In the study, people who got professional treatment and participated in Alcoholics Anonymous were more likely to stay sober than those who only tapped one of those resources.
The study appears in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. It followed 193 women and 169 men who had made the decision to address their alcohol abuse.
The researchers included Rudolf Moos, PhD, of the Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Menlo Park, Calif.
The participants had contacted an alcoholism treatment system. Some followed through with treatment. Others joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Some did both.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a worldwide, voluntary organization of men and women who meet together to attain and maintain sobriety from alcohol.
Participants were followed for 16 years. They were asked how they were doing (in terms of alcohol) and if they were getting treatment or going to AA meetings.
Treatment, AA Worked Best Together
People who got treatment and promptly participated in Alcoholics Anonymous were more likely to stay sober, the study shows.
In a news release, Moos explains it this way:
"Individuals who obtain professional treatment and participate in AA in the first year after initiating help-seeking are more likely to achieve remission for up to 15 years later than are individuals who obtain professional treatment alone."
Sticking With It
Timing may have mattered. Those who got treatment and delayed joining AA "didn't appear to obtain any additional benefit from AA," write Moos and colleagues.
People who joined AA soon after seeking help were more likely to stick with AA and frequently participate in AA. That appeared to help them stay sober.
People who achieve remission and quit AA "are at increased risk for relapse," says Moos.
Those who haven't stopped drinking and drop out of Alcoholics Anonymous "are more likely to continue drinking," he says.
"We know that self-help groups, such as AA, contribute to better alcohol-related and psychosocial outcomes," says Moos.
However, some people become (and stay) sober without Alcoholics Anonymous.
"One of our future projects will try to identify individuals who can achieve abstinence or remission after professional treatment without participation in AA," says Moos.
"Even though participation in AA has substantial benefits, these benefits do not necessarily accrue to all types of individuals," he continues. "It is important to specify the characteristics of individuals who may not need to join AA in order to overcome their alcohol-related problems."