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Addiction can be successfully managed with 12 step programs for adolescents too

(RxWiki News) Alcohol and drug abuse in the teen years is a serious problem that needs a real solution. It may seem like common sense that if AA works for adults, then it would also work for teenagers, but now the research proves its worth.

New research points at support networks, like AA, that encourage accountability, provide positive support, and healthy social interaction are affective in keeping teens sober after rehabilitation. 

12-step programs can offer youth life-long help with addiction that is sustainable.

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John F. Kelly Ph.D., associate director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Karen Urbanoski Ph.D., who is also a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and works at the Center for Addiction at Massachusetts General Hospital,  both want to know about the best way to treat adolescent addiction.

Youth-specific care for addiction is few and far between, not to mention expensive. Relapses are common after leaving rehab too, as teenagers are less able than adults to make major lifestyle changes by moving or changing social groups.

Kelly and Urbanoski decided to do some research to give the medical community an idea of just how helpful something like AA would be for teenagers.

If their results are good, then there will be a low-cost, easy to access, already existent structure that can be of great use to young addicts.

Kelly sums things up, “Most substance use disorder treatment is short-term and relapse rates post-discharge are typically high without continued support. Mutual-help organizations such as AA and NA can help fill this gap, providing free and flexible long-term recovery support in the communities in which people live.”

They took 127 teens aged 14-19 years old, and checked on them at the beginning, then 3, 6, and 12 months after they took part in a naturalistic study of treatment effectiveness. Kelly and Urbanoski are now able to provide clinical data that teens that attend meetings at least once a week, have a sponsor and are active in the meetings do really well in the environment, stay sober and even flourish. 27.9% of the kids stuck with it really well and attended their meetings all year.

The next step is to get the word out and get counselors and doctors to encourage 12-step programs in the early stages of treatment. Kelly also recommends that teen addicts will be more likely to attend if they make a personal connection with someone in the group or a sponsor and if they are introduced to the group that fits their substance abuse category the best.

That is to say that sending a patient with a history of alcohol abuse to a Narcotics Anonymous group won’t have the same affect as sending them to a Alcoholics Anonymous group. 

Kelly goes on to say about the patient connecting with a group member, “This community member can then make introductions, answer questions, and generally act as an initial guide and onsite facilitator.

This is probably the most significant part of ensuring that young people get to their first meeting and have a positive experience.

Once there, young people report that they like the camaraderie and social affiliation offered at meetings; they appreciate knowing that they are not the only ones suffering from addiction problems, and they report liking the attention, care, and support they get at meetings.”

The few drawback that they admit to with the study are that there is only one study, the sample is small, 127, mostly male (95), mostly white (87%), and in a northeastern suburb. They also only checked on the participants every 3 months and they had trouble getting girls to sign up.

These things don’t change the fact that this study is a great beginning and will hopefully prompt further research. Adolescent alcohol and drug abuse is hard to maintain in positive, encouraging, sober social circles.

This study will be published in journal of the Research Society on Alcoholism and the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, July 2012. Funding for the study was provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, no conflicts of interest were found.

Review Date: 
April 9, 2012