12 Steps to Freedom

Substance abuse can be costly over a lifetime but going to 12 step program can help keep people healthy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Substance abuse is hard on the brain and wallet. The consequences can be more than physical and emotional. They can be financial too.

Attending 12 step meetings can keep people sober and health costs down. Before going out to "rave", consider your wallet as much as you would your brain.

Researchers have found data that shows young substance users cost more in the healthcare system. A new study suggests that each 12 step meeting an addict attends lowers their overall healthcare costs.

"Find a local AA chapter if you're having issues."

Dr. Marlon Mundt, PhD, assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, led a study to determine what the reduction in healthcare costs would be if adolescent alcohol and drug abusers used a 12 step program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

Researchers collected data from 403 individuals aged 13-18 enrolled in the Kaiser Permanente alcohol and drug treatment programs. The researchers tracked the participants for seven years and kept detailed records.

Studies have shown that teens that continue to attend AA and/or NA meetings after rehabilitation are more likely to stay sober. Dr. Mundt’s team worked to put a financial value on the benefit of staying sober through these 12 step programs.

In the absence of substance abuse, adolescents are not going to experience substance abuse-related physical or mental health problems, violence, bad grades or dropping out of school altogether.

The results of the study report: “Each additional 12 step meeting attended was associated with an incremental medical cost reduction of 4.7 percent during seven year follow-up. The medical cost offset was largely due to reduction in hospital inpatient days, psychiatric visits, and [alcohol and other drug] AOD treatment costs. We estimate total medical use cost savings at $145 per year (in 2010 US dollars) per additional 12 step meeting attended.”

That $145/meeting/year estimation included alcohol and drug treatment, hospital inpatient days and psychiatric visits.

Dr. Mundt states, “What is important to remember is that while the exact mechanism of the effect is not known, 12 step is linked to better health, and as a result, lower medical costs in teenagers with a history of substance abuse.”

Addiction specialist Dr. Darold A. Treffert, MD, says, “The beauty of the 12 step program is that it provides continued follow-up after initial treatment. And anything that promotes continued involvement in treatment and aftercare is well known to reduce the human costs of relapse and associated problems in AODA [alcohol and other drug abuse] problems. Translating those human costs to savings in actual dollar figures, and this study does, should be persuasive in obtaining more funding for these valuable programs."

This study was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, May 2012.

Funding for the study was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 11, 2012
Last Updated:
October 23, 2012