Addiction-Focused Mutual Help Groups and the Professional Health Care System

Dr. Keith Humphreys

Bush and Obama Administration Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

April 12th 2022 – Walker Banner Man Room 1:30 PM

Session Description

Peer-led mutual help groups and professionally-led treatment services share some goals regarding substance use disorders and will often serve the same individuals. Yet they are not the same, and must retain a degree of independence in order to have a healthy, productive, relationships. This presentation reviews research on the benefits of attending mutual help groups and then turns to the cost-savings health care systems can achieve by connecting patients to groups. It then describes policies that can nurture a robust mutual help ecosystem without putting it under professional control.

Learning Objective

1. Become familiar with the evidence on how mutual help groups reduce use of alcohol and other drugs
2. Learn the economic implications of mutual help-treatment partnerships
3. Examine public policies that can support the autonomy of the mutual help community while helping it grow.


Humphreys, K. (2004). Circles of Recovery: Self-help organisations for addictions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University

Humphreys, K., & Moos, R. H. (2001). Can encouraging substance abuse inpatients to participate in self-help groups reduce demand for health care?: A quasi-experimental study. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 25, 711-716.

Kelly, J.F., Humphreys, K., & Ferri, M. (2020). Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs for alcohol
Use disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD012880. DOI:


Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. He is also a Senior Research Career Scientist at the VA Health Services Research Center in Palo Alto and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London. His research addresses the prevention and treatment of addictive disorders, the formation of public policy and the extent to which subjects in medical research differ from patients seen in everyday clinical practice.

For his work in the multinational humanitarian effort to rebuild the psychiatric care system of Iraq and in the national redesign of the VA health system’s mental health services for Iraq war veterans, he won the 2009 American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Public Interest. He and the authors of “Drug Policy and the Public Good” won the 2010 British Medical Association’s Award for Public Health Book of the Year.
Dr. Humphreys has been extensively involved in the formation of public policy, having testified to Congress on multiple occasions, and having served as a member of the White House Commission on Drug Free Communities, the VA National Mental Health Task Force, and the National Advisory Council of the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. During the Obama Administration, he spent a sabbatical year as Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He has also testified on numerous occasions in the U.K. Parliament and advises multiple government agencies in the U.K. He created and co-directs the Stanford Network on Addiction Policy, which brings scientists and policy makers together to improve public policies regarding addictive substances. He is also leading the Stanford-Lancet Commission on the North American Opioid Crisis.