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Teens entering 12-step substance abuse programs with a background in formal religious practices have better outcomes than those without a similar experience in religion, a new study suggests.

The study of teens undergoing substance abuse treatment also found that helping other teens, with substance abuse issues, can help reduce cravings for alcohol and drugs, according to Medical News Today.

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland studied 195 substance-dependent teenagers participating in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

“Our findings indicate that service participation in 12-step programs can reduce the craving symptoms experienced by adolescents in treatment for alcohol and or drug addiction,” said lead researcher Dr. Maria Pagano. “Similarly, we found that substance-dependent adolescents with greater religious backgrounds participate more during treatment in 12-step programs of recovery, which leads to better health outcomes.”

She said that because religions tend to encourage altruistic behaviors, teens who enter treatment with more religious backgrounds may be more comfortable engaging in service in 12-step programs. “In turn, youth entering treatment with low or no religious background may require greater 12-step facilitation or a different approach to derive equal benefit from treatment,” she said.

The results appear in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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