The Sober Truth Book – Lance Dodes

The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry

Lance M. Dodes, M.D. ,Zachary Dodes

I have just finished this book that came out this week, and would certainly recommend it to anybody who has any involvement with alcohol or other addiction, especially those whose idea of treatment is to simply enrol people in a 12 step program.  It deals with the very sensitive subject of AA, which many people feel is a great institution, in a rational manner, by looking at the statistics which prove that it is not effective for the vast majority of people who try the method, dreamed up by Bill Wilson in the 1930’s. It shows how AA has grown on the back of evangelism and dubious recommendations, and how the treatment industry has been heavily influenced by followers of the 12 step world, which has resulted in many being given advice that has not helped them.

the sober truth

The book takes you through the history of AA, especially the early days. It talks about how Bill Wilson, had a vision of God that was very similar to something that his grandfather had claimed, while hallucinating on drugs, in a treatment centre. He talks about how the steps have moralised addiction, which is the wrong approach after they were taken from the rather Christian fundamentalist “Oxford group”, and are certainly not anything to do with treatment. He explains how stories of relapse from many of the original members, were kept from the “Big Book” and how AA even locked one member in a hotel room for several days to keep him sober, before he made a radio broadcast.

He goes on to show that despite the “Big Book” being ridiculed by the medical profession when it was first published, that AA was able to grow and become accepted as a solution, mainly due to evangelism of its members. he takes us through various studies and presents data that shows that AA is not effective for 90% of the people who try it and that it may also harm many. This was relevant to me as I suffered really bad depression, as did Bill Wilson when I went to AA, and I feel this was due to some of the advice I was given in the rooms. He rates AA as having a 5% to 10% success rate which would roughly be what I observed when I was a member, and was part of what made me decide to look elsewhere for a solution.

He breaks down many of the myths of AA and 12 step based treatment, such as it is best to treated by another alcoholic. (The best treatment I received was given by people who had years of medical training – not poorly trained AA members who had taken a short course in counselling, who could not see past the 12 steps). He talks about the lack of training of staff in treatment centres who are often more like AA sponsors, rather than psychologists and the lack of looking at the issues that are affecting an individual through proper analysis. He discusses the fact that alcoholism is not a disease or genetic, but why many in the treatment field have a lot to gain by pushing these theories , which have been disproved.

He includes the experiences of several ex members of AA, who felt that it was not a good solution and who have moved on, to live successful lives, despite the warnings that many in AA give you. People talk about advice being given to stop medication (this happened in my AA group) and controlling and predatory behaviour. He mentions that Bill Wilson was a womanizer and caused problems by 13 stepping which is the term used for predatory behaviour, which is often ignored in AA groups.

He points out that many who move away from AA do not have much of a voice compared to those who are evangelical about it in the press. He also points out the reasons that the minority of people who do like AA, after trying its methods, seem to think it is a universal solution. It is often being in a fellowship that helps, or taking action about recovery such as getting involved with newcomers, rather than the steps themselves, or the miraculous intervention of God. AA members tend to give AA and the steps as the reason for any success in stopping drinking, rather than anything they have done.

I hope this book will help many look at the recovery world in a new way, and that treatment methods can move on, from the faith healing and moralization, of a made up disease, that has become common practice thanks to those who are happy to push the 12 step world onto anyone who will listen. The likes of Dr Drew and his “celebrity rehab” program still push the old-fashioned ideas of AA despite several suicides, of the people who have followed these methods. America does have a history of producing strange religious groups, such as the Mormons, Scientology and many creationist groups that will always lobby against scientific progress or rational solutions to suit their own cause, which is something that many religions have done over time. I always felt AA was more about subjugation to God, rather than simply a recovery program, and this book has confirmed I was right to be wary of many of the claims that are made in the 12 step world.

I think we have to be really careful when pushing a solution that we may feel has worked for us onto others. We are not all the same and have different reasons for choosing to drink and get involved with drugs, which can result in addiction and other health issues. This book highlights many of the problems with the AA solution, which makes powerlessness a core part of its solution, which often adds to feelings of helplessness in many who suffer from addiction, resulting in a very poor outcome.  AA simply blames any failure of one its members (about 97% do drink at some point in AA) on not following the program properly and then humiliate the “failure” by making then go back to day one again, even though a few blips are generally what happens in recovery. Breaking somebody is not often the best way to cure them!

Here is  a link to the official book site

Here is the author’s site

Here is an earlier post by me which includes links to press articles

Here is a link to Monica Richardson talking to Lance Dodes about the book and other recovery related issues. Monica was in AA for 36 years, but now campaigns for increased safety in AA after becoming aware of some unpleasant practices by AA members.

Since reading this book I have read his other two books, “Breaking Addiction” and “The Heart of Addiction” which are about overcoming addiction and are really worth reading.

Here are my reviews





Commenting area

  1. This is a very thoughtful review of Dr. Dodes’ book. I particularly liked the statement: “Breaking somebody is not often the best way to cure them.” This is so true. Individuals must feel empowered enough to succeed in life, including success in recovery. Thank you for this review! You may find our recent response to this book of interest: Thanks again for posting such an insightful review!

  2. Thanks for the comments and the link. I agree with a lot of your article and feel that AA can certainly cause harm, I would add that I do not feel it is at all suitable for young people, especially women, as 13 stepping and real damage to self esteem can be an issue.
    I think that people would also be helped if they actually heard about alternatives to AA. Treatment resources seem to be competing with each other, especially in America, rather than providing solutions which can guide people to a suitable support group. You can see there is a huge divide on views, on some of the news sites that are covering the book, where people are arguing and the 12 step members do not like any criticism of their solution. This is different to most forms of treatment that welcomes scientific evaluation so it can improve. AA members state AA is not a religion, but then react as if it is when it is criticised.
    Anyway thanks again for your comment, a lot of people from the treatment industry have been in contact, via the contact form on the site, giving me a lot of interesting things to read. To be honest I can’t keep up with it all, but I certainly have a lot of people I can call if I ever need to these days. It is a shame I knew so little about all this ten years ago!

  3. Jane Stout April 5, 2014 at 6:36 am · · Reply

    I read the book myself this week and would very much encourage anyone who thinks about checking into a 12- step program read this before walking in blindly as I did. I started drinking after a 30 year break of refraining from alcohol. I was going through a period of many loses in my life, grew very depressed, and began drinking abusively. After only eleven months and my health quickly deteriorating I realized I had to cut down on my consumption and how often I drank. When I tried, I experienced withdrawals, which led me to an ER, which led me to a rehab, which led me to Alcoholics Anonymous. When I entered rehab I did not believe alcoholism to be a disease and when I read the first step that I had to admit I was powerless over alcohol my first thought was, BS! That should have been my cue to leave, but as depressed as I was I thought it best to stay if nothing else for the counseling I deeply needed, which by the way I received little of the one on one attention while attending my very costly rehab. Within three weeks they had me convinced I had a disease and more than willing to attend meetings once I left, but my depression was still there as nothing was done to address the issues that bought me back to abusing alcohol for the second time in my life. The longer I was in AA, which was about 11 months, the more I began to question the program, the steps, and sponsorship. The more I read the Big Book, the more I began to think, “hogwash.” A lot of unbelievers have a problem with the religious aspect of the program, but I can tell you as a Christian I also had a major problem with the Big Book as to me much of it does not line up with scripture. Just one example is the whole “I can make anything my higher power even a door knob if I wish” analogy. Besides the fact that this analogy is ridiculous it’s also against what I truly believe, as I consider that to be idolatry. I also grew tired of hearing the same old stories and the same old clichés repeated over and over again. What is really bad is my depression grew worse while I attended AA and when I confronted my sponsor and a couple of other members of the program about my concern I was told some of the very same things the people in this book mentioned, “well I guess your not working the steps properly,” “You must not have done a complete inventory,” or “You must be keeping secrets.” Really? Could it be that I lost four loved ones, including my father, the fact that my 31 year relationship with my husband ended, or the fact that I had returned to college, graduated, and the only job I could find was that of a parking attendant making little over minimum wage, and all of this occurred within a few months of my big relapse. I was trying to drink my problems away and soon found out it made things worse. I entered rehab and AA and not only did I not get the proper help I needed to work through these problems, when I mentioned my problems and my depression l was asked insensitive comments such as the ones I’ve mentioned and more and I was viewed by some as failing the program. As my depression worsened I had a few relapses and each time I returned to AA there were those who supported me, but also those who looked down at me and ridiculed me for what I had done as I picked up another stupid chip. One lady even told me, “well I guess you haven’t hit rock bottom, why don’t you go back out and come back when your ready?” I did hit rock bottom, but it was not from the alcohol, it was from my depression, which in my opinion was worsened by AA. I nearly became one of those suicides you hear about that sometimes happen in AA. I had enough and attempted suicide, but was taken to the hospital to live and tell about it. I attended a couple of meetings after that and realized the darkness I felt in those rooms and that this program was just not for me and I left. I have a counselor who has helped me through my problems and I’ve recovered from and accepted the losses I had in my life. I miss the friends I had in AA, but not as much as I used to as not one of them has ever contacted me even though I tried originally to remain their friends by calling them, but never received the same in return. I have a job now that I love and am making new friends. For months after I left the program I did not drink, however, the past couple of months I’ve allowed myself the drink two beers once a week on my day off work. That is all I wanted to do when I entered rehab was cut down on my drinking dramatically. I don’t think it’s a decision everyone should make as I truly believe for some abstinence is the best solution, but moderation is working for me. I know not to drink when I’m sad or mad anymore and I know when to stop. I’m sure those in the room would say I never was one of them because if I was two would never be enough nor would once a week be often enough even though when I entered rehab I was drinking 6-8 beers nearly every day. To them I say they are right as I believe I am a Recovered Alcoholic, which is something that is not possible in AA or those who buy the disease theory. Today I’m a much happier person who is finally recovering from the loses I experienced in a short period of time and also now recovering from the harmful effects of what our country has allowed to take masquerade as Recovery.

  4. I am sorry to hear of all your problems, but glad that things have got better for you. I think a lot of people suffer depression after going to AA and the steps can have a bad effect on self esteem. I feel it is really important, to show the one size fits all solution does not work for all, and make people question if AA is suitable.
    Lance Dodes who wrote this excellent book has his own site as well and I am sure he would be interested in what you have said. . There are quite a few other resources on my links page as well
    Thanks for getting in touch and leaving such a detailed comment.

  5. Your welcome and thanks for your site. It’s very helpful!

  6. Hey Lovinglife- have you heard about this book that recently came out? Quicksand: The Darker Side of 12 Step Programs?

  7. @AD: Thanks for the promo, and for leading me to this site 🙂

    @Lovinglife52: I think you will find it interesting

    • I will have a read when I gave some time, is there a kindle version of the main book? I’m really busy at the moment but do try to look at a lot of books that are recovery based.

  8. No, it’s not yet available as an ebook.

  9. Hi Sunkist123! Glad to see you made it over here to check things out. Thanks again for writing the book and I look forward to reading it. Lovinglife52 got lots of kodos for his review of the Sober Truth. Now he has been asked to review since then. Quite a compliment to Lovinglife52. I like to see people supporting those writing books like these exposing AA.

  10. @AD: Well then I hope he doesn’t hate mine! lol! I’m really hoping that uncovering a lot of b.s. that goes on in A.A./N.A. will help people. Human beings’ lives should not be ruined by something called a ‘recovery’ program.

    • I have just ordered a copy and see you have other books including one on deprogramming from AA. A lot of people are searching google for things on leaving AA or guilt after AA so I think people will find your books useful. A lot of people simply reject the 12 steps or quietly move away, but others can be quite badly affected by over zealous sponsors and predatory behaviour. People react differently to various recovery solutions and it is important that people share experiences good and bad about what has happened to them. That way, others who are starting recovery can be better prepared for problems they may face.

    • If you have a piece about your book you can send it to me and I will put it up on the site. I think people would be interested in it, and it might help sell a few copies!

  11. Wonderful! Thank you!
    I sent the info to you- please let me know if you don’t receive it, because contact forms often don’t work on my computer.

  12. I have got and will make a page in the next couple of days, I’m out with the ipad at the moment and it is hard to do a page on this site with it at the moment. hanks for getting in touch.

  13. O.k., thank you… and have a nice day 🙂

  14. Here is a dreadful review of the sober truth book in the New York Times You can see how difficult it is to actually change the way people think about AA and how it is perceived. I do not think this review is an accurate reflection of whet the book is about at all, but people will be influenced by it. However it is good that the book has stirred up such a lot of debate and people will find it if they search for 12 step critical books etc online or on amazon.

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