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Helping Others Stay Clean Can Reduce Teen Cravings

Helping Other’s Stay Clean Can Reduce Teen Cravings Case Western researchers have discovered a new method to reduce a teens craving for alcohol and drugs — have them help others.

The findings stem from the “Helping Others” study led by Maria Pagano, Ph.D.

Researchers studied 195 substance dependent juvenile offenders and found that helping others in 12-step programs significantly improves adolescent treatment response.

The research, which also discovered a benefit from a religious foundation, is featured in the November issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

“Our findings indicate that service participation in 12-step programs can reduce the craving symptoms experienced by adolescents in treatment for alcohol and or drug addiction,” Pagano said.

“Similarly, we found that substance-dependent adolescents with greater religious backgrounds participate more during treatment in 12-step programs of recovery, which leads to better health outcomes.”

The study is the first to examine the relationship between adolescent 12-step participation during treatment, lifetime religiosity, and clinical outcomes. Interestingly, the findings replicate results found among adults in Pagano’s prior collaborative research.

Investigators targeted 93 boys and 102 girls, ages 14-18, all court-referred for residential treatment at New Directions, the largest adolescent residential treatment facility in Northeast Ohio.

The majority were marijuana dependent (92%) with comorbid alcohol dependence (60%). Participants were interviewed within the first 10 days of treatment and two months later at treatment discharge.

Outcomes for the teens included urine toxicology screens, alcohol/drug craving symptoms, clinical characteristics, and global psychosocial functioning.

Pagano and colleagues found that Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous-related interventions, as part of treatment, improved four of seven outcomes.

Outcomes enhanced included reductions in two types of craving symptoms, reduced narcissistic entitlement, and improved psychosocial functioning.

Higher lifetime religious practices, such as prayer, worship, and meditation, were associated with higher service participation during treatment, which in turn, led to better outcomes.

“Because most religions encourage altruistic behaviors, youths entering treatment with greater religious backgrounds may have an easier time engaging in service in 12-step programs of recovery,” Pagano said. “In turn, youth entering treatment with low or no religious background may require greater 12-step facilitation or a different approach to derive equal benefit from treatment.”

The insights gained from the study are timely as adolescent addictions have increased dramatically over the last decade while resources have dwindled.

Craving for alcohol and drugs is a major precipitator of relapse and can linger long after the detoxification period. Pagano said this new “natural” approach of service participation is a low-cost method to reduce adolescents’ craving symptoms as they adjust to a sober lifestyle.

Source: Case Western Reserve University

Teenagers sitting together photo by shutterstock.

Helping Others Stay Clean Can Reduce Teen Cravings

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Helping Others Stay Clean Can Reduce Teen Cravings. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 10 Nov 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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