Twelve-step programs work well for young adults

By Sheryl Kay • Published: February 1st, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The scene is a familiar one across the country — 12 chairs arranged in a circle. Adults with addictions or compulsive disorders band together as they seek support and understanding in what are commonly known as 12-step programs. While the substance abuse or behavioral challenges might differ, most of the programs stress the same methods for recovery and are based on Alcoholics Anonymous. Founded in 1939, AA was the first program of its kind.

The exact reasons for these programs’ successes have not been positively identified, however, studies have shown the system is beneficial and millions of adults have kicked their habits because they adhered to the methodology. Now, research shows the programs are also well suited to adolescents, especially in today’s economic environment.

In fact, a new study examining medical costs seems to indicate that these programs are working well for teens. The study was specifically conducted to determine the costs associated with adolescents participating in 12-step-like programs. For seven years, investigators followed more than 400 teens ages 13 to 18 who were active participants in 12-step programs for either drug or alcohol addiction. Analysis of their health records showed that for each 12-step meeting the teen attended, medical costs for that child were reduced by almost 5 percent. That’s equivalent to saving 145 dollars a year for hospital inpatient stays, psychiatric visits and substance abuse treatment. And if health care costs were down, it means the teens were healthier and improving.

The investigators did note that while the programs provide for solid therapy, traditional medical and psychiatric services should not be ignored. Also, continued involvement in the 12-step program is important, so make sure to stick with it.