“Hi, I’m (insert name here) and I’m an alcoholic”. We’ve all heard it plenty of times in movies, TV shows and other mediums. But can going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and maintaining prayer actually help victims of alcoholism? According to one recent study, the answer is yes. At the NYU School of Medicine/Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, researchers found that members who recited prayers after viewing images of alcohol had less craving for the drink as compared to them simply reading a newspaper rather than viewing the images.
Even long-time AA members can still be addicted or have trouble staying away from alcohol and drugs, without the danger of a relapse. But at NYU, the researchers wanted to investigate how the brain responds to triggers for alcohol, with tragic/upsetting events and even seeing alcohol on television or out in public possibly cueing relapses for victims. The study reported that every single research participant/subject reported some degree of craving for alcohol while seeing the images, but less after reciting AA prayers following the sight of the images. While many would call this a placebo effect, essentially that the alcoholics can believe what they want to, the researchers wanted to see if there was scientific evidence to show that the prayer can change the way that alcoholics think.
In my opinion, the evidence is inconclusive. Dr. Galanter, one of the heads of the experiment has been investigating how AA has worked for people over the course of time. His research, while promising, doesn’t necessarily provide evidence we can’t already just imply about the organization. His argument that the current findings open a new field of inquiry does have some basis to it, but with his current evidence and argument, its hard to find where anyone would disagree with the fact that prayer can help those who believe in it.
Galanter also describes how his study would support the validity of long-term AA experience equaling physiological changes inside the brains of alcoholics. While his experiment is interesting, and study of alcoholism should expand so lives can be saved from this disease, there needs to be new research to the table as to how the numbers for alcoholism can be reduced. Raising the drinking age or changing policies won’t help as people who want alcohol will always be able to find it if they look hard enough. When it comes to prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, you truly get out what you put in. “It works if you work it”, as they say in the AA chapter on the TV show “House of Cards”. Hopefully research can come out related to alcohol that can truly change people’s behavior, not just make it harder for them to buy alcohol.