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Are 12-Step Programs for Teens Effective?
Posted on January 14, 2011
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the oldest and one of the most effective methods of treating alcohol addiction in the country. In fact, the 12-Step Program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous has been implemented either in whole or in part in virtually every drug and alcohol treatment program available.
Interestingly enough, approximately 10 percent of AA members are younger than 30 years old, and the last ten years has seen a surge in these types of treatment programs geared toward teens suffering from addiction.
AA offers two sorts of meetings – closed meetings and open meetings. In a closed meeting, only those struggling from alcoholism may attend. In an open, meeting, however, others such as parents and friends are encouraged to attend. While teens are able to attend either type of meeting, they seem to find the most benefit from attending closed meetings with others of their same age group. These types of groups offer the companionship and acceptance that teens so eagerly desire.
Research shows that these types of programs are beneficial for teens. One particular study tracked the progress of 160 youngsters with an average age of 16, over the course of four and six week treatments based on AA’s 12-Step Program. The teens were re-evaluated six months after their treatment finished and again after the first, second, fourth, sixth and eighth year following treatment.
What researchers found was that even small amounts of treatment were beneficial, even if teens decided to quit attending treatments after awhile. It appears after considering all factors, that for each meeting that youth attended, they gained two additional days of sobriety. Those who received the greatest benefit, however, were those who continued attending treatment into adulthood. Researchers also found that those who attended at least three meetings a week were able to stay completely sober.
There are critics to the 12-Step Program for teens. They argue that these types of programs focus too much on abstinence and not enough on prevention. They contend that these types of programs need to be coupled with parental support for teens educating them as to the dangers of alcohol. They say teens need to know that 1) alcohol is a drug and can cause cognitive problems, 2) it is illegal and getting arrested could change their lives, and 3) it can lead to binge drinking and addiction.
These experts also say that, because of their maturity level, teens may have a difficult time executing certain parts of the 12-Step Program on their own.
They advocate inpatient treatments that explore the root cause for their addiction. Since many times drinking can be a cover-up for issues such as abuse, anxiety and depression, they argue that the teens’ behavior is likely to continue unless the root cause is exposed and dealt with.
These experts don’t deny the power of the 12-Step model but rather see it as a follow-up to parental education on prevention and inpatient treatment aimed at healing the root cause of addiction.