Women and men benefit in different ways from AA participation
Participation in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) helps men and women differently in maintaining sobriety.
Two Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators found that, while many factors are helpful to all AA participants, some were stronger in men and some in women.
For example, avoidance of companions who encourage drinking and social situations in which drinking is common had more powerful benefits for men, while increased confidence in the ability to avoid drinking while feeling sad, depressed or anxious appeared to be more important for women.
"Men and women benefit equally from participation in AA, but some of the ways in which they benefit differ in nature and in magnitude," says John F. Kelly, PhD, associate director of the MGH Center for Addiction Medicine. "These differences may reflect differing recovery challenges related to gender-based social roles and the contexts in which drinking is likely to occur."
Kelly and his co-author Bettina B. Hoeppner, PhD, analyzed data from more than 1,700 participants, 24 percent of whom were women, enrolled in a federally funded trial called Project MATCH that compared three approaches to alcohol addiction treatment.
For both men and women, participation in AA increased confidence in the ability to cope with high-risk drinking situations and increased the number of social contacts who supported recovery efforts. But the effect of both of those changes on the ability to abstain from drinking was about twice as strong for men as for women.
In contrast, women benefitted much more than men from improved confidence in their ability to abstain during times when they were sad or depressed. "It is striking that this effect was virtually absent in men while it was a major contributor to women's ability to remain abstinent and to limit the number of drinks they consumed when they did drink," says Hoeppner.
Kelly said, "AA helps both men and women stay sober following treatment by enhancing sober social networks and boosting confidence in coping with high-risk social situations. In terms of alcoholism recovery more generally, we found the ability to handle negative moods and emotions was important for women but not for men. Conversely, coping with high-risk social situations - which could be attending sports or other events where people are likely to drink - was important for men but not women.
These differences suggests that, for women, finding alternative ways to cope with negative emotions may yield recovery benefits, while among men, a greater focus on coping with social occasions that feature drinking may enhance recovery," he added.
The study has been published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.