New Research Helps Integrate AA Program into Treatments

Research on how Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) operates and can be integrated into addiction treatment will be presented during two two-hour sessions today. Symposium 4, “AA and Twelve-Step Recovery: New Findings for the Clinician,” will be presented in two parts, from 10 am to noon and from 2 to 4 pm in Continental A on the lobby level of the Hilton Chicago.

“Although many members refer people to AA, they often don’t know how it can be most effectively used, and there are recent developments that improve on members’ capacity to use it productively,” said Marc Galanter, MD, FASAM who helped organize the two-part symposium, sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Speakers will review recent research into how AA and other 12-step programs operate, and how addiction specialists can use AA in their practices. Dr. Galanter organized the symposium with Joan Zweben, PhD, and it will feature four speakers, including Drs. Galanter and Zweben.

“A lot of ASAM members run clinical programs, and optimally they employ medications like naltrexone for alcoholism and use cognitive behavioral approaches for counseling. Research has shown that to the extent the patients additionally attend AA, even if only on a limited basis, their outcomes are much improved,” said Dr. Galanter, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, New York University Medical Center.

Co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders are the norm, not the exception. Because12-step programs focus on a single theme, such as alcohol or stimulants, people attending them often look elsewhere for mental health support, said Dr. Zweben, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and Executive Director of the East Bay Community Recovery Project, Oakland, CA.

“Many people do just fine with going to 12-step meetings, and they just deal with their psychiatric issues in a different way,” she said, adding that it is important to understand that mutual-help in 12-step meetings is different from mutual-help in the mental health system. “I will talk about what is available in the mental health system and what is available in integrated meetings, which are often called ‘double-trouble meetings’ or meetings where substance abuse and mental health issues are discussed.”

Another speaker is Lee Kaskutas, PhD, Senior Scientist and the Director of Training at the Alcohol Research Group of the Public Health Institute, Emeryville, Calif. She has focused her research on mutual-help programs and is the co-author of Making Alcoholics Anonymous Easy as well as numerous research papers. She will discuss how to help patients make better use of 12-step meetings.

The final speaker is John Kelly, PhD, Associate Professor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. The moderator is Robert B. Huebner, PhD, Acting Director of the NIAAA Division of Treatment and Recovery Research.

“This represents an opportunity greater than we have had in recent years to update the members on what will be useful for them in their own treatment in relation to AA,” Dr. Galanter said.