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You Don't Have to Limit Yourself to One Option

The Best Way to Get Sober

By BuddyT

If you are looking for the way to quit drinking that gets the best results the short answer is to get involved in an evidenced-based professional treatment program and join a support group, like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Researchers have found that people with alcohol use disorders who participate in both Alcoholics Anonymous and professional treatment program fare much better than those who only go to treatment or only go to AA.

Find What Works Best for You

If you are serious about quitting, you want to do whatever you can to produce the best outcome - learning to live life sober. You don't have to limit yourself to one option or the other, and a growing amount of research shows that combining professional treatment with mutual support group participation works best, whether it's A.A. or a non-spiritual program such as Smart Recovery or Women For Sobriety.

This is not a new finding, although more recent studies have confirmed it. One of the first studies to show that people who become involved in both AA and treatment fare better than those who obtain only treatment was published in 2003 in the prestigious journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The long-term study tracked alcoholics who had chosen A.A., treatment, or both over a 16-year period. A news release that accompanied that study explained the findings:

Longer Sobriety, Fewer Relapses

"We know that self-help groups, such as AA, contribute to better alcohol-related and psychosocial outcomes," said Rudolf H. Moos, senior research career scientist for the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Palo Alto, California, and corresponding author for the study. "For example, patients with alcohol use-disorders who participate in AA, and those who attend more meetings and/or participate for a longer time, are more likely to be abstinent and to maintain remission up to five years after an episode of professional treatment than patients who are not involved or less involved in such groups.

"Affiliation with AA also is associated with more self-efficacy and problem-solving coping skills, and better social functioning, which are linked to better alcohol-related outcomes."

A 16-Year Study

"In the current study, we wanted to find out whether individuals who participated only in AA in the first year after initiating help-seeking (and did not obtain professional treatment) achieved outcomes comparable to those of individuals who participated in AA and also obtained professional treatment. We also wanted to find out whether individuals who participated in AA in the first year achieved better long-term outcomes."

Researchers surveyed 362 individuals (193 females, 169 males) who had initial contact with an alcoholism treatment system for their alcohol-use disorder. Study participants were asked about their subsequent participation in AA and/or treatment, as well as their alcohol-related functioning, at baseline (initial contact) and then again at one, three, eight and 16 years later.

Participation Is the Key

"One, individuals who enter AA relatively quickly after initiating help-seeking, either alone or in conjunction with treatment, are more likely to participate in AA in the subsequent 15 years and participate in AA more frequently and for a longer duration," said Moos. "Two, a longer duration of participation in AA is associated with a higher likelihood of continuing remission up to 15 years later.

"Three, individuals who obtain professional treatment and participate in AA in the first year after initiating help-seeking are more likely to achieve remission for up to 15 years later than are individuals who obtain professional treatment alone. Finally, individuals who have achieved remission but who discontinue participation in AA are at increased risk for relapse; individuals who have not stopped drinking and who discontinue participation in AA are more likely to continue drinking."

Better Long-Term Outcomes

"These findings are consistent with previous studies of AA," said William R. Miller, Distinguished Professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of New Mexico. "As we already knew, drop-out from AA is high. Nevertheless, involvement in AA during, and in the few years after, treatment is associated with better long-term outcomes.

"An additional 10 to 20 percent were in remission, which is a large and clinically meaningful difference. Of those who do not attend AA during treatment, many don't [ever] go, and if they do, [their] delayed entry to AA is associated with less benefit. In sum, there are good reasons to encourage people to get involved with AA while they are still in treatment."

Self-Action Improves Recovery

"These findings emphasize that initial and subsequent episodes of participation in AA can have long-term effects on the likelihood of remission of alcohol-related problems," said Moos. "They also emphasize that counselors in information and referral centers and clinicians in substance use treatment settings should make every reasonable effort to enable individuals with alcohol-related problems to enter and continue to participate in self-help groups such as AA."

"Are these better outcomes due specifically to AA?" asked Miller. "We can't be sure. In general, the more actions people take toward their own recovery the better they do, whether it is attending treatment, going to AA, or faithfully taking medication. It is an impressively consistent finding, however, that people who go to AA during treatment have better outcomes.


Kaskutas LA, et al. "Alcoholics Anonymous Careers: Patterns of AA Involvement Five Years after Treatment Entry." Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research 29: 1983–1990. doi:10.1097/

Moos RH, et al "Paths of Entry Into Alcoholics Anonymous: Consequences for Participation and Remission." Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research 29: 1858–1868. doi:10.1097/01.alc.0000183006.76551.5a.

Moos RH et al "Participation in treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous: A 16-year follow-up of initially untreated individuals." J. Clin. Psychol., 62: 735–750. doi:10.1002/jclp.20259

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