Drug and alcohol abuse treatment for teens and young adults may be more effective when it includes a 12-step program similar to that used by Alcoholics Anonymous, a new report suggests.
The study at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Addiction Medicine in Boston lasted nine months, and included 59 people aged 14 to 21.
The researchers found that combining the 12-step approach with standard care led to more successful outcomes than current standard methods alone.
While a well-designed drug and alcohol abuse program can benefit all adolescents, “we showed that adding a 12-step component to standard cognitive-behavioral and motivational strategies produced significantly greater reductions in substance-related consequences during and in the months following treatment,” said study leader John Kelly. He directs the Recovery Research Institute at the hospital.
“It also produced higher rates of 12-step meeting participation, which was associated with longer periods of continuous abstinence,” Kelly added in a hospital news release.
Group therapy sessions included talking about changing social networks and reducing relapse risk, the study authors noted. Two sessions also featured young members of a 12-step program who shared their experiences with addiction and recovery.
“That peer-to-peer aspect was probably the most powerful in disabusing young people of the negative stereotypes they often hold about 12-step members and about recovery more broadly,” Kelly said.
“Similar-aged peers who are in recovery seemed much better able to capture the attention of participants than clinic staff,” he explained.
Greater participation in 12-step programs didn’t last long term, however. The researchers suggested that this finding shows a need for some type of extended care for teens recovering from alcohol or drug abuse.
“We want to replicate and extend the testing of this treatment even further to determine the benefits of longer-term care,” Kelly said.
“We know that the transition to adulthood is fraught with relapse risks for young people recovering from a substance-use disorder, so some kind of regular but brief ‘clinical recovery check-up,’ like what is common for other chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension, could improve outcomes,” he suggested.
The study was published online recently in the journal Addiction.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more on substance abuse treatment.