According to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), people under the age of 30 make up only 13% of the organisation’s 2 million global members. Now, a small-scale study from the United States may explain why. The study seems to suggest that younger people only benefit from two of the six key skills taught by AA, while older members benefit from five. Harvard University psychologist Bettina Hoeppner led the study.

Hoeppner and her team followed 2,000 adults through a 12-week recovery programme and then followed up with each one for the next 12 months. At the conclusion of the study, approximately 39% of the participants over the age of 30 were still abstinent at the 15-month mark; 30% of the younger group were still abstinent at the same point. The good news is that the younger drinkers still consuming alcohol were consuming less.

Analysis of the data suggests that younger people do not view addiction and recovery in the same way as their older peers. Some say this is strong evidence for fine-tuning the AA programme to create something unique for younger people. The idea would be to segregate participants into multiple groups so that each one could be treated effectively.

Critics of the research and subsequent analysis say there is more to it than that. For example, some discount the research entirely on the basis of the substances younger people use. In other words, addicts under the age of 30 are a lot more likely to use illicit drugs, prescription medications and legal highs rather than alcohol. Those questioning the study believe that the AA 12-step approach is not really appropriate for these other sorts of addictions.

What is clear is that there is no consensus at this point about dealing with addicts of different ages and other demographic groups. The lack of consensus simply reinforces the reality that there is no single approach for treating every substance abuser.

Spirituality and Personal Responsibility

When you dig through the details of the study, they reveal that the two skills most useful for younger drinkers are learning to socialise less with drinkers and being able to refuse alcohol in stressful situations. Both of these skills are separate from the two main points of the AA philosophy: spirituality and personal responsibility. Could it be that younger people are just not on board with these two main points?

If so, it makes sense to either figure out how to reach them with the messages of spirituality and personal responsibility or to find other ways to reinforce the four missing skills of the 12-step programme. On the other hand, perhaps a better solution is to develop a new programme based around the two successful skills.

At any rate, the work AA has done over the decades has helped millions of people recover from the clutches of alcohol. Similar organisations have helped others dealing with illicit drugs and other sorts of chemicals. It is our desire that all of these groups continue to do what they do to help as many as possible.

If you are among those struggling with drugs or alcohol, we want to help you get the support and treatment you need. Our main goal at Addiction Helper is to connect you with treatment providers and support groups able to come alongside you and assist you in overcoming substance abuse.

We offer our services by way of a 24-hour addiction recovery helpline staffed by experienced counsellors. When you call, we will give you helpful advice, a confidential evaluation of your circumstances, and referrals to effective treatment programmes. Please call us if you need help. Inform yourself about children and students with addictions in our student addiction guide.

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