Attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings may reduce depression symptoms

Jan 28, 2010

One of many reasons that attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings helps people with alcohol use disorders stay sober appears to be alleviation of depression. A team of researchers has found that study participants who attended AA meetings more frequently had fewer symptoms of depression - along with less drinking - than did those with less AA participation. The report will appear in the journal Addiction and has been release online.

"Our study is one of the first to examine the mechanisms underlying behavioral change with AA and to find that AA attendance alleviates ," says study leader John F. Kelly, PhD, associate director of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Addiction Medicine. "Perhaps the social aspects of AA helps people feel better psychologically and emotionally as well as stop drinking."

The authors note that problems with such as depression are common among people with problems - both preceding and being exacerbated by alcohol use. Although AA does not explicitly address depression, the program's 12 steps and social fellowship are designed to support participants' sense of well being. While mood problems often improve after several weeks of abstinence, that process may happen more quickly in AA participants. The current study was designed to investigate whether decreasing depression and enhancing psychological well-being help explain AA's positive effects.

The researchers analyzed data from Project MATCH, a federally funded trial comparing three treatment approaches for alcohol use disorder in more than 1,700 participants. While participants in that study were randomly assigned to a specific treatment plan, all were able to attend AA meetings as well. Among the data gathered at several points during Project MATCH's 15-month study period were participants' , the number of AA meetings attended, and recent symptoms of depression.

At the beginning of the study period, participants reported greater symptoms of depression than would be seen in the general public, which is typical among alcohol-dependent individuals. As the study proceeded, those participants who attended more AA meetings had significantly greater reductions in their symptoms, along with less frequent and less intensive drinking.

"Some critics of AA have claimed that the organization's emphasis on 'powerlessness' against alcohol use and the need to work on 'character defects' cultivates a pessimistic world view, but this suggests the opposite is true," Kelly says. "AA is a complex social organization with many mechanisms of action that probably differ for different people and change over time. Most treatment programs refer patients to AA or similar 12-step groups, and now clinicians can tell patients that, along with supporting abstinence, attending meetings can help improve their mood. Who wouldn't want that?"

Explore further: Early exposure to antidepressants affects adult anxiety and serotonin transmission

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Spirituality increases as alcoholics recover

Mar 19, 2007

For decades, recovering alcoholics and those who treat them have incorporated spirituality into the recovery process — whether or not it's religious in nature. But few research studies have documented if and how spirituality ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

SierraM
not rated yet Mar 17, 2010
As a 12 year member of AA, I'd have to say the numbers are lower because we aren't allowed to admit depression. Depression is most often seen as a spiritual deficiency, and we're told to pray about it. I was told for years (and still am at times) that I'm not sober because I take antidepressants.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.