June 12, 2008 / 9:10 PM / 11 years ago

Alcoholics Anonymous helpful for teens too: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Teenagers who attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings after being treated for alcohol abuse tend to fare better in the long run compared with those who don’t, a new study suggests.

A pint is pulled at a pub in central London, November 23, 2005. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, has existed for more than 70 years, but little is known about its usefulness for teenagers. The same is true for Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

In the new study, researchers followed 160 teenagers who had undergone inpatient treatment for alcohol or drug abuse for an average of 4 weeks and were referred to AA or NA at discharge. The researchers found that teens who went to meetings in the first 6 months after treatment were more likely to remain abstinent over time.

The best results were seen among those who kept attending meetings over the entire 8-year study period.

“In terms of a real-world recovery metric,” each AA or NA meeting attended correlated with a gain of 2 days of abstinence, “independent of all other factors that were also associated with a better outcome,” lead researcher Dr. John F. Kelly, of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a statement.

However, the teenagers did not have to attend meetings frequently to obtain some benefit, the researchers report in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

During the first 6 months of recovery, study participants who went to one to two meetings a week fared better in the long run than those who passed on AA/NA altogether. A threshold of three meetings each week was associated with complete abstinence during the study period.

This stands in contrast to the general suggestion for adults to initially attend daily AA or NA meetings; “90 meetings in 90 days” is the typical recommendation.

According to Kelly’s team, the current findings “imply that adolescents may not need to attend as frequently as their more chronically dependent older adult counterparts so as to obtain similar outcomes.”

Kelly said that AA/NA groups may be particularly suited to teenagers’

developmental needs.

Compared with adults, teenagers’ odds of relapse seem to be much more dependent on their social environment, particularly their friends’ influence.

“Given the need for social affiliation and peer-group acceptance outside of the family at this stage of life, peers can exert strong influence on the behavior of young people,” Kelly explained.

AA and NA, he said, may give teenagers both peer support and social alternatives to drinking.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, August 2008.

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