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What are the Group Dynamics of
Alcoholics Anonymous?

by Reid K. Hester, Ph.D.

What are the group dynamics in Alcoholics Anonymous?

Although much has been written about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), there is little empirical data about the dynamics of different groups. One study (Tonigan, et al., in press) found differences in group cohesiveness, independence, aggressiveness and expressiveness across three AA groups. There were also differences between groups on how frequently members discussed the 12 steps. What this suggests is that there are real differences between groups on different aspects of group dynamics and how much step discussion there is. This means you shouldn't conclude that all groups are alike. Clearly they are not.

If you are considering attending AA, I suggest that you sample at least 10 different groups to find one you best fit in. Merely attending meetings is not likely to help you stay sober. Getting involved in an AA group can. (Montgomery et al., 1995). That means hanging around before and after the meeting to see what needs to be done to lend a hand (Setting up chairs, making coffee, putting pamphlets on tables, etc.) It also measn sticking around long enough to talk to people afterwards and perhaps even going out with people who are safe and going somewhere in a group. A lot of important interactions go on after a formal meeting in places like Denny's or Starbucks.


AA group dynamics and 12-step activity. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. Montgomery, H.A., Miller, W.R., & Tonigan, J.S. (1995).

Does Alcoholics Anonymous involvement predict treatment outcome?
Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 12, 241-246.

About the Author:

Reid K. Hester, Ph.D., Director, Research Division, Behavior Therapy Associates, 3810 Osuna Rd. NE Suite 1, Albuquerque, NM 87109. Phone: 505.345.6100.

Originally published 02/19/98
Revised 8/17/08 by Marlene M. Maheu, Ph.D.
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