A new study of teens undergoing substance abuse treatment finds helping others helps the adolescent helper by reducing cravings for alcohol and drugs, a major precipitator of relapse. These novel findings stem from the “Helping Others” study (http://helpingotherslivesober.org) led by Maria Pagano, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
Results of this large investigation involving 195 substance dependent juvenile offenders reveal that helping others in 12-step programs significantly improves adolescent treatment response. Featured in the November issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, this study also shows that youth service participation mediates the influence of lifetime religious practices on treatment outcomes.
“Our findings indicate that service participation in 12-step programs can reduce the craving symptoms experienced by adolescents in treatment for alcohol and or drug addiction,” Dr. Pagano says. “Similarly, we found that substance-dependent adolescents with greater religious backgrounds participate more during treatment in 12-step programs of recovery, which leads to better health outcomes.”
This observational, longitudinal study is the first to examine the relationship between adolescent 12-step participation during treatment, lifetime religiosity, and clinical outcomes, replicating findings shown among adults in Dr. Pagano’s prior collaborative research.
Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the investigation comprised 93 boys and 102 girls, ages 14-18, court-referred for residential treatment at New Directions, the largest adolescent residential treatment facility in Northeast Ohio. The majority were marijuana dependent (92%) with comorbid alcohol dependence (60%). Participants were interviewed within the first 10 days of treatment and two months later at treatment discharge. Outcomes assessed included urine toxicology screens, alcohol/drug craving symptoms, clinical characteristics, and global psychosocial functioning.