BACKGROUND: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) began as a male organization, but about one third is now female. Studies have found that women participate at least as much as men and benefit equally from AA, but it is unclear whether women benefit from AA in the same or different ways as men. This study tested whether gender moderated the mechanisms through which AA aids recovery.
METHODS: A cohort study of alcohol dependent adults (N=1726; 24% female; Project MATCH) was assessed on AA attendance during treatment; with mediators at 9 months; outcomes (Percent Days Abstinent [PDA] and Drinks per Drinking Day [DDD]) at 15 months. Multiple mediator models tested whether purported mechanisms (i.e., self-efficacy, depression, social networks, spirituality/religiosity) explained AA's effects differently for men and women controlling for baseline values, mediators, treatment, and other confounders.
RESULTS: For PDA, the proportion of AA's effect accounted for by the mediators was similar for men (53%) and women (49%). Both men and women were found to benefit from changes in social factors but these mechanisms were more important among men. For DDD, the mediators accounted for 70% of the effect of AA for men and 41% for women. Again, men benefitted mostly from social changes. Independent of AA's effects, negative affect self-efficacy was shown to have a strong relationship to outcome for women but not men.
CONCLUSIONS: The recovery benefits derived from AA differ in nature and magnitude between men and women and may reflect differing needs based on recovery challenges related to gender-based social roles and drinking contexts.