Helping others can reduce cravings for alcohol and drugs among teens undergoing substance abuse treatment, a new study suggests.
Such cravings are major causes of relapse after treatment, the Case Western Reserve University researchers noted.
The study included 93 male and 102 female juvenile offenders, aged 14 to 18, referred by courts for substance abuse treatment at a large facility in Ohio. Most of the teens were marijuana-dependent (92 percent) and many were alcohol-dependent (60 percent).
They were interviewed within the first 10 days of starting the 12-step treatment program and two months later when they were discharged from the program.
Helping others in the program improved four of seven substance abuse treatment outcomes. Two types of craving symptoms and narcissistic entitlement were reduced, while psychosocial functioning improved.
The study also found that teens who had spent more time in religious pursuits -- such as prayer, worship and meditation -- during their lifetime were more likely to help others during the treatment program.
The study appears in the November issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
"Our findings indicate that service participation in 12-step programs can reduce the craving symptoms experienced by adolescents in treatment for alcohol and or drug addiction," study leader Maria Pagano, an associate professor of psychiatry, said in a university news release.
"Similarly, we found that substance-dependent adolescents with greater religious backgrounds participate more during treatment in 12-step programs of recovery, which leads to better health outcomes," she added.
"Because most religions encourage altruistic behaviors, youths entering treatment with greater religious backgrounds may have an easier time engaging in service in 12-step programs of recovery," Pagano suggested. "In turn, youth entering treatment with low or no religious background may require greater 12-step facilitation or a different approach to derive equal benefit from treatment."
The American Academy of Pediatrics outlines how parents can protect their children from substance abuse.
SOURCE: Case Western Reserve University, news release, Nov. 9, 2011