A study has found that men and women benefit in different ways from participating in the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program.

The study was conducted by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Researchers found that men and women benefit equally from the program but their coping mechanisms differ. For example, men may find it easier to limit their alcohol intake by avoiding friends or family members who drink until they are confident about their abilities to remain sober, while women learn to stay sober after trying to avoid drinking when they feel sad or depressed.

"Men and women benefit equally from participation in AA, but some of the ways in which they benefit differ in nature and in magnitude. These differences may reflect differing recovery challenges related to gender-based social roles and the contexts in which drinking is likely to occur," said John F. Kelly, PhD, associate director of the MGH Center for Addiction Medicine in a statement.

The study involved some 1,700 participants, 24 percent of whom were women. These participants were enrolled in Project MATCH, a project that compared three approaches to alcohol addiction treatment.

Participants in the study were free to attend the AA sessions. During follow up sessions, researchers found that the participants were responding well to the program. These people were then assessed for their confidence in their ability to remain sober.

Researchers found that AA helped men and women gain confidence in their ability to stay sober in social gathering and also increase the number of social contacts that help them remain sober. However, women benefitted most by avoiding alcohol when they were depressed.

"AA helps both men and women stay sober following treatment by enhancing sober social networks and boosting confidence in coping with high-risk social situations. In terms of alcoholism recovery more generally, we found the ability to handle negative moods and emotions was important for women but not for men," Kelly said.

The study suggests that for women, alternative ways to cope with sadness and depression may help them stay sober, while for men, a greater emphasis on staying sober in social situations may help recover from alcohol addiction, researchers said.

The study is published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.