But the Harvard Medical School study also showed that Alcoholics Anonymous was also effective for both agnostics and atheists, indicating that A.A. helps in ways other than spiritual.
John F. Kelly, Associate Professor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the Associate Director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, studied 1,500 people in recovery, surveying them at three, six, nine, 12 and 15 months into their recovery process.
The study's primary finding was that attending A.A. meetings enhances spiritual practices, especially for those who were not spiritual or religious prior to attending A.A., and that spirituality showed a "robust association" with better recovery outcomes.
"I've heard it said that A.A. is too spiritual, and I've also heard it said that A.A. is not spiritual enough for some people. Although this is not the only way that AA helps individuals recover, I think these findings support the notion that A.A. works in part by enhancing spiritual practices," Kelly said in a news release.
A.A. Helps in Other Ways
But Kelly's study also found that A.A. meeting attendance helped people remain sober in other ways by:
- Helping members change their social networks.
- Enhancing recovery coping skills.
- Enhancing motivation for continued abstinence.
- Reducing depression.
- Increasing psychological well-being.
Source: Kelly, JF et al. "Spirituality in Recovery: A Lagged Mediational Analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous' Principal Theoretical Mechanism of Behavior Change," Alcoholism: CLinical & Experimental Research. 16 December 2010.