Overlapping mechanisms of recovery between professional psychotherapies and Alcoholics Anonymous


Marcovitz, D. E., McHugh, R. K., Roos, C., West, J. J., & Kelly, J. F. (2020). Overlapping mechanisms of recovery between professional psychotherapies and Alcoholics Anonymous. Journal of Addiction Medicine , 14 (5), 367-375.



Much research over the past 25 years has focused on elucidating the mechanisms by which Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) affects behavioral change in its participants. In addition to research on the spiritual mechanisms for which AA is best known in the popular conception, research on mechanisms of recovery (MOR) has predominantly supported social, cognitive, and affective mechanisms that are also present in many professional psychotherapies.


This paper compares and contrasts the theorized MOR of AA with those found in several common professional psychotherapies to illustrate analogous elements.


Literature review, summary, and synthesis of studies examining the MOR of both AA and common psychotherapies including analytic/dynamic therapies, cognitive-behavioral therapies, and acceptance and mindfulness-based therapies.


There exists a significant overlap in theorized MOR of AA and mainstream, professional psychotherapies. Mechanisms with the greatest overlap include those mobilizing stress and coping theory, behavioral choice theory, and social learning theory, while mechanisms more unique to AA compared to professional psychotherapies mobilize social control theory to a greater degree.


In caring for patients with addiction, practicing clinicians will find it useful to be aware of overlapping analogous elements found in the AA program and professional psychotherapies and how they can complement one another.

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Last updated on 12/11/2020