Indices of negative affect, such as depression, have been implicated in stress-induced pathways to alcohol relapse. Empirically-supported continuing care resources, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), emphasize reducing negative affect to reduce relapse risk, but little research has been conducted to examine putative affective mechanisms of AA’s effects.
Using lagged, controlled, hierarchical linear modeling and mediational analyses this study investigated whether AA participation mobilized changes in depression symptoms and whether such changes explained subsequent reductions in alcohol use. Alcohol dependent adults (N = 1,706), receiving treatment as part of a clinical trial, were assessed at intake, 3, 6, 9, 12, and 15 months.
Findings revealed elevated levels of depression compared to the general population, which decreased during treatment and then remained stable over follow-up. Greater AA attendance was associated with better subsequent alcohol use outcomes and decreased depression. Greater depression was associated with heavier and more frequent drinking. Lagged, mediation analyses revealed that the effects of AA on alcohol use was partially mediated by reductions in depression symptoms. However, this salutary effect on depression itself appeared to be explained by AA’s proximal effect on reducing concurrent drinking.
AA attendance was both concurrently and predictively associated with improved alcohol outcomes. Although AA attendance was additionally associated with subsequent improvements in depression, it did not predict such improvements over and above concurrent alcohol use. AA appears to lead both to improvements in alcohol use and psychological and emotional well-being, which, in turn, may reinforce further abstinence and recovery-related change.