Alcoholics Anonymous better, cheaper than other recovery programmes - review

An addiction specialist says the community aspect of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is what makes sobriety stick.

A wide-ranging review of research into alcoholism has found two in five participants in AA will still be sober a year on - better than other treatments it reviewed. 

AA's 42 percent score was better than other treatments, including cognitive behavioural therapy, which together had 35 percent of participants sober 12 months later.

University of Otago professor Doug Sellman says he's not surprised AA has come out on top.

"When you go to AA you're going as an individual but you join a community of people who are recovering," he told Newshub. "I think this gives AA an enormous advantage."

AA focuses firmly on abstinence, rather than moderation. 

Dr Sellman says participants can relate to each other and offer support.

"People lose friendships because of their addiction, so when they find Alcoholics Anonymous, they have a fresh start in terms of relationships."

The review, which looked at the outcomes of more than 10,600 people, also found AA can be cheaper than other programmes. 

"In terms of healthcare costs, policy makers will be interested that four of the five economics studies we identified showed considerable cost-saving benefits for AA and related 12-step clinical programs designed to increase AA participation, indicating these programs could reduce healthcare costs substantially," said John Kelly of Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital Recovery Research Institute, who co-wrote the review. 

The Ministry of Health last year found the number of adult New Zealadners who drink was up 78.7 to 80.3 percent on a year earlier. 

Binge-drinking was also up amongst men, from 16.3 to 18.3 percent. 

The latest review has been added to the Cochrane Library, an international health database.