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Keywords:

  • 12-step groups;
  • Alcoholics Anonymous;
  • helping;
  • treatment outcome

ABSTRACT

Aims  The helper therapy principle suggests that, within mutual-help groups, those who help others help themselves. The current study examines whether clients in treatment for alcohol and drug problems benefit from helping others, and how helping relates to 12-step involvement.

Design  Longitudinal treatment outcome.

Participants  An ethnically diverse community sample of 279 alcohol- and/or drug-dependent individuals (162 males, 117 females) was recruited through advertisement and treatment referral from Northern California Bay Area communities. Participants were treated at one of four day-treatment programs.

Measurements  A helping checklist measured the amount of time participants spent, during treatment, helping others by sharing experiences, explaining how to get help and giving advice on housing and employment. Measures of 12-step involvement and substance use outcomes were administered at baseline and a 6 month follow-up.

Findings  Helping and 12-step involvement emerged as important and related predictors of treatment outcomes. In the general sample, total abstinence at follow-up was strongly and positively predicted by 12-step involvement at follow-up, but not by helping during treatment; still, helping positively predicted subsequent 12-step involvement. Among individuals still drinking at follow-up, helping during treatment predicted a lower probability of binge drinking, whereas effects for 12-step involvement proved inconsistent.

Conclusions  Findings support the helper therapy principle and clarify the process of 12-step affiliation.