Active Participation at 12-Step Meetings Reduces Cocaine Use

February 04, 2005

Adriana Bobinchock, Laura Neves
Public Affairs

Belmont, MA - In a study published in the current issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence (PubMed), Roger Weiss, MD, clinical director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Program, and colleagues discovered a significant difference in treatment outcome between individuals who merely attend 12-step meetings and those who actively participate. The research team collected data on attendance and active participation in 12-step meetings, as well as monthly drug use, over a period of six months from 487 cocaine-dependent patients enrolled in programs at four academic hospitals and one community hospital.

Results indicated that merely attending meetings did not predict lower drug use however, active participation (e.g., talking with a sponsor, working on a step, reading AA literature, making coffee) at the meetings was significantly predictive of decreased drug use. Although attendance was not significantly related to subsequent reductions in drug use, "non-attending active participators" who consistently participated in 12-step activities but inconsistently attended meetings, achieved outcomes comparable to those who both participated and attended meetings regularly. Furthermore, there was less drug abuse among patients who increased active participation over the six-month trial compared to patients who maintained or decreased active participation.

This study is one of the few evaluations of the 12-step self-help, sometimes called group-help, for drug abuse treatment. The findings illustrate the importance of patient endorsement of therapeutic treatment as well as a commitment by the patient to actively engage in the therapy as a means to obtain successful outcome.

Drug dependency disorders are frequently treated in conjunction with self-help groups based upon the principles of the 12-step model popularized by AA. Several studies have indicated that affiliation with 12-step groups is associated with positive clinical outcomes (i.e., reduced use, abstinence, and lower rates of relapse) for alcohol dependence. However, only a few research studies have evaluated the efficacy of the12-step program for individuals identifying illicit drugs as their primary problem.

"Our study is significant in that it is one of the few to evaluate the benefit of 12-step programs for cocaine abusers," said Weiss. "Our findings illustrate the potential value of active engagement in these programs as a means to help obtain successful outcome."

McLean Hospital maintains the largest research program of any private, U.S. psychiatric hospital. It is an affiliate of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and a member of Partners HealthCare, the largest health delivery provider in the Northeast.

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