SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.24 número2Homicídios dolosos, tráfico de drogas e indicadores sociais em Salvador, Bahia, BrasilUtilização de serviços odontológicos entre crianças no Brasil: estudo exploratório a partir das pesquisas nacionais por amostra de domicílios índice de autoresíndice de assuntospesquisa de artigos
Home Pagelista alfabética de periódicos  

Serviços Personalizados




Links relacionados


Ciência & Saúde Coletiva

versão impressa ISSN 1413-8123versão On-line ISSN 1678-4561

Ciênc. saúde coletiva vol.24 no.2 Rio de Janeiro fev. 2019 

Free Themes

Stressful events, spirituality, and alcohol consumption in participants of the 12-Step AA Program

Linda Azucena Rodríguez Puente1 

Margaritta Antonia Villar Luis2 

María Magdalena Alonso Castillo3 

Luz Patricia Diaz Heredia4 

Javier Álvarez Bermúdez3 

Nora Angélica Armendáriz García3 

Raúl Adrán Castillo Vargas1 

1Universidad Autónoma de Coahuila. Blvd. V. Carranza s/n, Col. República Oriente. 25280 Saltillo Coah México. México

2Escola de Enfermagem de Ribeirão Preto, Universidade de São Paulo. Ribeirão Preto SP Brasil

3Facultad de Enfermería, Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León. San Nicolás de los Garza NL México

4Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Bogotá Colômbia


This work sought to determine the association between stressful events, spirituality, program participation and alcohol consumption in participants of the AA 12-step program. The study used a descriptive correlation and predictive method. The population was comprised by members from AA, Mexico. A simple random sampling by clusters was performed, the sample consisted of 72 AA participants with 95% CI. The Spiritual Perspective Scale and the Social Readjustment Rating Scale were used. Stressful events are negatively and significantly related to alcohol consumption (rs = −0.316, p = 0.007), this indicates that the higher the number of stressors, the lower the number of days without alcohol consumption; participation in the program was positively and significantly related to alcohol consumption (rs = 0.776, p = 0.001), which indicates that greater years of participation means greater number of days without alcohol consumption. Spirituality showed no significant relationship (p > 0.05), there is also a significant effect of participation in the program and age on alcohol consumption (R2 = 65.2%, p = 0.001). Participation in the AA program is related to and has an effect on the number of days without alcohol consumption.

Key words Spirituality; Stress; Alcohol consumption; Alcoholics Anonymous


El objetivo es determinar la asociación entre los eventos estresantes, la espiritualidad, la participación en el programa y el consumo de alcohol en participantes del programa de 12 pasos de AA. Método descriptivo correlacional y predictivo. La población fueron integrantes de AA, México. Se realizó un muestreo aleatorio simple por conglomerados, la muestra estuvo conformada por 72 participantes de AA con un nivel de confianza del 95%. Se utilizó la Escala de Perspectiva Espiritual y la Escala de Clasificación de Reajuste Social. Los eventos estresantes se relacionan de manera negativa y significativa con el consumo de alcohol (rs = -.316, p = .007), esto indica que mayor índice de eventos estresantes menor es la cantidad de días sin consumo de alcohol, la participación en el programa se relaciona positiva y significativamente con el consumo de alcohol (rs = .776, p = .001), esto señala que mayor años de participación mayor es la cantidad de días sin consumo de alcohol, la espiritualidad no mostró relación significativa (p > .05), además existe efecto significativo de la participación en el programa y la edad sobre el consumo de alcohol (R2 = 65.2%, p = .001). La participación en el programa de AA se relaciona y tiene efecto sobre a cantidad de días sin consumo de alcohol.

Palabras clave Espiritualidad; Estrés; Consumo de alcohol; Alcohólicos Anónimos


Excessive alcohol consumption and dependence is an important public health problem because of its physical, psychological, and social repercussions. In 2014, reports showed that approximately 3.3-million people died due to causes related with alcohol in the world, including 320,000 young individuals from 15 to 29 years of age. According to these figures, harmful use of alcohol is responsible for 5.9% of the global mortality, as well as for 4.5% of the global burden of morbidity expressed as loss of disability-adjusted life years and occupies the first place of the risk factors of premature death and disability in the population from 15 to 49 years of age1,2.

In 2011, 6% of the population in Mexico developed alcohol dependence, equivalent to 4.9-million people from 12 to 65 years of age, of which 10.8% corresponds to men and 1.8% to women. Likewise, alcohol dependence affects 4.1% of adolescents and 6.6% of adults and it is noted that a shorter distance exists between adolescent men and women (3 men per each woman), which is observed between adult men and women (7 men per each woman)3.

People with alcohol dependence require medical and psychosocial treatment, as well as comprehensive care for their disease, which is why many of them seek help in primary care centers. However, care responses for this problem by the healthcare sector over time, added to the lack of care services for patients with alcohol dependence who wish to abandon the behavior motivated by diverse reasons, are – undoubtedly – factors that have contributed to the growth and expansion of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Group in Mexico and the world1,4,5.

Alcoholics Anonymous has proven to be a very helpful resource in the recovery and achievement of sobriety through its 12-step program. It is highlighted as a construct that supports the AA recovery process, the relationship of attending meetings and the level of participation in AA groups and it is indicated that greater involvement with the 12-step program, yields better recovery prognosis6. It has been observed that these groups provide tools and action strategies in each of the 12 steps of the program, which favor increased self-esteem, spirituality and give social support to its members6; these factors favor management of stressful life events that can be confronted by the individual with alcohol dependence and with this encourage non-consumption of alcohol of its members.

Stressful events are occurrences, facts, or happenings that can cause stress and have the potential to trigger consumption of substances, like alcohol. However, emotional, cognitive, or behavioral responses produced as consequence of the stressful events depend on the cognitive assessment made by the individuals, on their personal characteristics and on the modulating variables7.

Studies conducted in AA indicate that the stressful events experienced by the people participating in the AA program play an important role in the maintenance of sobriety and in the amount of time without alcohol consumption, these stressful events include health problems, grief for the loss of a loved one, divorce, conflicts in interpersonal relationships, and lack of social acceptance8,9.

Another aspect documented is that stressful events are associated with spirituality and that these have an effect on increased anguish in people with low spiritual level10. On the contrary, spirituality has been related positively with coping with stressful life events and is associated negatively with alcohol consumption11.

In this sense, the concept of spirituality plays an important role in sobriety and recovery from alcohol dependence and it is noted that it is related with long periods of abstinence12,13. Spirituality has been defined as the personal perspective and behaviors that express sense of belonging to a transcendent dimension or to something bigger than oneself. From this spiritual perspective, concepts, like “praying” and “Supreme Being” are significant for the construction of this construct14.

Thus, within the AA program, great importance is attributed to the concept of spirituality15. In its program, AA assumes that excessive alcohol consumption and dependence is an illness of the spirit, which is why the 12 guiding steps of AA are linked to spirituality and highlight principles, like prayer, meditation, and acceptance of a higher power.

Currently, AA groups have become one of the most effective treatment options for individuals to recover from alcohol dependence, manage to remain abstaining and, thereby, achieve wellbeing. Nevertheless, current scientific evidence is limited regarding the process people follow to achieve alcohol abstinence and avoid relapses6,14,15.

The need to study from the nursing perspective the phenomenon of alcohol dependence and the determining factors of abstinence and prevention of relapses is a relevant area due to its implications for the design of professional interventions based on scientific evidence. Interventions must be focused on the promotion of resources and protection skills, like spirituality, that help in the successful coping with stressful events to avoid alcohol consumption in dependent individuals who are in treatment.

Nursing professionals must know the role of the AA groups in the recovery of alcohol-dependent individuals, as well as the 12-step program, with the goal of achieving the biopsychosocial wellbeing of the subjects and their families. Additionally, the need is highlighted for a holistic and multidisciplinary focus for the preventive and therapeutic approach of this population, given the complexity and multi-causality of this phenomenon.

Based on the aforementioned, the purpose of this study was to determine the association among stressful events, spirituality, participation in the program, and alcohol consumption in participants of the 12-step AA program.


This was a descriptive correlational and predictive study with quantitative approach. The population was comprised by approximately 350 AA members from three municipalities in the metropolitan area of Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico. Simple random sampling by clusters (AA groups) was performed. A sample was calculated for a linear regression test with a correlation coefficient of R2= 0.652 with 95% CI, an estimation limit of 0.04, power of 90, and considering 5% non-response rate.


The sample was made up of 72 adults, 68 men (94.4%) and 4 women belonging to AA groups. In relation to sociodemographic data, the mean age of the participants was 49.9 (SD = 14.64) years of age, 32% were married, 31.9% had studied up to high school, most worked (68.1%), and the Catholic religion prevailed by 72.2%.


A file was used for personal data and history of alcohol consumption (FPDHAC), along with two instruments:

Alcohol consumption. The FPDHAC is divided into three sections, one related with personal data; the second section inquires on the history of alcohol consumption (age of consumption onset, amount of beverages ingested, age upon entry to AA, amount of days without alcohol consumption, number of relapses, and number of years in the program) and the third section asks about prevalence (global, lapsic, current, and instantaneous) of alcohol consumption.

Spirituality. The Spiritual Perspective Scale (SPS)12, developed and translated into Spanish by Reed, measures self-awareness, a sense of connection with a higher being, or the existence of a supreme purpose. The instrument is based on the conceptualization of spirituality as a human experience particularly relevant during the late phases of life's development of life and during moments during which conscience of mortality increases.

The scale consists of 10 statements scored in a range from 1 to 6 for a total score of 60. The first four questions correspond to the subscale of spiritual practices and are answered with the following criteria: 1) Never, 2) Less than once a year, 3) More or less once a year, 4) More or less once a month, 5) More or less once a week, and 6) More or less once per day. The questions from 5 to 10 correspond to the subscale of spiritual beliefs and are answered in the following manner: 1) Extremely disagree, 2) Disagree, 3) Disagree more than agree, 4) Agree more than disagree, 5) Agree, and 6) Extremely agree. Indices for the scale were obtained, where a higher score means a higher spirituality index.

The scale has reported a Cronbach's alpha of 0.89 in Mexican population16. Likewise, a factor analysis by principal components and Varimax rotation were performed to validate this scale in AA population, which showed an explained variance of 83.69%.

Stressful events. The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS)17was used, validated for Mexican population18 to measure the social adjustment required or the level of stress associated with various life events during the last year. This scale has 43 items; each life event is assigned a value that reflects the relative amount of stress caused by the events, the values range from a maximum of 100 (death of spouse) to a minimum of 11 (minor infraction with the law) and the values of each event occurring during a year will be added; in case an event has occurred more than once during the last year, the value is multiplied by the number of occurrences. Indices for the scale were obtained, where a higher score means a higher stress index. This instrument has reported a Cronbach's alpha of 0.78 in Mexican population19.

Data collection procedure

As an approach strategy, the study invited AA members from different groups from the metropolitan area of Monterrey, Mexico to share their experiences with nursing students from the Faculty of Nursing at UANL. Thereafter, a meeting was held in the offices of the Mexican Alcoholics Anonymous Central General Services A.C. to speak about the access health care staff have to conduct studies in AA groups, where it was informed that AA is open to participate with health professionals as long as their anonymity is respected. However, because each group is independent, it was necessary to request authorization in each of the groups individually, some of which refused to participate.

To begin implementing this study, approval was obtained from the Commission on Research Ethics and the Research Commission at the Faculty of Nursing in Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León.

A visit was made to each of the AA centers randomly selected through the random numbers table to request authorization from each group and from its members; they were explained the aim of the study and those accepting to participate were given the informed consent. Then, they were given a sealed envelope with the instruments and they proceeded to fill out the questionnaires, reinforcing the confidential nature and anonymity of the information. Lastly, they were asked, once completely filling out, to deposit the sealed envelope without identification into a sealed box in the area in front of the physical space where each group meets. Upon their depositing the envelope with the instruments, the participants were thanked for their time and information provided.

Data analysis

Inferential and descriptive statistics was used. The descriptive analysis of the continuous and categorical variables was performed through frequencies, proportions, and central tendency and variability measurements and inferential statistics for the objectives. The Kolmogorov-Smirnov goodness-of-fit test was carried out with Lilliefors correction to determine normality in the distribution of continuous variables; because the variables did not show normality, the Spearman Correlation Coefficient test, Mann Whitney U, and a multiple linear regression model with crosstabs were used.


The average age for starting alcohol consumption in the participants was 15.0 years (SD = 3.25); 25% of the participants have consumed alcohol during the last year and 9.7% consumed it during the last month; the average number of beverages they consume or consumed was 18.8 dosages per consumption occasion (SD = 6.5). With respect to age upon entering AA, the average was 33.6 years (SD = 9.38), the average number of relapses was 2.67 (SD = 7.47) and the median of years of participation in the program was 17.03 years (SD = 12.01).

The average number of stressful events was 15.53 (SD = 11.92); stressful events occurring most frequently were death of a close relative (41.7%), undergoing changes in their personal habits (50%), and their living conditions changed (45.8%).

The spirituality index showed an average of 81.47 (SD = 18.65). In relation to spiritual practices, it was observed that most of the participants (59.7%) prays in private or meditates more or less once daily and according to the spiritual beliefs, most of the participants (52.8%) agreed strongly that their spiritual beliefs had influenced their lives.

To answer the principal purpose of this study, the results are shown in Tables 1 and 2. The data revealed that stressful events are related negatively with alcohol consumption (rs = −0.316, p = 0.007), which indicates that a higher index of stressful events yields lower amount of days without alcohol consumption. Meanwhile, participation in the program is related positively with alcohol consumption (rs = 0.776, p = 0.001), indicating that a higher number of years of participation in the program means a higher amount of days without alcohol consumption in the participants. On the contrary, spirituality showed no significant relationship with the amount of days without alcohol consumption (p > 0.05) (Table 1).

Table 1 Relationship among participation in the 12-step program, spirituality, stress, and the amount of days without alcohol consumption, Monterrey, NL, Mexico, 2016. 

Variables Amount of days without alcohol consumption
Spirituality .221
Stress −.316
Participation in the program .776

*< .010

**< .001

Table 2 Multiple linear regression model for the effect of the variables on the amount of days without alcohol consumption, Monterrey, NL, Mexico, 2016. 

Source of variation SC gl MC F p
Regression 868499527.4 2 434249763.7 64.75 .001**
Residual 462697920.4 69 6705766.9
R2 = 65.2%
Model (n = 72) Coefficients Sig
B EE β t p
(Constant) −3528.18 1241.39 −2.84 .006*
Participation in the program 179.99 40.22 .500 4.47 .001**
Age 105.57 33.01 .357 3.19 .002*

*< .010

**< .001

Additionally, positive and significant relationship was found between the program and high levels of spirituality (rs = 0.295, p = 0.012) and negative relationship with index of stressful events (rs = −0.340, p = 0.003), which indicates that a greater number of years participating in the program means a higher spirituality index and lower indices of stress.

A multiple linear regression model was conducted, considering stressful events, spirituality, participation in the program, and age as independent variables and alcohol consumption (amount of days without consumption) as dependent variable; the model resulted significant (F[1,71] = 64.75, p = 0.001). This model explains 65.2% of the variance explained. The variables maintained in the model and which affected alcohol consumption were participation in the program and age. Considering that alcohol consumption is expressed in amount of days without alcohol consumption, this indicates that the number of days without alcohol consumption in AA participants is explained by the number of years participating in the program and by age (Table 2).


The principal aim of this study was to determine the association among stressful events, spirituality, and participation in the program and the amount of days without alcohol consumption in participants of the 12-step AA program. It was found that stressful events relate negatively and significantly with the amount of days without consumption. This agrees with that reported with prior studies conducted in AA indicating that stressful events relate negatively with maintenance of sobriety and positively with the behavior of alcohol consumption8,9. However, this differs with that found in another study, which reports that stressful events are not related with years of sobriety of AA members20.

It is likely that in this study stressful events related negatively with the amount of days without alcohol consumption, given that the stressful events found most frequently were losses, like death of a very close loved one or loss of the spouse due to divorce; these are events of greater negative impact on the lives of these individuals. Given that although the immediate responses to the loss, like grief, sadness, nervousness, and pain are normal, it is probable that the alcohol-dependent person is not yet prepared for healthy coping, has not completed the 12-step AA program, or has not reached the stage of sharing the message and it may be difficult to confront in a healthy manner these stressful events and resolve their consequences in the emotional, physical, and social levels, which implies a significant loss.

Regarding spirituality, no significant relationship was found with alcohol consumption. This differs from that reported in different studies that indicate that spirituality relates with the amount of days of sobriety in alcohol-dependent individuals in recovery process13-15. Although the participants had high spiritual level, it is possible that no significant relationship was noted with alcohol consumption because the study sample was small and only 25% of the subjects had drunk alcohol during the last year. However, it was observed that the spirituality indices are higher in those who did not consume alcohol during the last year. This may be because the 12-step AA program is primarily based on the conception of a “Supreme Being” and promotes spirituality in 11 of its steps.

Likewise, it was noted that participation in the program is related and has positive and significant effect on alcohol consumption. The AA groups and their 12-step program have become one of the most important options to treat the problem of alcoholism. It has been observed that adherence or affiliation to AA can be beneficial to people enduring this problem and it is highlighted that attending the meetings in AA groups favors sobriety in its members and it has been indicated that greater participation in the 12-step program leads to better recovery prognosis14,15.

It should mentioned that literature is scarce in addressing stressful events, spirituality, participation in the program, and their association with alcohol consumption in AA population, besides the evidence focusing on stressful events is antique, which is why this study provides updated scientific evidence regarding these variables. It is also important to indicate that no studies have been conducted in Mexico in this population by nursing staff.

It is worth mentioning that one of the principal limitations to carry out this study was the difficult access to AA groups and the poor participation by its members, which limited sample size.


Stressful events related negatively with the amount of days without alcohol consumption, stressful events are greater in those who consumed alcohol during the last year than in those who do not consume alcohol. Spirituality is higher in participants who did not consume alcohol during the last year, but did not relate significantly with alcohol consumption. Participation in the program relates and has positive and significant effect on the amount of days without alcohol consumption.

Due to the aforementioned, comparative studies are recommended between alcohol-dependent individuals who are untreated and those attending AA groups, as well as with those under other treatments, given that it is necessary to broaden efforts to develop scientific knowledge on the recovery process of alcohol-dependent individuals.


1. Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS). Global status report on alcohol and health. Geneva: OMS; 2014. [ Links ]

2. Shield KD, Jürgen R. Global risk factor ranking: the importance of age-based health los inequities caused by alcohol and other risk factors. Res Notes [Internet]. 2015 [acceso 2016 Feb 28]; 8:231. Disponible en: ]

3. Consejo Nacional Contra las Adicciones-Secretaría de Salud [CONADIC-SS] Encuesta Nacional de Adicciones 2011. Cuernavaca, Morelos. Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública. 2011. [ Links ]

4. Kelly JF, Hoeppner BB. Does alcoholics anonymous workk differently for men and women? A moderated multiple-mediation analysis in a large clinical sample. Drug alcohol depend [Internet] 2013 [acceso 2016 Feb 10]; 130(0):186-193. Disponible en: ]

5. Witbrodt J, Delucchi K. Do women from men on Alcoholics Anonymous participation and abstinence? A multi-wave analysis of treatment seekers. Alcohol Clin Exp Res [Internet]. 2011 [acceso 2017 Mar 10]; 35(12):2231-2241. Disponibles en: ]

6. Greenfield BL, Tonigan JS. The general alcoholics anonymous tools of recovery: The adoption of 12-Step practices and beliefs. Psychol Addict Behav [Internet]. 2013 [acceso 2016 Feb 8]; 27(3):553-561. Disponible en: ]

7. Ávila ChM, Heredia AMC, Gómez MEL, Martínez PLV. Confiabilidad interna y estabilidad temporal del cuestionario de sucesos de vida para adolescentes en estudiantes mexicanos. Enseñanza e Investigación en Psicología 2006; 11(1):97-113. [ Links ]

8. Maharaj K. Life-stress events, depression and purpose-in-life in first-admission alcoholics and members of Alcoholics Anonymous. West Indian Med J 1990; 39(3):161-165. [ Links ]

9. Owen PL, Slaymaker V, Tonigan JS, McCrady BS, Epstein EE, Kaskutas LA, Humphreys K, Miller WR. Participation in Alcoholics Anonymous: Intended and Unintended Change Mechanisms. Alcohol Clin Exp Res [Internet]. 2003 [acceso 2016 Feb 20]; 27(3):524-532. Disponible en: ]

10. Kidwai R, Mancha BE, Brown QE, Eaton WW. The effect of spirituality and religious attendance on the relationship between psychological distress and negative life events. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 2014; 49(3):487-497. [ Links ]

11. Staton TM, Duval J, Stevens WD, Oser CB. The roles of spirituality in therelationshipbetweentraumaticlifeevents, mental health and drug use amongafricanamericanwomen. Substance use & Misuse 2013; 48(12):1-21. [ Links ]

12. Reed PG. Spirituality and well-being in terminally ill hospitalized adults. Research in Nursing and Health 1987; 10(5):335-344. [ Links ]

13. Kelly JF, Stout RL, Magill M, Tonigan JS, Pagona ME. Spirituality in Recovery: A Lagged Mediational Analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous Principal Theoretical Mechanism of Behavior Change. Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research 2011; 35(3):454-463. [ Links ]

14. Gutiérrez RR, Andrade PP, Jiménez TA, Saldivar HG, Juárez GF. Alcohólicos Anónimos: Aspectos relacionados con la adherencia (afiliación) y diferencias entre recaídas y no recaídas. Salud Mental 2009; 32(5):427-433. [ Links ]

15. Wilcox CE, Pearson MR, Tonigan JS. Effects of long-term AA attendance an spirituality on the course of depressive symptoms in individuals with alcohol use disorder. Psychol Addict Behav 2015; 29(2):382-391. [ Links ]

16. Campesino M, Belyea M, Schwartz G. Spirituality and cultural identification among latino and non-latino college students. Hispanic Health Care International 2009; 7(2):1-13. [ Links ]

17. Holmes TH, Rahe R. The Social Readjustment Racing Scale. J Psychosom Res 1967; 11(2):213-228. [ Links ]

18. Bruner CA, Acuña L, Gallardo LM, Atri R, Hernández A, Rodríguez W, Robles G. Escala de reajuste social (SRRS) de Holmes y Raheen México. Rev Lat Am Psicol. [Internet]. 1994 [acceso 2015 Mayo 20]; 26(2):253-269. Disponible en: ]

19. Hinojosa GL, Alonso CMM, Castillo MY. Autoeficacia percibida y consumo de alcohol em trabajadores de La salud. Rev Enferm IMSS 2012; 20(1):19-25. [ Links ]

20. Poage ED, Ketzenber KE, Olson J. Spirituality, contentment, and stress in recovering alcoholics. Addict Behav 2004; 29(9):1857-1862. [ Links ]

Received: December 01, 2016; Revised: April 26, 2017; Accepted: April 28, 2017


LAR Puente worked on the conception, article definition, on the research and methodology, on data analysis and interpretation, and on writing the article. MAV Luis worked on data analysis and interpretation and on the writing and critical revision of the article. MMA Castillo worked on the conception and definition and on the critical revision of the article and on the methodology. LP Diaz and JA Bermúdez worked on the methodology and critical revision of the article. NAA García worked on data analysis and interpretation and on the methodology. RAC Vargas worked on writing the article and on the critical revision.

Creative Commons License This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.