Why has AA grown in the UK?
I was asked why I thought AA had grown so much in the UK yesterday, when I was talking to the author Gabrielle Glaser. This threw me a bit as I had just accepted it being there as I have known about it for so long. It does seem surprising that the 12 step ideas have found support here when you look at our culture. I can see why a group based loosely on Christian ideas would work in America, where many have faith, but most people in the UK do not attend church. In fact you are probably considered weird if you do. It seems strange that the 12 step approach could take hold here, as it certainly has not in other countries that do not have a big religious movement.
USA Rehab Model
I suppose we often look to America for ideas and the rehab industry has legitimised the 12 step world. There were no American style rehabs in the UK until the 1980’s, when people realised they could make money from 12 step treatment in the UK. It seems to be a good business model if you want to make money, but less great if you want to beat alcoholism. Many are introduced to AA in treatment these days, it has almost become a bit trendy.
Other people are more nervous about getting formal treatment for alcoholism, as this can go on their medical record and affect them in other areas of their life. There is still a stigma about alcoholism, which can affect those who attempt to build a career after recovery. It can even affect your credit rating in some cases. Some people in the UK simply don’t want to ask for help, as they see it as a sign of weakness, so turning up at an anonymous group is a way around this. That was probably part of the attraction for me. You do not have to admit to society at large that you have a problem, just to other alcoholics. That is much easier in the early days.
Famous people in AA
We all hear about famous people going to AA, and that influences some. You would assume that somebody who is rich would go to the best group, and the one you hear about all the time is AA. It has certainly got a lot of good press over the years, and very few people have heard of other groups. No TV soap would have a character going to Smart, as nobody in the public would know what that was. They have all heard of AA though. They probably don’t realise how religious it is though.
Evangelical about AA.
People who enjoy AA are often evangelical about it and you always see leaflets and posters for AA in doctors surgeries and hospitals, but very little literature from other groups. This does make a difference, but I suppose that lack of funding is an issue in today’s world. At least the online presence is increasing for other groups.
I suppose the size of AA which is so much bigger than anything else has a big impact. Because it has become established over the years, people continue to join it for at least a while. I think the craziness in the sharing, also makes people come back for more. Some people like being in a group, and want to identify with it and AA certainly has a strong sense of togetherness if you become a regular member.
I nearly walked away from AA straight away when I saw all the God stuff on the wall. However I gave it a chance as the people there were generally friendly (with some exceptions!), and appeared to be getting their life together. I found mixing with people who had a similar aim as me, motivating at first, and identified with some of what was said. However I realised after a while that the spiritual path to sobriety was not something that was going to keep me motivated for long and so I went in search of rational alternatives.
AA fails to motivate most people.
It does seem crazy that something that has been around for 80 years and that has not changed is still held up by many to be the best solution to beat alcoholism. This is despite statistics that show that most people lose interest very fast. Giving up alcohol is really hard if you have a long-term problem and many do not succeed regardless of the solution or support group they choose, but it is not surprising that a solution based on religious faith, does not equip everyone to deal with the problems of day to day life.
I am happy for AA to exist for those that want to use it but do feel that other solutions need to be highlighted and supported by the media so that something can be done to help the huge numbers suffering from problems caused by high levels of alcohol consumption. This problem is getting bigger in the UK and the USA is following along. It will take a change in attitudes towards alcohol in the same way that smoking is now less fashionable to make a change and that will need government support. Sadly our government seems to endorse drinking and even senior politicians have alcohol problems. It seems the powerful are also reluctant to ask for real help, and this is not surprising when they have subsidised bars in parliament that fuel the hard work and hard play culture. The drinks lobby is very powerful and certainly has friends in the Tory party. The financial city of London is full of drunks at night, who use alcohol to unwind. Many of these people will destroy themselves over time. There are lots of AA meetings in this area, especially early in the morning.
We need change to deal with alcoholism.
It is probably convenient for those in power to accept alcoholism as a moral issue rather than a real illness and point to AA as a solution. It appears to cost them nothing. On the other hand our hospitals are full of people with alcohol and drug related issues, and this costs the tax payer a fortune and puts a lot of stress on our emergency services. We need to change as a society and that means taking alcoholism seriously, not just brushing it to one side and shunting people off to AA when things get out of hand. AA was not designed to deal with the problems of the modern world and so it is not surprising that the success rates are so low.
Britain does not seem to care about the effects of alcoholism and so has not done enough to help those who are affected by it. There is little funding to make other solutions work, or to provide proper counselling support for those without private health insurance. People destroy their lives and then when they reach the bottom of society, they find that AA is probably the only place that will have them. That is very sad! As long as there enough desperate people out there, AA will continue to grow in the UK, and that says something very bad about the sate of the UK today.