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Study Shows Attendance in AA Meetings Could Help Reduce Depression

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has proven to be effective in helping alcoholics to keep their drinking habit at bay. According to a Science Daily release these meetings may also help to alleviate depression.

Researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Addiction Medicine found that in a study of participants who attend AA meetings, those who attend more frequently had fewer symptoms of depression.

"Our study is one of the first to examine the mechanisms underlying behavioral change with AA and to find that AA attendance alleviates depression symptoms," said study leader John F. Kelly, PhD, associate director of the MGH Center for Addiction Medicine. "Perhaps the social aspects of AA helps people feel better psychologically and emotionally as well as stop drinking."

According to the study authors, problems with mood regulation – including depression – are common among people with alcohol problems. While AA does not directly address depression in the program, the 12 steps and social fellowship are designed to support a sense of well being.

Mood problems can often improve after being off alcohol for several weeks. This study could speed that process more quickly in AA participants as those who attended more AA meetings had significant greater reductions in their depression symptoms, along with less frequent and less intensive drinking.

"Some critics of AA have claimed that the organization's emphasis on 'powerlessness' against alcohol use and the need to work on 'character defects' cultivates a pessimistic world view, but this suggests the opposite is true," Kelly said.

"AA is a complex social organization with many mechanisms of action that probably differs for different people and change over time. Most treatment programs refer patients to AA or similar 12-step groups, and now clinicians can tell patients that, along with supporting abstinence, attending meetings can help improve their mood. Who wouldn't want that?"

Posted on February 4th, 2010

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