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Young women show surprisingly high 12-Step attendance in Hazelden analysis

August 10, 2011
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Meeting attendance associated with good drinking outcomes

It has been assumed that young women often don’t engage in 12-Step meeting environments, because they see them as a male-dominated atmosphere. Yet that notion has rarely been subjected to critical analysis, and now members of Hazelden’s Butler Center for Research have found quite the opposite in a newly published research paper.

The latest edition of Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly (July-September 2011) includes an article describing the Hazelden center’s analysis of 139 young women who attended 12-Step based residential treatment, finding that women ages 17 to 23 were as likely as men in the same age group to attend 12-Step meetings and engage in related activities post-treatment. In addition, the researchers found that more frequent post-treatment meeting attendance among young women was associated with better drinking outcomes at six months, as measured by number of drinking days and abstinence status.

“Among women, the average number of meetings for women who were abstinent was twice the number for non-abstinent women,” says the Butler Center’s Audrey A. Klein, PhD, co-author of the paper.

These results certainly surprised Klein, who theorized before examining results for former Hazelden clients that young women would show less 12-Step attendance than their male counterparts. “Young people tend not to go when they perceive that the other participants are dissimilar to them,” she says, and the image of groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is often that of an older male club.

Then again, this theory had not really been tested in a quantitative analysis in the past, with regard to the young female population. “Young women with addiction are a very underserved and under-researched population,” Klein says.

The Hazelden analysis compared a group of 139 substance-dependent young women who received 12-Step based residential treatment in the period between January and August 2006 to a similar group of 237 young men. The two groups did not differ on variables such as length of stay and treatment completion, and the study groups were not limited to individuals who had finished their prescribed course of treatment.

At baseline and six-month follow-up, participants were asked about 12-Step involvement, and a composite score reflecting factors such as working the Steps, attending AA meetings and obtaining a sponsor was calculated. The researchers found that in the month following discharge from treatment, the women actually had a higher composite score than the men, reflecting a higher level of 12-Step engagement at that stage.

The researchers also found that women attending more AA meetings had significantly fewer drinking days at six-month follow-up than women attending fewer meetings, and that women attending more meetings were significantly more likely to remain abstinent.

Klein says that based on findings from research in general, the six-month outcomes seen in this analysis would likely persist beyond the six-month period.

She adds that future research should explore whether the results seen in this analysis would be similar for women who attend treatment programs that do not use the 12-Step model. The Hazelden researchers theorized that the women in their analysis might have been able to overcome reluctance to attend 12-Step meetings because they had received primary treatment services that had a strong 12-Step orientation.

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