Social Processes Explaining the Benefits of Al-Anon Participation

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This study examined social processes of support, goal direction, provision of role models, and involvement in rewarding activities to explain benefits of participating in Al-Anon, a 12-step mutual-help program for people concerned about another person’s substance use. Newcomers to Al-Anon were studied at baseline and 6 months later, at which time they were identified as having either sustained attendance or dropped out. Among both newcomers and established Al-Anon members (“old-timers”), we also used number of Al-Anon meetings attended during follow-up to indicate extent of participation. Social processes significantly mediated newcomers’ sustained attendance status versus dropped out and outcomes of Al-Anon in the areas of life context (e.g., better quality of life, better able to handle problems due to the drinker), improved positive symptoms (e.g., higher self-esteem, more hopeful), and decreased negative symptoms (e.g., less abuse, less depressed). Social processes also significantly mediated newcomers’ number of meetings attended and outcomes. However, among old-timers, Al-Anon attendance was not associated with outcomes, so the potential mediating role of social processes could not be examined, but social processes were associated with outcomes. Findings add to the growing body of work identifying mechanisms by which 12-step groups are effective, by showing that bonding, goal direction, and access to peers in recovery and rewarding pursuits help to explain associations between sustained Al-Anon participation among newcomers and improvements on key concerns of Al-Anon attendees. Al-Anon is free of charge and widely available, making it a potentially cost-effective public health resource for help alleviating negative consequences of concern about another’s addiction.

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