In the experience of AA, a member's age matters | Addiction Professional Magazine Skip to content Skip to navigation

In the experience of AA, a member's age matters

July 31, 2014
by Edward J. Cumella, PhD, and Christopher B. Scott, MS
| Reprints
Edward J. Cumella, PhD

Seniors also seem to prefer morning and daytime AA meetings and may dislike evening meetings; some have night vision problems and simply cannot drive to an evening meeting. The opposite applies to most younger persons, who tend to work during the day and have little trouble being alert or driving at night. The idea arises, then, to promote meeting locations and times that can better accommodate senior citizens who are seeking recovery from alcohol problems.

Overall attitudes toward AA

Overall attitudes toward AA also differed substantially between younger and older members, predominantly suggesting that the younger members are less satisfied with what AA offers them. For example, a full 20% of the younger group felt that AA was a waste of time, but none of the elderly persons felt this way. All of the seniors, but only 75% of the younger adults, felt that AA helped them to achieve sobriety. The seniors rated their overall satisfaction with AA a full point higher than the young adults on a 10-point scale. Lastly, 80% of seniors believed that AA was meeting their support group needs, compared to only 35% of the young adults.

In only one area were the older AA members less satisfied than the young adults. The large majority of seniors felt that their AA group did not understand their individual issues, whereas less than half of the young adults mentioned this problem. Other researchers have demonstrated that older adults tend to feel more comfortable in group settings made up of people their own age, because having age-matched peers allows for easier peer bonding and more readily fosters the establishment of peer sobriety networks. But AA is known to have less than 20% seniors in its membership. Greater attention to the logistical issues that appear to be preventing older adults from attending AA may eventually increase the number of seniors in the program and better meet their needs for same-generation peer support.

Future research with a larger sample is needed to explore the differences we found in greater depth, to confirm their presence in a wider geographic area, and to ascertain whether such differences based on age also affect patients who attend 12-Step based inpatient or residential treatment programs. Yet several provocative findings emerged from the outpatient AA survey we conducted—findings that suggest practical strategies to help AA have a more powerful impact on the sobriety of both the younger and older persons who attend.


Edward J. Cumella, PhD, is retired from private practice and hospital administration and now teaches students pursuing the MS in psychology at Kaplan University online. Christopher Scott received his BS and MS in psychology with a concentration in addictions/substance abuse from Kaplan University. His experience in addiction recovery is both personal and professional, working with others in overcoming their addictions.