How it works: social relationships, coping mechanisms, and abstinence in Alcoholics Anonymous Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Payton, Andrew R.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology
  • For over three decades, research has consistently documented a causal relationship between social relationships and health. Despite this voluminous literature, we still have little idea of the underlying mechanisms through which social relationships operate. As a result, for nearly as long as this literature has existed, researchers have called attention to the need to explain how social relationships have their effects. However, such research has not been forthcoming. This research is critically important for designing effective interventions, which is especially significant because large-scale behavioral interventions designed to promote positive health outcomes have been largely unsuccessful. The present research attempts to step into this gap through an ethnographic study of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Based on detailed interviews with 59 members of eight AA groups, as well as observations over a one-year period, I attempt to document underlying processes through which members of AA groups achieve and maintain abstinence. My analysis suggests that AA groups can be profitably divided into two ideal types. One type of group focuses extensively on social support and network restructuring processes and appears to excel with early abstinence efforts. Another type of group focuses less on these processes in order to turn attention to helping members develop a repertoire of coping strategies. These latter groups appear to excel with long-term abstinence efforts. My research therefore reveals significant cultural processes underlying the socialization of members into AA and isolates and explains how and why specific stress moderating resources function as explanatory mechanisms in the link between social relationships and behavioral change. This suggests that stress moderating resources identified in the stress process paradigm offer precisely the mechanisms that have been sought after in the call to understand how social relationships have their effects. It therefore offers specific mechanisms that may be particularly fruitful in the design of effective interventions and explains the underlying rationale. The present research also suggests the need to add complexity to how we conceptualize and model behavioral change and the concomitant interventions since they may require multiple mechanisms at different stages of the change process.
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  • In Copyright
  • "... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Sociology."
  • Perrin, Andrew J.
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

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