After 75 Years of Alcoholics Anonymous, It’s Time to Admit We Have a Problem

After 75 Years of Alcoholics Anonymous, It’s Time to Admit We Have a Problem

BY MAIA SZALAVITZ  in the Pacific Standard.

Above is a link to a great piece which questions how effective the 12 step recovery model used by AA is. I think it gives a fair up to date look at the situation. It mentions how it is your fault for not following the program, which is an AA idea and has links to many new publications that challenge the 12 step solution, which I now consider to be of limited use. I am glad that people are talking about this at last, and that things can hopefully change for the better. Society has moved on since the Big Book was cobbled together in 1935, but AA has chosen not to modify the program, which is treated as a religion by many of its followers and has limited appeal for many.

Here are the first few paragraphs:

“Challenging the 12-step hegemony.

For much of the past 50 years or so, voicing any serious skepticism toward Alcoholics Anonymous or any other 12-step program was sacrilege—the equivalent, in polite company, of questioning the virtue of American mothers or the patriotism of our troops. If your problem was drink, AA was the answer; if drugs, Narcotics Anonymous. And if those programs didn’t work, it was your fault: You weren’t “working the steps.” The only alternative, as the 12-step slogan has it, was “jails, institutions, or death.” By 2000, 90 percent of American addiction treatment programs employed the 12-step approach.

In any other area of medicine, if your doctor told you that the cure for your disease involved surrendering to a “higher power,” praying to have your “defects of character” lifted, and accepting your “powerlessness,” as outlined in the original 12 steps, you’d probably seek a second opinion. But, even today, if you balk at these elements of the 12-step gospel, you’ll often get accused of being “in denial.” And if you should succeed in quitting drinking without 12-step support, you might get dismissed as a “dry drunk.”

Fortunately—just in time for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that substance misuse be covered in a way that is equivalent to coverage for physical illnesses—a spate of new books is challenging the 12-step hegemony. Last year, the bestselling author David Sheff published Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, which includes a chapter aimed at debunking the idea that AA is the only way. The author Anne Fletcher released Inside Rehab: The Surprising Truth About Addiction Treatment and How To Get Help That Works, a deeply reported exposé on the poor results and exorbitant prices of upscale rehab centers. And the journalist Gabrielle Glaser came out with Her Best Kept Secret, which illustrates, among other things, how forcing AA attendance on women makes them easy prey for sexual predators.”

The problem of substance abuse is not going away and methods of dealing with the victims do need to be modified. The 12 step world can offer some friendship and support which many have found helped, but it also can cause conflicts with a member’s core beliefs, and it’s one size fits all solution has a very poor success rate compared to other methods.

Here is a link to my leave AA section

and my AA critical section




Commenting area

  1. hi. I read this article. I thought the beginning was really great. I hope to have her on my show. Thank you for your work! It was so fun meeting you in LA when you were there with your wife and family.

  2. It was great to meet you as well. I should be back in September, if not before.

  3. Barbara Hickson Fellers May 9, 2015 at 9:41 pm · · Reply

    Well done! My husband has a severe anxiety disorder and depression resulting from an abusive childhood. He has been in AA and sober for almost 30 years but has never gotten treatment for his mental illnesses. Recently, he chose to divorce me rather than seek treatment. His anxiety symptoms were described by his sponsor and peers as “selfish, self-focused and indulgent.” His sponsor was our best man at our wedding. When I found out my husband was divorcing me, I tried reaching out to the sponsor for help with my husband and/or marriage. The man would not return my calls or emails. I believe my husband’s blind devotion to AA made him choose The Fellowship over our marriage and exacerbated his anxiety and depression. Thank you for promoting mental health after sobriety.

    • Hi Barbara, sorry to read about what happened. This does seem to be a fairly common situation in AA these days. many sponsors have blind faith in the programme and really do think it can solve anything. It often stops people seeking other types of treatment that could really help them. My own sponsor was pretty anti medication, he did not go as far as some and say stop taking it, but would not go to a meeting if a speaker had said they had used antidepressants. These ideas are based on 1930’s medication and not on what is available today. Many people do well after some CBT treatment etc after they have got some sober time.
      I do hope you manage to move on and put this behind you. Best wishes Mike

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