Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a well-known program used by millions of recovering alcoholics to get sober and stay sobers.
The program focuses on regular attendance and participation in small group meetings to help individuals make necessary life changes and offer long-term support.
Begun years ago by men, today 30 percent of those who participate in AA meetings are women. Researchers in Massachusetts recently looked into how the program impacts male and female members.
The study involved 1,700 subjects who were offered three treatment possibilities for their alcohol addiction. Attendance at an AA meeting was encouraged by not required. Researchers then used scheduled follow-ups to assess each participant’s level of sobriety and to learn who was/was not taking advantage of AA group meetings. During the follow-up researchers also measured each person’s optimism about their own future sobriety and determined how well supported they were in their alcohol-abstinence.
The study reinforced other findings which demonstrate how AA meetings reinforce sobriety for both men and women. First of all, surrounding oneself with people who are supportive of abstinence is a key factor in staying sober. Those who attended AA meetings successfully enlarged their support networks with people committed to their life of sobriety. That benefitted both men and women. The study also supported prior research which shows that those who believe in their own power to say ‘no’ to alcohol are more successful in recovery. Again, learning from AA group members helped both men and women to feel empowered to say no when needed.
There were differences, however, in the ways that men and women experience the benefits of AA meetings. For example, while men and women both received benefit from changing their social connections, for men, this change was more impactful. The ability to avoid friends who encourage drinking and to stay away from social situations where alcohol would be a temptation was more important for men than it was for women.
Women benefited more than men from their increased confidence that they could choose against drinking even when they felt down and discouraged. Learning to manage negative emotions was highly important for women seeking recovery – far more so than for men. Handling feelings barely registered as an issue for men.
So, while men and women in AA both benefit from gaining more sober relationships and both improve their skills for dealing with high-risk situations, the way those benefits play out still differed. Men in AA become more confident in their ability to handle outward circumstances and women gain strength to handle inward challenges. This could reflect the inherent differences which are behind problem drinking for men and women. Men may be more socially pressured and women may be more emotionally driven. The good news is that participation in AA gave both men and women the tools they needed to succeed.