THURSDAY, Feb. 3 (HealthDay News) -- By helping other alcoholics and addicts stay clean, addicts can actually help themselves stay on the wagon, a Case Western expert suggests.

Maria E. Pagano, an associate professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, finds that addicts who offer fellow addicts structured support through participation in community service programs help to reduce the pull of egocentrism and/or selfishness that some researchers believe is a root cause of addiction.

"The research indicates that getting active in service helps alcoholics and other addicts become sober and stay sober, and suggests this approach is applicable to all treatment-seeking individuals with a desire to not drink or use drugs," Pagano said in a university news release. "Helping others in the program of AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] has forged a therapy based on the kinship of common suffering and has vast potential."

Pagano discusses the notion in the current issue of Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly.

Central to her thesis is the so-called "helper therapy principle" (HTP), which basically suggests that when one person with a condition helps another person with a similar condition, they in turn help themselves.

This principle, she notes, is articulated in the mission statement of Alcoholics Anonymous, which includes the goal of helping members "stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety."

Pagano found a great deal of support for the HTP approach in reviews she conducted of prior research, some of which she herself had overseen.

She and her colleagues, for example, revisited a 2004 study they had done using data from Project Match, a large clinical trial on alcoholism. The finding: 40 percent of alcoholics in recovery who offered assistance to fellow alcoholics were able to eschew drinking for a year, after completing three months in a chemical dependency treatment program.

Alcoholics who did not engage in similar outreach to fellow addicts had only a 22 percent success rate, the researchers found.

"These studies indicate that among alcoholics, AA-related helping and giving general help to others has positive effects on drinking outcomes and mental health variables," Pagano concluded.

She adds that similar benefits can be seen among patients struggling with a wide range of health difficulties, including AIDS, chronic pain, and/or depression.

"When humans help others regardless of a shared condition, they appear to live longer and happier lives," she observed.

More information

For more on addiction treatment, visit DrugFree.org.