My sister recently saw a therapist about her alcohol abuse, and in the first session, the therapist said that he probably couldn't help, as the only thing that works is going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She had made an appointment with this therapist because she didn't want to go to AA. My question is whether the therapist is right — is AA the only thing that works?

It is my opinion that AA is not the only thing that works for the treatment of an alcohol problem. While AA has helped so many people and can be an enormous support, many people have resolved their drinking problem without attending AA meetings. While I think it is great advice to suggest attending AA meetings, I don't think that any therapist should say that therapy would probably not be useful as AA is the only answer. And as you may know, there are other self-help programs other than AA, such as SMART Recovery and Women For Sobriety, just to name two. Some people have gained much benefit from attending these self-help meetings who, for a variety of reasons, did not find AA to be of help to them.

As I often state, there are many different paths to recovery, and people need to find the path that works for them. For many people, AA has been the path, but others have found help through other means.

Can you tell me the most common drug that adolescents use?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) conducts a study each year that looks at this very issue. The study is called Monitoring the Future, and let me share with you some of these findings. The highest rate of substance abuse among youth is the use of alcohol, which I consider to be a drug. By the time a young person leaves high school, it is estimated that about 72 percent have drunk alcohol, and this means more than just a few sips. In addition, about 55 percent of 12th-graders and almost 20 percent of eighth- graders report having been drunk at least once in their lives. Binge drinking - drinking 5 or more drinks at one sitting - was reported by almost 25 percent of seniors. After alcohol, marijuana is the next most widely used drug. Approximately one third of seniors reported having smoked marijuana. While this is high, in the late 1970s, this figure was about 50 percent, so this is an encouraging sign.

If you view tobacco as a drug, I should also say something about this. By the 12th-grade, about 45 percent of youths reported having tried a cigarette. In addition, about 20 percent of high school seniors are current smokers. Again, while high, this is the lowest use reported since this study first began 33 years ago, another sign of encouragement.

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Send questions about addictions or related problems to: Take The First Step, c/o The Eagle-Tribune, 100 Turnpike St., North Andover, MA 01845; or send e-mail to michael_levy@cabhealth.org. Questions will be answered in confidence by a clinical team led by Dr. Levy, director of clinical treatment services at CAB Health & Recovery Services in Peabody.

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