AA Meetings Increase Spirituality, Decrease Alcohol Use


Just how important is spirituality in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings? New research indicates that spirituality increases over time as individuals attend meetings, but that it is not the only factor that helps people in AA recover.

AA meetings help agnostics and atheists too

Since its genesis in 1935, AA has stated that it facilitates recovery from alcohol addiction through “spiritual” beliefs and practices, a claim that has been scantly researched. This was the challenge undertaken by John F. Kelly, associate professor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the associate director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleagues.

The research team, headed by Kelly, studied 1,726 adults who were participating in a randomized, controlled trial of psychosocial treatments for alcohol use disorder. All the subjects were assessed at the start of the study and at 3, 6, 9, 12, and 15 months regarding their attendance at AA meetings, alcohol use, and spiritual/religious practices.


The researchers found that attendance at AA meetings was associated with an increase in the participants’ spiritual practices. This increase was especially evident among people who measured low on spirituality at the beginning of the study. Another related finding was that AA attendance was linked to improved alcohol use, and this was partially mediated by increased spirituality.

When it comes to rates of success or failure associated with AA, the “Alcoholics Anonymous Recovery Outcome Rates: Contemporary Myth and Misinterpretation” report released January 1, 2008, reported as of their 2007 Survey, 45 percent of AA members were sober more than five years, and that 33 percent could claim sobriety for more than 10 years.

Keith Humphreys, a career research scientist with the Veterans Health Administration and professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, noted that “many people will be surprised that alcoholic patients with little or no interest in spirituality attended AA and seemed to change even more than did those who had a pre-existing, strong sense of spirituality.” That is, AA can work for agnostics and atheists as well as people who profess spirituality.

Results of the new study on AA meetings, spirituality, and alcohol use suggest AA attendance leads to an improvement in alcohol use and that this improvement is, in part, due to an increase in spiritual practices.

Alcoholics Anonymous
Kelly JF et al. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research 2010 Dec. 16; doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.2010.01362.x



Alcoholics Anonymous has a 95% dropout rate for newcomers in their first year (according to AA's own Triennial Surveys). Studying the 5% that are left tells only the type of person that stays, not what AA does. The few people who stay in a religious program geared to people quitting drinking show more spirituality and less drinking. Wow, stop the presses. Here are some real facts: The NIAAA’s 2001–2002 National Epidemiolo­gic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions interviewe­d over 43,000 people. Using the criteria for alcohol dependence found in the DSM-IV, they found: "About 75 percent of persons who recover from alcohol dependence do so without seeking any kind of help, including specialty alcohol (rehab) programs and AA. Only 13 percent of people with alcohol dependence ever receive specialty alcohol treatment.­"