A major barrier to youth recovery is finding suitable sobriety-supportive social contexts. National studies reveal most adolescent addiction treatment programs link youths to community 12-step fellowships to help meet this challenge, but little is known empirically regarding the extent to which adolescents attend and benefit from 12-step meetings or whether they derive additional gains from active involvement in prescribed 12-step activities (e.g., contact with a sponsor and other fellowship members). Greater knowledge in this area would enhance the efficiency of clinical continuing care recommendations.
Adolescent outpatients (N = 127; M age 16.7; 75% male; 87% white) enrolled in a naturalistic study of treatment effectiveness were assessed at intake and 3, 6, and 12 months later using standardized assessments. Mixed-effects models, controlling for static and time-varying confounds, examined the concurrent and lagged effects of 12-step attendance and active involvement on abstinence over time.
The proportion attending 12-step meetings was relatively low across follow-up (24 to 29%), but more frequent attendance was independently associated with greater abstinence in concurrent and, to a lesser extent, lagged models. An 8-item composite measure of 12-step involvement did not enhance outcomes over and above attendance, but separate components did; specifically, greater contact with a 12-step sponsor outside of meetings and more verbal participation during meetings.
The benefits of 12-step participation observed among adult samples extend to adolescent outpatients. Community 12-step fellowships appear to provide a useful sobriety-supportive social context for youths seeking recovery, but evidence-based youth-specific 12-step facilitation strategies are needed to enhance outpatient attendance rates.