Home AA Meetings Reduce Depression Risk

Depression is common among people with alcohol problems


by Deborah Condon

Attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings may reduce the risk of depression among those with drinking problems, the results of a new study indicate.

US researchers followed the progress of 1,700 people who were undergoing three different types of treatment for alcoholism. All were able to attend AA meetings while undergoing the various treatments. Over a 15-month period, the participants' alcohol consumption, the number of AA meetings attended and recent symptoms of depression were monitored.

The team from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) noted that problems with mood regulation, such as depression, are common among people with alcohol problems. While AA does not explicitly address depression, the programme’s 12 steps and social fellowship are designed to support people’s sense of well being.

The researchers found that people who attended AA meetings more often had fewer symptoms of depression. They also drank less than those who did not attend AA as much.

"Our study is one of the first to examine the mechanisms underlying behavioral change with AA and to find that AA attendance alleviates depression symptoms. Perhaps the social aspect of AA helps people feel better psychologically and emotionally as well as stopping drinking,” said lead researcher, Dr John Kelly of MGH.

The team noted that at the beginning of the study, participants reported greater symptoms of depression than would be seen in the general public, which is typical among alcohol-dependent individuals. As the study proceeded, those participants who attended more AA meetings had significantly greater reductions in their depression symptoms, along with less frequent and less intensive drinking.

“AA is a complex social organization with many mechanisms of action that probably differ for different people and change over time. Most treatment programs refer patients to AA or similar 12-step groups, and now clinicians can tell patients that, along with supporting abstinence, attending meetings can help improve their mood. Who wouldn't want that?" Dr Kelly added.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Addiction.

For more information on depression, see our Clinic.

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