Are Mutual Help Groups for Addictions Effective?

In debates about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other addiction-related mutual help organizations, many people rely on the handful of methodologically weak studies done 25 or more years ago (or the nearly decade old Cochrane Collaboration review). That’s unwise, as more recent years have witnessed a substantial expansion of the knowledge base, including randomized clinical trials that assess the outcomes of 12-step mutual help group participation.

SMART Recovery is much less well known than AA, but it’s growing rapidly, particularly in the U.K. Richard Phillips is the Director of this non-12-step organization, whose mutual aid groups offer a secular change program based on principles derived from cognitive-behavioral and rational-emotive psychotherapy. Richard has just performed the helpful service of pulling together more recent studies of mutual aid groups for addiction (available free of charge here). His punchline:

There is strong evidence that participation in Mutual Aid groups improves recovery outcomes and evidence that greater levels of participation are associated with better outcomes.

Whether you agree with all his scientific conclusions and policy recommendations or not, you will find Richard’s report useful for its treasure trove of references to recent research on mutual help organizations.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.