Spirituality May Boost Success for Alcoholics Anonymous

Religious aspect plus social, psychological support seems to help beat addiction, study suggests

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TUESDAY, Dec. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings appears to increase participants' spirituality, which may help reduce their alcohol use, a new study suggests.

Spirituality is a common component of programs designed to help people overcome alcohol and drug addictions. But there is ongoing debate about the effectiveness of spirituality in this context.

The new study included more than 1,500 adult alcoholics who were followed through their recovery process for 15 months. The researchers found a strong association between more frequent attendance of AA meetings, increased spirituality and decreased frequency and intensity of alcohol use.

The findings are published online and in the March 2011 print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"I've heard it said that AA is too spiritual, and I've also heard it said that AA is not spiritual enough for some people," lead author John F. Kelly, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and associate director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a journal news release.

"Although this is not the only way that AA helps individuals recover, I think these findings support the notion that AA works in part by enhancing spiritual practices," Kelly added.

While spirituality may be an important part of recovery, it's not known how it may complement or compete with other addiction recovery methods, the researchers noted.

"We have also found that AA participation leads to recovery by helping members change their social network and by enhancing individuals' recovery coping skills, motivation for continued abstinence, and by reducing depression and increasing psychological well-being," Kelly stated in the news release.

"Down the road it will be important to conduct more qualitative research as well as further quantitative replication of our findings in order to understand more about how exactly spiritual practices and beliefs influence coping and behavioral change in recovery from addiction," Kelly concluded.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about alcohol use disorders and treatment.

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