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Drug Alcohol Depend. 2010 Jul 1;110(1-2):117-25. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2010.02.019. Epub 2010 Mar 24.

Can 12-step group participation strengthen and extend the benefits of adolescent addiction treatment? A prospective analysis.

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  • 1Center for Addiction Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA.



Despite advances in the development of treatments for adolescents with substance use disorders (SUD), relapse remains common following an index treatment episode. Community continuing care resources, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), have been shown to be helpful and cost-effective recovery resources among adults. However, little is known about the clinical utility and effectiveness of AA/NA for adolescents, despite widespread treatment referrals.


Adolescents (N=127; 24% female, 87% White, M age=16.7 years) enrolled in a naturalistic, prospective study of community outpatient treatment were assessed at intake, and 3 and 6 months later using a battery of standardized and validated measures.


Just over one-quarter of youth attended AA/NA meetings during the first 3 months, which was predicted by a goal of abstinence, prior AA/NA attendance, and prior SUD treatment experiences. Controlled multiple regression analyses revealed an independent effect of AA/NA on abstinence, in both contemporaneous and lagged models, which persisted over and above the effects of pre-treatment AA/NA attendance, prior treatment, self-efficacy, abstinence goal, and concomitant outpatient treatment.


Results suggest that, similar to findings comparing adult outpatients to inpatients, AA/NA participation is less common among less severe adolescent outpatients. Nonetheless, attendance appears to strengthen and extend the benefits of typical community outpatient treatment. Given the dramatic increase in rates of substance use among same-aged peers in the population at this life-stage, and the relative dearth of abstainers and recovery-specific supports, these resources may provide a concentrated cost-effective social recovery resource for young people.

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