magill, M, Tonigan, JS, Pagano, ME: Spirituality in recovery: a lagged meditational analysis of alcoholics anonymous’ principal theoretical mechanism of behavior change. Alcohol Clinical & Experimental Research, 2011, 35: 1-10.)