A new study finds differences in the ways that participation in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) helps men and women maintain sobriety. Two Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators found that, while many factors are helpful to all AA participants, some were stronger in men and some in women. For example, avoidance of companions who encourage drinking and social situations in which drinking is common had more powerful benefits for men, while increased confidence in the ability to avoid drinking while feeling sad, depressed or anxious appeared to be more important for women. Their report will appear in Drug and Alcohol Dependence and has been released online.
"Men and women benefit equally from participation in AA, but some of the ways in which they benefit differ in nature and in magnitude," says John F. Kelly, PhD, associate director of the MGH Center for Addiction Medicine. "These differences may reflect differing recovery challenges related to gender-based social roles and the contexts in which drinking is likely to occur."
Kelly and his co-author Bettina B. Hoeppner, PhD, note that, while AA was founded by men, one-third of its members today are women. Studies have found that women benefit at least as much as men from participation, and many women become deeply involved in the AA program. The researchers carried out some of the first studies identifying the behavioral changes behind the success of AA participation, and this report is the first to examine whether the benefits differ between men and women.
Kelly and Hoeppner analyzed data from more than 1,700 participants, 24 percent of whom were women, enrolled in a federally funded trial called Project MATCH that compared three approaches to alcohol addiction treatment. Participants in the trial were free to attend AA meetings along with the specific treatment program to which they were assigned. At several follow-up sessions, participants reported their success in maintaining sobriety, whether or not they were attending AA meetings, and completed specialized assessments of factors like their confidence in their ability to stay sober in particular situations and whether or not their social contacts supported or discouraged efforts to maintain abstinence.
In September 2011, Kelly, Hoeppner and colleagues reported in the journal Addiction that increased confidence in the ability to maintain abstinence in social situations and spending more time with people who supported abstinence were the behavioral changes most strongly associated with successful recovery among overall Project MATCH participants attending AA meetings. The current study reanalyzed some of the data used in the Addiction study to see if there were differences between men and women in the impact of factors included in the assessments.