12 Step Meetings

There is a forthcoming article in the July issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research that confirms something that those of us who work here at the New York Center for Living already know: going to 12-step meetings helps keep young addicts and alcoholic sober.

The study included 127 substance abusers, age 14 to 19, who were interviewed four times, beginning when they entered outpatient treatment and then at intervals of three, six and twelve months thereafter. The co-author of the study, John F. Kelly, who is the associate director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital as well as associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical Center, said: “We found that…more meeting attendance was associated with significantly better substance use outcomes—particularly attending meetings at least once per week or more.” Almost as important, Kelly reported, was that “youth who were in contact with an AA or NA sponsor or who participated verbally at meetings had an even better outcome over and above the positive effects from merely attending.”

Finally and quite importantly from the point of view of those of us at the New York Center for Living, Kelly said that “starting an onsite AA young people’s meeting is another good idea. Not all youth will be motivated to attend, but the more severely substance-involved ones will be more likely to give meetings a try and these are the ones most likely to benefit.” Kelly understands that “it is hard for anyone to walk in cold to a large AA meeting,” but if young alcoholics or addicts have a guide—a sponsor or therapist, even a parent—and if they are attending meetings at a site they are already familiar with, they are far more likely to stay, benefit from the meeting, and return for more meetings.

At the New York Center of Living we hold onsite meetings twice a week (in addition to a weekly Al-Anon meetings for parents and family of our clients). These meetings are open to the community at large as well as those already at the New York Center for Living and those who have “graduated” from our program, but who want to come back to the protection of a place where they learned the fundamentals of changing their lives for the better.

In the end, John Kelly says, “our findings support the common clinical recommendation that individuals should ‘go to meetings, get a sponsor, and get active.’ This [study] is the first evidence to support this common clinical recommendation among young people.”

Go to meetings, speak up, get a sponsor. This has been a tenet of faith in the recovery community for many years—“meeting makers make it,” as they say—but it’s nice when the studies back you up!

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