Alcohol use disorder (AUD) confers a prodigious burden of disease, disability, premature mortality, and high economic costs from lost productivity, accidents, violence, incarceration, and increased healthcare utilization. For over 80 years, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been a widespread AUD recovery organization, with millions of members and treatment free at the point of access, but it is only recently that rigorous research on its effectiveness has been conducted.
To evaluate whether peer‐led AA and professionally‐delivered treatments that facilitate AA involvement (Twelve‐Step Facilitation (TSF) interventions) achieve important outcomes, specifically: abstinence, reduced drinking intensity, reduced alcohol‐related consequences, alcohol addiction severity, and healthcare cost offsets.
We searched the Cochrane Drugs and Alcohol Group Specialized Register, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), PubMed, Embase, CINAHL and PsycINFO from inception to 2 August 2019. We searched for ongoing and unpublished studies via ClinicalTrials.gov and the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) on 15 November 2018. All searches included non‐English language literature. We handsearched references of topic‐related systematic reviews and bibliographies of included studies.
We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs), quasi‐RCTs and non‐randomized studies that compared AA or TSF (AA/TSF) with other interventions, such as motivational enhancement therapy (MET) or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), TSF treatment variants, or no treatment. We also included healthcare cost offset studies. Participants were non‐coerced adults with AUD.
Data collection and analysis
We categorized studies by: study design (RCT/quasi‐RCT; non‐randomized; economic); degree of standardized manualization (all interventions manualized versus some/none); and comparison intervention type (i.e. whether AA/TSF was compared to an intervention with a different theoretical orientation or an AA/TSF intervention that varied in style or intensity). For analyses, we followed Cochrane methodology calculating the standard mean difference (SMD) for continuous variables (e.g. percent days abstinent (PDA)) or the relative risk (risk ratios (RRs)) for dichotomous variables. We conducted random‐effects meta‐analyses to pool effects wherever possible.
We included 27 studies containing 10,565 participants (21 RCTs/quasi‐RCTs, 5 non‐randomized, and 1 purely economic study). The average age of participants within studies ranged from 34.2 to 51.0 years. AA/TSF was compared with psychological clinical interventions, such as MET and CBT, and other 12‐step program variants.
We rated selection bias as being at high risk in 11 of the 27 included studies, unclear in three, and as low risk in 13. We rated risk of attrition bias as high risk in nine studies, unclear in 14, and low in four, due to moderate (> 20%) attrition rates in the study overall (8 studies), or in study treatment group (1 study). Risk of bias due to inadequate researcher blinding was high in one study, unclear in 22, and low in four. Risks of bias arising from the remaining domains were predominantly low or unclear.
AA/TSF (manualized) compared to treatments with a different theoretical orientation (e.g. CBT) (randomized/quasi‐randomized evidence)
RCTs comparing manualized AA/TSF to other clinical interventions (e.g. CBT), showed AA/TSF improves rates of continuous abstinence at 12 months (risk ratio (RR) 1.21, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.03 to 1.42; 2 studies, 1936 participants; high‐certainty evidence). This effect remained consistent at both 24 and 36 months.
For percentage days abstinent (PDA), AA/TSF appears to perform as well as other clinical interventions at 12 months (mean difference (MD) 3.03, 95% CI ‐4.36 to 10.43; 4 studies, 1999 participants; very low‐certainty evidence), and better at 24 months (MD 12.91, 95% CI 7.55 to 18.29; 2 studies, 302 participants; very low‐certainty evidence) and 36 months (MD 6.64, 95% CI 1.54 to 11.75; 1 study, 806 participants; very low‐certainty evidence).
For longest period of abstinence (LPA), AA/TSF may perform as well as comparison interventions at six months (MD 0.60, 95% CI ‐0.30 to 1.50; 2 studies, 136 participants; low‐certainty evidence).
For drinking intensity, AA/TSF may perform as well as other clinical interventions at 12 months, as measured by drinks per drinking day (DDD) (MD ‐0.17, 95% CI ‐1.11 to 0.77; 1 study, 1516 participants; moderate‐certainty evidence) and percentage days heavy drinking (PDHD) (MD ‐5.51, 95% CI ‐14.15 to 3.13; 1 study, 91 participants; low‐certainty evidence).
For alcohol‐related consequences, AA/TSF probably performs as well as other clinical interventions at 12 months (MD ‐2.88, 95% CI ‐6.81 to 1.04; 3 studies, 1762 participants; moderate‐certainty evidence).
For alcohol addiction severity, one study found evidence of a difference in favor of AA/TSF at 12 months (P < 0.05; low‐certainty evidence).
AA/TSF (non‐manualized) compared to treatments with a different theoretical orientation (e.g. CBT) (randomized/quasi‐randomized evidence)
For the proportion of participants completely abstinent, non‐manualized AA/TSF may perform as well as other clinical interventions at three to nine months follow‐up (RR 1.71, 95% CI 0.70 to 4.18; 1 study, 93 participants; low‐certainty evidence).
Non‐manualized AA/TSF may also perform slightly better than other clinical interventions for PDA (MD 3.00, 95% CI 0.31 to 5.69; 1 study, 93 participants; low‐certainty evidence).
For drinking intensity, AA/TSF may perform as well as other clinical interventions at nine months, as measured by DDD (MD ‐1.76, 95% CI ‐2.23 to ‐1.29; 1 study, 93 participants; very low‐certainty evidence) and PDHD (MD 2.09, 95% CI ‐1.24 to 5.42; 1 study, 286 participants; low‐certainty evidence).
None of the RCTs comparing non‐manualized AA/TSF to other clinical interventions assessed LPA, alcohol‐related consequences, or alcohol addiction severity.
In three studies, AA/TSF had higher healthcare cost savings than outpatient treatment, CBT, and no AA/TSF treatment. The fourth study found that total medical care costs decreased for participants attending CBT, MET, and AA/TSF treatment, but that among participants with worse prognostic characteristics AA/TSF had higher potential cost savings than MET (moderate‐certainty evidence).
There is high quality evidence that manualized AA/TSF interventions are more effective than other established treatments, such as CBT, for increasing abstinence. Non‐manualized AA/TSF may perform as well as these other established treatments. AA/TSF interventions, both manualized and non‐manualized, may be at least as effective as other treatments for other alcohol‐related outcomes. AA/TSF probably produces substantial healthcare cost savings among people with alcohol use disorder.
Recovery community centers (RCCs) are the "new kid on the block" in providing addiction recovery services, adding a third tier to the 2 existing tiers of formal treatment and mutual-help organizations (MHOs). RCCs are intended to be recovery hubs facilitating "one-stop shopping" in the accrual of recovery capital (e.g., recovery coaching; employment/educational linkages). Despite their growth, little is known about who uses RCCs, what they use, and how use relates to improvements in functioning and quality of life. Greater knowledge would inform the field about RCC's potential clinical and public health utility.
Online survey conducted with participants (N = 336) attending RCCs (k = 31) in the northeastern United States. Substance use history, services used, and derived benefits (e.g., quality of life) were assessed. Systematic regression modeling tested a priori theorized relationships among variables.
RCC members (n = 336) were on average 41.1 ± 12.4 years of age, 50% female, predominantly White (78.6%), with high school or lower education (48.8%), and limited income (45.2% <$10,000 past-year household income). Most had either a primary opioid (32.7%) or alcohol (26.8%) problem. Just under half (48.5%) reported a lifetime psychiatric diagnosis. Participants had been attending RCCs for 2.6 ± 3.4 years, with many attending <1 year (35.4%). Most commonly used aspects were the socially oriented mutual-help/peer groups and volunteering, but technological assistance and employment assistance were also common. Conceptual model testing found RCCs associated with increased recovery capital, but not social support; both of these theorized proximal outcomes, however, were related to improvements in psychological distress, self-esteem, and quality of life.
RCCs are utilized by an array of individuals with few resources and primary opioid or alcohol histories. Whereas strong social supportive elements were common and highly rated, RCCs appear to play a more unique role not provided either by formal treatment or by MHOs in facilitating the acquisition of recovery capital and thereby enhancing functioning and quality of life.
More Americans than ever before are identifying as “spiritual but not religious.” Both spirituality and religiosity (S/R) are of interest in the addiction field as they are related to alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems and are central to some recovery pathways. Yet little is known overall about S/R identification among people in recovery, the role these play in aiding recovery, and whether they play more or less of a role for certain subgroups (e.g., men/women, different races/ethnicities; those with treatment or 12-step histories). Here we characterize S/R and its associations with AOD recovery in a nationally representative, cross-sectional sample of U.S. adults (N = 39,809) screening positive to the question, “Did you use to have a problem with alcohol or drugs but no longer do?” (final weighted sample n = 2,002). Weighted chi-square and Poisson-distributed generalized linear mixed models were used to assess S/R and test for differences across subgroups on extent of spiritual, and religious identification, and the extent to which these had aided individuals’ recovery. Participants mostly reported being moderately spiritual and religious, and that overall, religion had not helped them overcome their AOD problem. In contrast, spirituality was most commonly reported as either not helping at all, or having made all the difference in terms of helping individuals overcome their AOD problem. Further, substantial differences were observed by race/ethnicity across both spirituality and religiosity, and to a lesser degree between men and women. Black Americans reported substantially more S/R than Whites, and that these often made all the difference in their recovery. The exact opposite trend was observed for White and Hispanic Americans. Prior professional treatment and 12-step mutual-aid use were both related to greater spirituality, but not religiosity. Overall, spirituality but not religion, appears to play a role in aiding recovery, particularly among those with prior treatment or 12-step histories, but women and men, and racial-ethnic groups in particular, differ strikingly in their spiritual and religious identification, and the role these have played in aiding recovery. These differences raise the question of the potential clinical utility of S/R in personalized treatment.
Alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems are among the most stigmatized conditions globally diminishing help-seeking due to fear of discrimination. Discrimination is common also among people already in AOD recovery, but little is known about the prevalence and nature of perceived discrimination. Greater knowledge would inform treatment and policy.
Nationally representative cross-sectional sample of U.S. adults who reported resolving an AOD problem (final weighted sample n = 2002). Participants were asked, "Since resolving your problem with alcohol or drugs, how frequently have the following occurred because someone knew about your alcohol or drug history?".
Item response models yielded two types of discrimination: 1. Micro discrimination (personal slights) 2. Macro discrimination (violations of personal rights); psychological distress, quality of life, and recovery capital.
About one quarter of participants reported some type of micro discrimination (e.g., held to a higher standard) with slightly less reporting a violation of personal rights (e.g., couldn't get a job). After adjusting for addiction severity and years since problem resolution, greater micro and macro discrimination were associated with higher psychological distress (β = .45, 95% CI = .35,.55 and β = .59, 95% CI = .45,.73), lower quality of life (β =-.41, 95% CI=-.57,-.26 and β =-.49, 95% CI=-.76,-.21) and recovery capital (β =-.33, 95% CI=-.54,-.12 and β =-.68, 95% CI=-.97,-.40) respectively.
Despite being in recovery, different types of discrimination are experienced. These are associated with increased distress, and lower quality of life and recovery capital. Prospective studies are needed to help clarify the exact nature and impact of such discrimination on AOD problem recurrence.
Professional treatment and non-professional mutual-help organizations (MHOs) play important roles in mitigating addiction relapse risk. More recently, a third tier of recovery support services has emerged that are neither treatment nor MHO that encompass an all-inclusive flexible approach combining professionals and volunteers. The most prominent of these is RecoveryCommunity Centers (RCCs). RCC's goal is to provide an attractive central recovery hub facilitating the accrual of recovery capital by providing a variety of services (e.g., recovery coaching; medication assisted treatment [MAT] support, employment/educational linkages). Despite their growth, little is known formally about their structure and function. Greater knowledge would inform the field about their potential clinical and public health utility.
On-site visits (2015-2016) to RCCs across the northeastern U.S. (K = 32) with semi-structured interviews conducted with RCC directors and online surveys with staff assessing RCCs': physicality and locality; operations and budgets; leadership and staffing; membership; and services.
Physicality and locality: RCCs were mostly in urban/suburban locations (90%) with very good to excellent Walk Scores reflecting easy accessibility. Ratings of environmental quality indicated neighborhood/grounds/buildings were moderate-good attractiveness and quality. Operations: RCCs had been operating for an average of 8.5 years (SD = 6.2; range 1-33 years) with budgets (mostly state-funded) ranging from $17,000-$760,000/year, serving anywhere from a dozen to more than two thousand visitors/month. Leadership and staffing: Center directors were mostly female (55%) with primary drug histories of alcohol (62%), cocaine (19%), or opioids (19%). Most, but not all, directors (90%) and staff (84%) were in recovery. Membership: A large proportion of RCC visitors were male (61%), White (72%), unemployed (50%), criminal-justice system-involved (43%) and reported opioids (35%) or alcohol (33%) as their primary substance. Roughly half were in their first year of recovery (49%), but about 20% had five or more years. Services: RCCs reported a range of services including social/recreational (100%), mutual-help (91%), recovery coaching (77%), and employment (83%) and education (63%) assistance. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) support (43%) and overdose reversal training (57%) were less frequently offered, despite being rated as highly important by staff.
RCCs are easily accessible, attractive, mostly state-funded, recovery support hubs providing an array of services to individuals in various recovery stages. They appear to play a valued role in facilitating the accrual of social, employment, housing, and other recovery capital. Research is needed to understand the relative lack of opioid-specific support and to determine their broader impact in initiating and sustaining remission and cost-effectiveness.
Previous research has reported on the benefits of mutual support groups. However, such groups do not routinely collect data on participant outcomes. Moreover, the effect of collecting outcomes measures on these groups is unknown. The objective of this mixed methods study was to elicit participant views on using a novel, purpose built digital platform for routine outcome monitoring (ROM) as a standard component of a mutual support group. SMART Recovery, or the Self-Management and Recovery Training program, is group-based and uses professional clinicians to facilitate discussion and foster mutual support for a range of addictive behaviours, alongside Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Motivational Interviewing techniques. This paper reports on the qualitative component of this study and how participants perceive ROMs, and the potential shift to technological resources. Twenty semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with participants from SMART Recovery groups across New South Wales, Australia. Participants discussed their use of mutual support within group meetings to manage their recovery, including: naming their goals in front of peers; learning from clinicians and group discussion; and developing reciprocal and caring relationships. They also described any previous experience with routine outcomes measures and how digital technologies might enhance or hinder group function. Participants valued mutual support groups and reported that digital technologies could be complementary to physical, weekly group meetings. They were also concerned that the introduction of technological resources might pose a threat to physical meetings, thereby risking their access to mutual support. Findings have implications for the implementation of ROM when delivered via digitalmechanisms, and indicate threats and opportunities that warrant consideration for future initiatives.