What If My Child Isn’t Motivated to Get Treatment for Addiction?

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Suggesting Treatment to a Loved One

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Intervention – a Starting Point 

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Drug Use, Stigma, and the Proactive Contagions to Reduce Both 

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We Do Recover – Excerpt from evidence-based review of N.A and 12 Step Facilitation Programs

Active drug users have a generally positive view of NA and seek help through NA through a variety of influences, including contact with an NA member, referral by a treatment agency, or encouragement from family members. Attraction or aversion to NA depend upon such factors as personality, problem severity, degree of religious orientation, and social network norms. 

Dropout rates from NA are comparable to those in AA (approximately 40% at one-year follow-up)60 and are lower than dropout rates of other interventions into alcohol and other drug problems as well as rates of adherence to prescribed management of other chronic health conditions. In the case of addiction treatment in the United States, which usually transpires over 30-90 days, only 43.4% of admitted patients successfully complete treatment. Thirty-four percent of patients admitted to addiction treatment in 2015 either dropped out prior to treatment completion or were administratively discharged by the facility prior to treatment completion. Only 5.2% of admitted patients remain involved in addiction treatment for more than one year,61 and the majority of patients completing a primary course of addiction treatment do not participate in sustained continuing care activities delivered by addiction professionals.

“…freely available AA and NA networks could provide a cost-effective long-term therapeutic adjunct to professional SUD approaches for youth.”104 

“Twelve-step programs represent a readily available resource for individuals with substance use disorders. These programs have demonstrated considerable effectiveness in helping substance abusers achieve and maintain abstinence and improve their overall psychosocial functioning and recovery….it is possible to increase twelve-step involvement and that doing so results in reduced substance use.”105 

“AA/ NA participation is a valuable modality of substance abuse treatment for teens and much can be done to increase teen participation, though more research is needed.”107

“Though not the only model for post-treatment recovery support, research to date suggests that similar to adults, adolescents’ involvement in 12-step groups predicts improved AOD use outcomes, and greater participation (i.e., frequency, duration, and extent of involvement) predicts abstinence and SUD remission better than attendance alone. Moreover, 12-step participation reduces the associated healthcare costs for adolescents with SUD. Despite these benefits, in 2015 <2% of AA’s and NA’s total membership comprised people under 21 years old.”110

“Manualized AA/TSF interventions usually produced higher rates of continuous abstinence than the other established treatments investigated. Non-manualized AA/TSF performed as well as other established treatments. AA/TSF may be superior to other treatments for increasing the percentage of days of abstinence, particularly in the longer-term. AA/TSF probably performs as well as other treatments for reducing the intensity of drinking (of alcohol). AA/TSF probably performs as well as other treatments for alcohol-related consequences and addiction severity. Four of the five economics studies found substantial cost-saving benefits for AA/TSF, which indicate that AA/TSF interventions probably reduce healthcare costs substantially.”111


In summary, NA studies, NA-inclusive 12-Step studies, and published reviews of 12-Step research (including Twelve-Step Facilitation treatment approaches) all report a strong association between NA participation and reduced drug use and increased rates of abstinence. Confirmation and clarification of this relationship awaits additional studies of increased methodological rigor using larger and more diverse population samples, including non-treatment samples. The available evidence suggests the potential value of NA participation in recovery initiation and long-term recovery maintenance.

Effects of NA Participation on Global Health. 

Christo and Sutton compared 100 NA members to a control group of 60 students and found that diminishment of anxiety, improvement in self-esteem, and increased employment linked to duration of NA participation.117

Beygi and colleagues compared the coping styles of NA members and patients in methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) in Iran. NA members had higher ratings for interpersonal relationships, physical health, and positive coping skills than patients in MMT.118

Taallaei and colleagues compared quality of life scores of NA members, members of a therapeutic community and patients enrolled in methadone maintenance treatment in Iran. Participation in all three of the interventions increased quality of life scores, with the NA group scoring highest on quality of life.120

Akhondzadeh and co-investigators compared the personalities of 100 NA members and 100 patients in MMT in Iran. NA members scored lower on neuroticism and higher on agreeableness.121

Mansooreh conducted a study of the quality of life of 110 male NA members in Iran. The authors concluded: “an increase in the membership duration in NA was associated with lower levels of depression and physical pain and higher levels of general health and positive emotions.”124

Azkhosh and co-investigators compared 20 NA members, 20 methadone maintenance patients, and 20 patients receiving acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) in Iran. The ACT group scored higher on psychological well-being and psychological flexibility.126

Hosseini and colleagues studied the psychological well-being of 368 NA members in Iran. The study concluded: “consistent participation in NA self-help groups can significantly lead to an increase in quality of life.”128

Time is a critical ingredient to achieving effects via NA participation. For example, while reduced drug use and initiation/stabilization of abstinence can occur early within NA participation, recovery of psychological health may take up to five years following cessation of drug use.137 Positive outcomes related to NA participation are dependent on two factors: Intensity of participation and duration of participation

Table 12: Suggested Actions to Increase Youth Participation in NA and other 12-Step Groups

  1. help young people structure their time before and after meetings and monitor their interactions with group members to minimize situations that may lead to relapse; 
  2. become familiar with group customs and languages in order to prepare youths for meetings, make appropriate referrals, and clear any misunderstandings; 
  3. research the characteristics of local meetings, including age composition of members, so that referrals can be tailored based on youths’ needs, preferences, and cultural backgrounds; 
  4. investigate the variety of recovery support groups offered in a given area to provide youths with a menu of options; 
  5. recognize that some youths may need to try a diversity of meetings before finding one (or a combination) that feels comfortable; 
  6. interact with recovery support group service structures and develop a list of reliable group members to connect youths to the recovering community; and 
  7. implement assertive rather than passive referral strategies, including connecting youths to sober social activities sponsored by support groups, helping youths identify and approach sponsors, screening sponsors for appropriateness, monitoring attendance, and monitoring reactions to experiences and program concepts.”233

Conclusion: Systematic reviews of professional treatment of substance use disorders whose primary goals and methods focus on engagement and increased participation and retention in NA (e.g., 12-Step Facilitation) confirm that such an approach is as effective, but not more effective, than other treatment approaches on several outcomes. Twelve-Step Facilitation that includes assertive linkage to NA is recognized as an evidence-based practice by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, the American Psychological Association, and is listed in the Directory of Evidence-based Practices for Substance Use Disorders. 


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