DDN February 2021 DDN February 2021 | Page 14


The impact of COVID-19 has shown that mutual aid groups like AA may be even more beneficial than we realised , say Lisa Ogilvie and Jerome Carson

The feeling ’ s mu

Admitting to being

an alcoholic is hard . It means conceding that your actions and decisions have led to a point of failure , and fear of humiliation and public stigma places a major obstacle to those seeking help . Science may yet prove that alcohol problems are inextricably linked to dysfunctional brain processes rather than character flaws , but until then this perceived failure – and associated shame – is a driver for people to seek solace in mutual support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous ( AA ).
AA groups understand the plight of the alcoholic through their own lived experience . An AA group has compassionate goals , and an altruistic motivation toward supporting its members to achieve a better life in recovery . Iztvan et al ( 2016 ) identified in Second wave positive psychology : Embracing the Dark Side of Life that having a shared compassion can bring about a positive and transformative adjustment in wellbeing , and it was this that led to the idea of investigating how AA membership affects its members ’ wellbeing and self-definition .
It was anticipated that having
a high level of cohesion with AA would improve wellbeing , and that AA members would have weathered the general decline in wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic – as reported by the Office for National Statistics ( ONS ) in its Annual personal well-being estimates – better than people not engaging with mutual support . The study included more than 200 members of AA from 12 different countries , including the UK , USA , Australia , South Africa and Turkey , and the demographic was further varied in terms of age , gender and length of sobriety . Participants completed a survey which included questions that measured their cohesion with AA , the significance they placed on different aspects of their character , and their wellbeing . They also described what being a member of AA meant to them .
COHESION AND WELLBEING The importance of having a sense of cohesion with AA became clear , as the findings showed a strong link between cohesion and wellbeing – in fact , the level of cohesion with AA was found to be influential in predicting wellbeing . Those participants reporting higher levels of cohesion also experienced significantly better wellbeing , and
‘ The positive impact goes well beyond healing health , family life and personal recovery . It has led me to know myself ...’
this was similarly true with the personal characteristics reported by the participants . Those who reported higher levels of cohesion were more likely to be altruistically motivated in supporting others , and conveying empathy , acceptance and friendship .
This was summarised by one participant who said , ‘ Before finding AA I didn ’ t know it was possible to connect with people that want the best for me , who I had never met before . It has opened up a world of new friends and kindness , and shown me the way to a better life ’. Interestingly , this finding resonates with one of the traditions of AA – ‘ Each group has but one primary
purpose – to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers .’ This suggests cohesion is key to the success of AA in terms of both altruistic motivation and increased levels of wellbeing , a finding that was further substantiated when it was noted that the length of sobriety was also positively associated with wellbeing .
RECOVERY IDENTITY Evidence of a specific recovery identity among AA members was revealed when the findings indicated that working toward compassionate goals as a group establishes an identity that safeguards close relationships , and rejects characteristics associated with high-risk behaviours – such as binge drinking – in favour of upholding community values . As an example , one participant said that AA represents , ‘ A sense of community based on shared experiences and feelings that come from knowing oneself as an addict and the particular way a mind wired that way , works . Nobody “ gets ” an addict like an addict ’. This indicates that cohesion with AA encourages its members to adjust aspects of their identity , so they might contribute to successful inclusion in a supportive network of people living in recovery .