The first longitudinal study to examine whether popular secular alternatives are as effective as Twelve-Step programs has reported its results, and they’re … complicated.
The study compared participants in Twelve-Step groups with those in SMART Recovery, LifeRing, and Women for Sobriety, controlling for demographic and clinical variables.
The results? “Compared to 12-step members, those identifying SMART as their primary group at baseline fared worse across outcomes, and those affiliating with LifeRing showed lower odds of total abstinence,” the study found.
However, the researchers went on to note that Twelve-Step groups tend to put more emphasis on lifetime abstinence, while other groups might be philosophically more tolerant of lapses. In addition, Twelve-Step members’ stated goals for membership put more emphasis on total abstinence, with 72 percent saying that was their goal, compared to 67 percent for WFS members, 58 percent for LifeRing members, and only 40 percent for those choosing SMART Recovery.
The study found that there was no difference between Twelve-Step groups and the secular alternatives as to how well the members did at achieving their stated goals.
Since many people do not like Twelve-Step programs or are not helped by them, “an optimal care plan may thus involve facilitating involvement in a broad array of mutual help groups,” the study concluded.