Skip to content

New Research Affirms Effectiveness of AA and Other 12-Step Programs in Treating Alcohol Use Disorder

  • March 23, 2020
  • Addiction, Patients and Families

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been helping people recover from alcohol use disorder for more than 80 years. There has been very little rigorous research to date, but a new review study finds AA is effective in helping treat alcohol use disorder and reduces health care costs.

AA is a widely available, free mutual-help fellowship that helps people recover from alcoholism and improve their lives.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), about 70 percent of U.S. adults drank in the past year and more than one in four adults reported binge drinking in the past month. Binge drinking generally refers to when men consume five or more drinks and women consume four or more drinks over the span of about two hours. Alcohol use disorder affects about 6 % of U.S. adults and people with alcohol use disorder are at substantially increased risk of dying by suicide, according to a study published this month in APA’s American Journal of Psychiatry. The association between alcohol use disorder and suicide, the study found, is most pronounced in individuals who did not have other psychiatric disorders.

The new research on AA reviewed findings from 27 studies involving more than 10,000 participants. Randomized controlled trials compared AA and similar Twelve-Step Facilitation programs (AA/TSF) to other psychological clinical interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational enhancement therapy. The research looked at several measures, including abstinence from alcohol, reduced alcohol consumption, alcohol-related consequences, and related health care costs.

The study found that manualized AA/TSF interventions (interventions that used standardized procedures) led to higher rates of continuous abstinence than other established treatments at 12, 24 and 36 months. Non-manualized AA/TSF interventions performed as well as other established treatments. AA/TSF was also as good or better than other treatments for increasing the percentage of days abstinent, especially in the longer term. AA/TSF interventions resulted in similar percentage days abstinent as other clinical interventions at 12 months and more than others at 24 and 36 months. The study also found that AA/TSF interventions performed as well as other treatments for reducing the intensity of drinking and for alcohol-related consequences.

The review also looked at studies of health care costs and concluded that AA/TSF interventions “probably reduce health care costs substantially.”

“It’s important that clinicians and consumers make decisions about treatment for [alcohol use disorder] based on scientific evidence,” NIAAA Director George F. Koob, M.D., said in a statement, “and this carefully conducted meta-analysis suggests that AA should be on the list of options to consider.”

More about Alcoholics Anonymous

In addition to AA meetings available across the country and around the world, there are also online AA meetings.

See AA general information, including meeting locator, informational videos and daily reflections.


Medical leadership for mind, brain and body.

Join Today