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Teenagers in treatment for substance abuse can benefit from 12-step programs, a new study suggests.

Until now, little research has been done on how effective these programs are for adolescents, HealthDay reports.

The study included 127 teens who were outpatients in substance abuse treatment programs. They were assessed when they began the study, and again three, six and 12 months later. The researchers found about one-quarter to one-third of the teens attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings throughout the year-long study period, and that more meeting attendance was associated with significantly better substance use outcomes.

“Importantly, youth who also were in contact with an AA or NA sponsor or who participated verbally during AA/NA meetings had an even better outcome over and above the positive effects from merely attending,” researcher John F. Kelly of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital said in a news release. “These findings support the common clinical recommendation that individuals should ‘go to meetings, get a sponsor, and get active.’ This is the first evidence to support this common clinical recommendation among young people.”

Kelly said physicians, counselors and other health professionals can improve the odds that adolescents will attend and participate in AA/NA meetings by encouraging them to attend early in the course of their substance abuse treatment.

“It is also a good idea to facilitate a good match between the patient’s primary substance, cannabis/other drugs or alcohol, and the mutual-help organization to which they are being referred, Marijuana Anonymous, NA or AA. Not doing this can lead to a poor initial match, which can be difficult to overcome,” Kelly said.

He added that a key element to success is a good connection between the patient and an existing community AA or NA member. This person can make introductions, answer questions and act as a guide, he noted.

The findings are published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.


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