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Impact of 12-Step Mutual Help Groups on People with SUD in Six Clinical Trials 

October 1, 2020
Meg Brunner, MLIS
Citation: Humphreys K, et al. Impact of 12 step mutual help groups on drug use disorder patients in six clinical trials. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2020;215:108213. 
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Twelve-step mutual help groups are widely accessed by people with substance use disorder (SUD), but not often subjected to rigorous evaluation. Examining a pool of randomized trials containing a condition in which mutual health group attendance is actively facilitated might help reveal information about the effectiveness of 12-step groups in large, diverse samples of patients with SUD.

In this study, data from six federally funded randomized trials were combined (n=1730) and analyzed. All trials included a 12-step group facilitation condition and used the Addiction Severity Index as a core measure.



 Results of the analysis found that 12-step facilitation was only minimally able to increase mutual help group participation among patients with drug use disorders – a different finding from analysis of alcohol-focused trials. However, researchers did find that greater 12-step mutual help group attendance by SUD patients predicted reduced use of and problems with both illicit drugs and alcohol.

Conclusions: Facilitating significant and lasting involvement in 12-step groups may be more challenging for patients with drug use disorders than for those with alcohol use disorders, which has important implications for clinical work. The finding that participation in 12-step mutual help groups predicts lower illicit drug and alcohol use and problems in a large, diverse, sample of patients with SUD is encouraging, though more research is needed to examine potential selection bias and other confounding factors.


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