A Sobering Realization (by Lucas)


I am a recovering alcoholic. I decided to look more into Alcoholics Anonymous in lieu of all the negative press they had received from a website I had frequented (reddit.com). I had wondered about the validity of the claims that AA may hurt more than it helps, and being involved with the AA community, I was concerned about what I may be a part of. As such, I have chosen to remain anonymous as I do not want this to come back to me in any way. My family has been involved with the twelve step program for a long time, and I do not wish for them to feel attacked.

The Research Collection

These past ten weeks have been a roller coaster of self-discovery. At the beginning I was hoping to get involved with Alcoholics Anonymous, and help spread hope to other people involved in my situation. One thing that bothered me throughout my involvement was the issue of member retention, and the supposedly high failure rate in the twelve step program. I eventually began to wonder, “what is the program’s actual success rate, and are there any alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous?”

Where my peers had found admirable causes to work towards, I found that my organization was steeped in controversy. It wasn’t until recently that I actually began working towards finding answers to my questions, and I can’t help but feel that I may have been wasting my time with my involvement in AA.

“Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programmes for alcohol dependence.” PubMed.gov. Cochrane Database Syst Rev., 19 Jul 2006. Web. 23 Nov 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16856072.

I had found this study through other articles that shows that AA’s ability to treat alcohol abuser’s as dubious at best. The study was conducted by the Agency of Public Health, and tested a large quantity of AA members to discern the success rate of “twelve step facilitation”. As I stated before, it was concluded that AA has not turned out adequate evidence verifying its usefulness as a recovery program.

Flanagin, Jake “The Surprising Failures of 12 Steps.” The Atlantic. N.P., 25 Mar 2014. Web. 23 Nov 2014. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/the-surprising-failures-of-12-steps/284616/.

The above article explains how AA came to be the authority on overcoming addiction despite its astoundingly low success rate of about 5-10% (or 31% according to AA). It explains that AA only came to be the preferred method of substance abuse treatment by our courts, thanks to its self-promotion in our government. It highlights the facts that AA has somehow seen itself on the same level as scientific methods of treatment despite it being a faith-based program.

It was up until this point that I had thought that AA came to be as an effort of humble men. How shocking it was to find out that the foundations of the organization were built on empty promises and unstable ground. In prior writings, I referenced AA as the source of alcoholic treatment, not knowing the extent of how truly useless the program appeared to be. It was at this point that I began searching for alternatives. What hope does an alcoholic have?

Glaser, Gabriel “A Different Path to Fighting Addiction.” The New York Times. N.P., 3 Jul 2014. Web. 23 Nov 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/06/nyregion/a-different-path-to-fighting-addiction.html.

The above article talks about an alternative to AA’s method of complete abstinence and spiritual servitude method of recovery. Carrie Wilkens, a founder of the Center for Motivation and Change, points out how what AA would label as “enabling behavior” could instead be redirected into a method of supportive recovery. Where AA recommends that loved ones retreat from someone suffering from alcoholism until he/she either dies or chooses to get better, the CRAFT method shows parents to teach responsible drinking and encouragement of mature behaviors in the alcoholic’s day-to-day life. It points out that statistics show that as many as 75% of alcohol abusers simply “mature out” of excessive drinking, and that those that don’t may have behavioral issues as well as a treatable dependency issue with the substance.

I had written two other papers that referenced the “Big Book” of AA, but I feel as if those writings are now utterly baseless. While I do have my progress and recovery from alcohol abuse, I do not know how much of my recovery I can attribute to AA. I feel lost and confused.

While I do truly believe that the members of AA have their hearts in the right place, I worry about the detrimental effects that may be inflicted upon our society by the spread of such misinformation as “if you don’t submit to our program, you will die”. I wonder how many suicides could have been prevented had AA not gained such a standing in our society. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The Public Writing




  1. Hi Lucas,

    I find your topic fascinating! I have met many people that follow AA and I myself have often wondered what the success rate is though I have never looked into it. I find it very odd that the article found that AA only has a success rate of 5-10% while AA claims 31%, but even at the higher percentage that is still a very low success rate. I think that this is a perfect example of a topic that the public needs to be aware of, not because I am against AA, but I believe that their are other options out their that can be more successful especially for people whose belief systems are not compatible with AA’s focus on the “higher power”.

    I really feel that you have a strong research collection that fit your research question well. The one thing that I would like to see more of is more alternatives to AA. I know that Smart Recovery is a popular on that focuses on “empowerment” and teaches members how environmental and emotional triggers for drug and alcohol abuse. Moderation Management is another type of program that is for people that not alcohol dependent that just want to drink less/less often. Overall, very good topic and your project turned out very good Lucas!

  2. Wow, the commentors in your reddit article really tore you up. I come from a family of heavy drinkers, and have had one uncle drink and smoke himself into an early grave, and another who seemed hell bent on doing the same until fairly recently. It has always given me a bit of perspective in that I don’t just assume I can handle it if I start drinking a lot, or that I could quit whenever I want because I am in control. One thing common to a lot of people is that they aren’t willing to admit their shortcomings.

    I enjoyed your essay here quite a bit, largely because it brought something to my attention that I hadn’t known, and that’s always exciting to me. The evidence against AA seems to be quite damming, but at the same time the commentors on reddit had some points I think are worth considering. AA claims a 31% success rate, what do alternatives provide? I think maybe the thing to take away from this is the road to recovery is different for each person, and part of the dedication you need comes from finding that road for yourself.

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