Religious practices among adults are associated with more 12-step participation which, in turn, is linked to better treatment outcomes. Despite recommendations for adolescents to participate in mutual-help groups, little is known about how religious practices influence youth 12-step engagement and outcomes. This study examined the relationships among lifetime religiosity, during-treatment 12-step participation, and outcomes among adolescents, and tested whether any observed beneficial relation between higher religiosity and outcome could be explained by increased 12-step participation.
Adolescents (n = 195; 52% female, ages 14–18) court-referred to a 2-month residential treatment were assessed at intake and discharge. Lifetime religiosity was assessed with the Religious Background and Behaviors Questionnaire; 12-step assessments measured meeting attendance, step work (General Alcoholics Anonymous Tools of Recovery), and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)/Narcotics Anonymous (NA)-related helping. Substance-related outcomes and psychosocial outcomes were assessed with toxicology screens, the Adolescent–Obsessive Compulsive Drinking Scale, the Children's Global Assessment Scale, and the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.
Greater lifetime formal religious practices at intake were associated with increased step work and AA/NA-related helping during treatment, which in turn were linked to improved substance outcomes, global functioning, and reduced narcissistic entitlement. Increased step work mediated the effect of religious practices on increased abstinence, whereas AA/NA-related helping mediated the effect of religiosity on reduced craving and entitlement.
Findings extend the evidence for the protective effects of lifetime religious behaviors to an improved treatment response among adolescents and provide preliminary support for the 12-step proposition that helping others in recovery may lead to better outcomes. Youth with low or no lifetime religious practices may assimilate less well into 12-step–oriented treatment and may need additional 12-step facilitation, or a different approach, to enhance treatment response.