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AA Group Dynamics and 12-Step Activity

J. Scott Tonigan, Francesca Ashcroft, William R. Miller

Objective: AA groups may differ in perceived social dynamics but little is known about diversity in other potentially curative processes within AA. This study examined how three AA groups differed in perceived social dynamics, group emphasis on the 12 steps of AA, and completion of the 12 steps. Method: Questionnaires were completed by AA members affiliated with three mainstream AA groups. Surveys were done after investigators paid several visits to meetings as an aid to identifying group members. A majority of the AA members were male (64%) and had, on average, 45 months of continuous sobriety. Results: Profile analyses showed that the three AA groups differed in perceived group cohesiveness, independence, aggressiveness and expressiveness. The AA groups also differed in how frequently members reported that the 12 steps were discussed in meetings. Step discussion was lowest in the group with highest aggressiveness. Differences were also found in the reported frequency of completing AA steps, such that members in the group with highest cohesiveness and step discussion reported having completed the fewest surrender (1-3) steps. Conclusions: AA groups appear to differ not only in perceived social environment (fellowship) characteristics, but in AA program implementation as reflected in discussion and completion of the 12 steps. Such differences may be stable within groups across time. These findings further caution against regarding AA as a homogeneous entity. Clearer understanding of the heterogeneity among AA groups may provide bases for initial matching of individuals to AA experiences. (J. Stud. Alcohol 56: 616-621, 1995)