What Randomized Experiments of Alcoholics Anonymous Can’t Tell Us

Might Alcoholics Anonymous Not Work for Those Who Won’t Participate in Randomized Experiments of AA? A Study of Breast Feeding Promotion Could Help Answer the Question

Alcoholics Anonymous’ “faith-based 12-step program dominates treatment in the United States. But researchers have debunked central tenets of AA doctrine,” wrote Gabrielle Glaser in April’s Atlantic. She says that AA may not work for many with alcohol problems and that AA’s supporters unfairly dismiss effective drug treatments based in neuroscience.

Jesse Singal immediately fired back that Glaser had missed several randomized experiments of 12-step facilitation showing its effectiveness. And last week Austin Frakt explained how such randomized experiments can be analyzed to “tease apart a treatment effect (improvement due to AA itself) and a selection effect (driven by the type of people who seek [AA] help).” Keith Humphreys, Janet Blodgett and Todd Wagner did just that using combined data from five randomized experiments to show that AA really works—for those who use it.

Who is right?

Everyone.

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