Going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings could help with depression

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Participants at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) could benefit from alleviation of depression according to new findings. Individuals who attended Alcoholics Anonymous meeting more frequently not only drank less, but also had fewer symptoms of depression.

John F. Kelly, PhD, associate director of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Addiction Medicine says the study is the first to exam behavioral changes that occur from attending AA meetings, leading to the findings that attending meetings can also alleviate symptoms of depression. Kelly says, "Perhaps the social aspects of AA helps people feel better psychologically and emotionally as well as stop drinking."

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The Alcoholics Anonymous twelve step program is designed to promote well-being, just as abstaining from alcohol does, but the new findings show that attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings seems to relieve depression more quickly for those who attend AA meetings.

Data from the federally funded trial MATCH, designed to compare three treatment approaches for alcohol use disorder in more than 1,700 participants was analyzed. All of the individuals in the study were assigned to an alcohol treatment plan, but were also allowed to attend meetings at Alcoholics Anonymous. Information included how many meetings they attended, how much they drank, and reported symptoms of depression.

Kelly says, "Some critics of AA have claimed that the organization's emphasis on 'powerlessness' against alcohol use and the need to work on 'character defects' cultivates a pessimistic world view…” However, the analysis revealed that in addition to less drinking, more frequent attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings also resulted in fewer symptoms of depression. The effect on helping with abstinence from alcohol from going to AA meetings, combined with help for depression is an important note for health care providers.

Massachusetts General Hospital

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