Until recently, very little research has been done on how effective 12-step programs are on adolescents. However, it’s clear now that teens suffering from an addiction can benefit from 12-step programs.
A Partnership for Drug-Free Kids recently published on their site the results of a study done on teens and 12-step programs. The study evaluated the effects of 127 teens in substance abuse treatment programs. They were assessed when they began the study and then three, six, and twelve months later. Researchers found that one quarter to one third of the participating teens attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings throughout the yearlong study. The study found that there were better treatment outcomes among the teens who attended the AA and NA meetings. Furthermore, the research also found that teens who worked with a sponsor had even better treatment outcomes.
Interestingly, in the recent past addiction treatment for teens and adults has been kept separate. Yet, historically, this hasn’t been the case. In early addiction treatment for adolescents, teens with addictions to alcohol or drugs attended treatment programs that had a boot camp like style with confrontational methods that were meant to break down the attitudes and defense mechanisms of these teens.
It was in the 1950’s where clinicians began to recognize that the behaviors of teens with addiction were different than adults with addictions and that they deserved different treatment methods. In fact, with this recognition, the first adolescent treatment center opened in 1952 with Riverside Hospital in New York City.
However, it took some time for the rest of the country to follow in New York’s footsteps. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that adult and adolescent treatment centers were completely made separate across the country. Treatment centers specifically for teens grew more rapidly in the 1980’s through the 1990’s due to increasing research that addictions in teens warrant different treatment. Thus, today, teen addiction treatment is made different than treatment for adults because of differing needs between adolescents and adults.
The finding of the research described above indicates that the success of the 12-step programs among adults can also work for successful treatment among teens. This is important to know because it helps experts determine what to include and not include in teen addiction treatment.
John F. Kelley, one of the key researchers in the study, reported that the findings of the research indicate that going to meetings, getting a sponsor, and being active are important factors in getting sober. Kelley also pointed out that the study was the first to provide clinical evidence that supports this truth, which has been perhaps obvious among adults in the AA and NA communities.
Kelley, who is with the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital encouraged counselors, physicians, and other professionals to talk to teens about participating in a 12-step program early in their treatment. If teens do so, they may improve their odds of getting and staying sober.