AA and NA Can Help Teens Who Use Alcohol or Drugs
> 6/13/2008 3:59:39 PM

The support offered by community-based support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can be vital to the recovery of many adults struggling with addiction, but few studies have addressed their effects on younger individuals. In a new study that will appear in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, a team of researchers, led by Dr. John Kelly of Harvard Medical School, report that these groups do provide substantial benefits for teens, although some factors could prevent teens from taking advantage of the support offered by these programs.

The study included 160 teens who, following inpatient treatment for alcohol or drug abuse, had been referred to AA or AD. They received assessments periodically over the course of eight years, and most attended at least one meeting during this time. These meetings had an important effect on the subjects’ long-term health and behaviors, and while subjects who attended at least a few meetings were healthier and more likely to be abstinent than subjects who avoided AA and NA entirely, those who went to meetings most frequently during the study’s first six months had better outcomes. Still, many subjects stopped going to meetings over time, and those who continued to attend meetings throughout the eight years, no matter how often they attended, had the best overall health outcomes. These results held even when the researchers took into account other factors that could have been involved.

For teens, the social nature of AA and NA provide many benefits. Teens are strongly influenced by their peer groups, and those who wish to overcome a drug or alcohol addiction may find that their social environment interferes with recovery and promotes relapse. In contrast, AA and NA expose teens to a more supportive community where others understand their experiences and can offer advice. Moreover, while adults who struggle with addiction are generally advised to attend AA or NA meetings daily during their first few months of recovery, this may not be not be necessary for younger individuals. Because teens’ chances of relapse are more strongly associated with social situations than is true of adults, they may be helped simply by being able to attend a meeting during certain times when they’re chances of drinking or doing drugs is elevated, like during the weekends.

AA and NA can be a vital aspect of teens’ recovery from addiction, but some factors can discourage them from seeking out these supports. In particular, the community atmosphere of these programs, while it can promote healthy behaviors, can also be a barrier, as Dr. Kelly demonstrated in a previous study. When meetings are composed of older individuals, teens may feel out of place. They are more likely to attend and achieve better health outcomes when meetings include members their own age, and the researchers suggest that we may me able to improve teens' chances of recovering and remaining sober by helping them find meetings where other young people are involved. These programs represent an important option for teens trying to overcome addiction, and they may be even more effective when we ensure that teens who join have the chance to interact with other young people who have shared their experiences.

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