Physicians' beliefs about faith-based treatments for alcoholism

Psychiatr Serv. 2012 Jun;63(6):597-604. doi: 10.1176/


Objective: The study examined physicians' beliefs about faith-based alcohol treatments vis-à-vis Alcoholics Anonymous, pharmacologic treatment, and residential treatment.

Methods: A survey was mailed to a national sample of U.S. primary care physicians and psychiatrists. It included a brief vignette of a nominally religious 47-year-old man hospitalized for acute alcohol poisoning who requested addiction treatment. Physicians rated the likely effectiveness of three treatment methods: Alcoholics Anonymous, pharmacological therapy by an addiction specialist, and a residential program. Physicians were asked whether they would refer the patient to a faith-based program (beyond Alcoholics Anonymous) and whether an emphasis on spirituality is critical to 12-step program success.

Results: The response rate was 896 of 1,427 (63%) for primary care physicians and 312 of 487 (64%) for psychiatrists. Psychiatrists were more likely to rate Alcoholics Anonymous as very effective (64% versus 57% of primary care physicians), more likely to rate residential treatment as very effective (47% versus 38% of primary care physicians), and more likely to rate pharmacologic therapy as very effective (31% versus 22% of primary care physicians). Psychiatrists and primary care physicians were equally likely to consider referring the patient to a faith-based program (71% and 79%) and equally likely to believe that “an emphasis on spirituality is critical to the success of 12-step programs” (81% and 85%).

Conclusions: Psychiatrists were more optimistic than primary care physicians about all three treatments. Physicians in both specialties would refer even nominally religious patients to explicitly faith-based programs (beyond Alcoholics Anonymous). Physicians' enthusiasm for faith-based treatments highlights the need for scientific study of these treatments to determine which elements are most helpful for patients seeking recovery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcoholics Anonymous*
  • Alcoholism / therapy*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Drug Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Physicians, Primary Care / psychology
  • Psychiatry
  • Religion and Medicine*
  • Residential Treatment
  • Spirituality
  • Surveys and Questionnaires