As well as AA, there are also alternative interventions based on 12-step type programmes, some self-help and some professionally-led. AA and other 12-step approaches are typically based on the assumption that substance dependence is a spiritual and a medical disease. The available experimental studies did not demonstrate the effectiveness of AA or other 12-step approaches in reducing alcohol use and achieving abstinence compared with other treatments, but there were some limitations with these studies. Furthermore, many different interventions were often compared in the same study and too many hypotheses were tested at the same time to identify factors which determine treatment success.
No experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or TSF approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems. One large study focused on the prognostic factors associated with interventions that were assumed to be successful rather than on the effectiveness of interventions themselves, so more efficacy studies are needed.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international organization of recovering alcoholics that offers emotional support through self-help groups and a model of abstinence for people recovering from alcohol dependence, using a 12-step approach. Although it is the most common, AA is not the only 12-step intervention available there are other 12-step approaches (labelled Twelve Step Facilitation (TSF)).
To assess the effectiveness of AA or TSF programmes compared to other psychosocial interventions in reducing alcohol intake, achieving abstinence, maintaining abstinence, improving the quality of life of affected people and their families, and reducing alcohol associated accidents and health problems.
We searched the Specialized Register of Trials of the Cochrane Group on Drugs and Alcohol, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE from 1966, EMBASE from 1980, CINAHL from 1982, PsychINFO from 1967. Searches were updated in February 2005. We also inspected lists of references for relevant studies.
Studies involving adults (>18) of both genders with alcohol dependence attending on a voluntary or coerced basis AA or TSF programmes comparing no treatment, other psychological interventions, 12-step variants.
One reviewer (MF) assessed studies for inclusion and extracted data using a pre-defined data extraction form. Studies were evaluated for methodological quality and discussed by all reviewers.
Eight trials involving 3417 people were included. AA may help patients to accept treatment and keep patients in treatment more than alternative treatments, though the evidence for this is from one small study that combined AA with other interventions and should not be regarded as conclusive. Other studies reported similar retention rates regardless of treatment group. Three studies compared AA combined with other interventions against other treatments and found few differences in the amount of drinks and percentage of drinking days. Severity of addiction and drinking consequence did not seem to be differentially influenced by TSF versus comparison treatment interventions, and no conclusive differences in treatment drop out rates were reported. Included studies did not allow a conclusive assessment of the effect of TSF in promoting complete abstinence.