Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a group self-help program that helps people stay sober and assists alcoholics in achieving sobriety.
A new study finds differences in the ways that participation in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) helps men and women maintain sobriety.
Researchers discovered that while many factors are helpful to all AA participants, some situations resonated strong in men while other circumstances played a larger role among women.
For example, learning to avoid buddies who encourage drinking and straying away from social situations in which drinking is common had more powerful benefits for men.
Learning to improve one’s confidence in the ability to not drink while feeling sad, depressed or anxious appeared to be more important for women.
Report findings will appear in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence and have been released online.
“Men and women benefit equally from participation in AA, but some of the ways in which they benefit differ in nature and in magnitude,” said John F. Kelly, Ph.D., associate director of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Addiction Medicine.
“These differences may reflect differing recovery challenges related to gender-based social roles and the contexts in which drinking is likely to occur.”
Kelly and his co-author Bettina B. Hoeppner, Ph.D., noted that, while AA was founded by men, one-third of its members today are women. Studies have found that women benefit at least as much as men from participation, and many women become deeply involved in the AA program.
Researchers say this is the first report to examine whether the behavioral changes and benefits differ between men and women.
In the study, Kelly and Hoeppner analyzed data from more than 1,700 participants, 24 percent of whom were women, enrolled in a federally funded trial called Project MATCH.
The objective of the program was to compare three approaches to alcohol addiction treatment. Participants in the trial were free to attend AA meetings along with the specific treatment program to which they were assigned.
At several follow-up sessions, participants reported their success in maintaining sobriety, and whether or not they were attending AA meetings.
They also completed specialized assessments of factors measuring their confidence in their ability to stay sober in particular situations and whether or not their social contacts supported or discouraged efforts to maintain abstinence.
From this study, researchers learned that increased confidence in the ability to maintain abstinence in social situations and spending more time with people who supported abstinence were the behavioral changes most strongly associated with successful recovery.
The current study reanalyzed some of the data used in the addiction study to see if there were differences between men and women in the impact of factors included in the assessments.
For both men and women, participation in AA increased confidence in the ability to cope with high-risk drinking situations and increased the number of social contacts who supported recovery efforts. But the effect of both of those changes on the ability to abstain from drinking was about twice as strong for men as for women.
In contrast, women benefitted much more than men from improved confidence in their ability to abstain during times when they were sad or depressed.
“It is striking that this effect was virtually absent in men while it was a major contributor to women’s ability to remain abstinent and to limit the number of drinks they consumed when they did drink,” said Hoeppner.
Interestingly, several factors that helped to reduce the intensity of drinking in men – such as less depression and fewer friends who encouraged drinking – did not appear to be as important for helping women.
Kelly said that, “AA helps both men and women stay sober following treatment by enhancing sober social networks and boosting confidence in coping with high-risk social situations.
“In terms of alcoholism recovery more generally, we found the ability to handle negative moods and emotions was important for women but not for men.
“Conversely, coping with high-risk social situations – which could be attending sports or other events where people are likely to drink – was important for men but not women.”
In other words, for women, improving one’s ability to cope with negative emotions may be beneficial, while among men, learning to cope with social occasions that feature drinking may enhance recovery.
However, Kelly believes the issue of drinking intensity – the number of drinks consumed on days when someone does drink – requires further analysis, especially among women.
“More work is required to fully capture the biopsychosocial effects of AA participation for enhancing alcohol addiction recovery, particularly among women,” he said.
Source: Massachusetts General Hospital