Alcohol use disorders, self-help groups as a supplement to pharmacological and psychological therapy? A retrospective study in a population with alcohol related liver disease

Minerva Gastroenterol (Torino). 2023 Dec;69(4):479-485. doi: 10.23736/S2724-5985.22.03292-2. Epub 2022 Oct 18.


Background: According to the new criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-V), the prevalence of alcohol use disorders (AUDs) is 20-30% in men and 10-15% in women worldwide.2,3 The anticraving therapy/psychotherapy combination is currently used routinely in clinical practice. However, the results after one year are unsatisfactory. Meta-analytic studies found failure rates of 57 to 75%. These percentages vary in relation to the intensity and length of the treatment. In addition, the abstinence rates gradually decrease over time. In this study, the clinical outcome of alcohol related liver disease (ALD) patients who spontaneously attended self-help groups (SHGs) (club of alcoholics in treatment - multi-family community/ alcoholics anonymous) regularly versus those who did not want to start the path or did not complete it was evaluated.

Methods: From January 2005 to December 2010, 1337 alcohol use disorder patients affected by compensated alcohol related liver disease, were prospectively followed and retrospectively assessed. Two hundred thirty-one patients were enrolled: 74 attended self-help groups assiduously, 27 attended sporadically and 130 refused participation in SHGs.

Results: Constant attendance at SHGs compared to non-attendance allows for a significant increase (<0.0001) in the period of sobriety found in the median of distribution. Frequent attendance at SHGs is effectively "preventive," reducing the fraction of relapses by about 30%. The percentage of cases of cirrhosis is significantly different (P=0.0007) between those who have regularly attended SHG meetings (about 1% of patients) and those who have never attended or only occasionally (various percentages between 21 and 31% of patients); in both groups the incidence of new cases would seem to be 0.014 cases/ year. Similar difference in percentages regarding the onset of hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs), although with a lower level of significance (P=0.017) among those who attended regularly, 4% of patients with an incidence of 0.006 cases/ year, compared to those who have never attended or only occasionally: over 14% of patients with an incidence of 0.022 cases/year.

Conclusions: This study suggests the importance of attending SHGs not only for the long-term achievement of alcoholic abstention, but also in positively influencing the course of alcohol-related diseases.

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism* / complications
  • Alcoholism* / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis
  • Liver Neoplasms*
  • Male
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Self-Help Groups