Is AA religious, spiritual, neither?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a world-wide recovery mutual-help organization that has now been shown to produce higher rates of continuous remission than other types of psychosocial interventions for severe alcohol use disorder and is also highly cost-effective. In combination with understanding the degree to which AA and 12-step treatment confers recovery benefits there has been a concerted effort to understand why and how it works, and for whom. This has led to a flurry of research uncovering the mechanisms of behaviour change through which these interventions confer benefits and highlighting how AA works differently for different people.

This presentation briefly reviews the religious/spiritual origins of AA and its programme and contrasts its theory with findings from this latest research.  Findings reveal that AA is an effective clinical and public health ally that aids addiction recovery through its ability to mobilise therapeutic mechanisms similar to those mobilised in formal treatment, but is able to do this for free over the long term in the communities in which people live.

Learning objectives. By the end of this presentation participants will be able to:

  • Describe the evidence base demonstrating AA/12-step treatment’s ability to confer recovery benefits
  • Name three major mechanisms through which AA has been demonstrated to work
  • Understand and describe how AA works differently for different people.