Higher Powers and Higher Proof

Two recent studies take a step or two back and look at the 12-step program initiated by Alcoholics Anonymous and replicated by other self-help groups. The unique element of these programs is a belief in a higher power. Does it really make a difference? It will be hard to prove if addicts who don’t believe in higher powers never show up.

But a study out this week in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research shows that 12-step programs are “associated” with lesser drinking, even among those who are spiritual skeptics.

Another study, a systematic review of evidence from previous research, suggests that 12-step programs are no better than other psychosocial interventions.

Conducting a truly randomized controlled trial is almost impossible for a number of reasons: ethical considerations, anonymity and self-selection.

Few addiction counselors would propose that alcoholics turn away from A.A., but the fact remains that the organization cannot prove its claims that its methods prevent relapse. The more likely answer is that a combination of interventions may make each one work better.

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