Does AA Have a Problem? An Article Says Yes

An interesting article entitled “After 75 Years of AA, It’s Time to Admit We Have a Problem” appears in the current issue of Pacific Standard magazine (original title, “Kicking the Habit”). The article points to what appear to be unbridgeable gaps between AA doctrine and reality. For example, AA holds that recovery requires reliance on a “Higher Power” facilitated by attendance at AA meetings. LifeRing obviously disagrees with that and offers meetings that have nothing to do with Higher Powers. But beyond that, the article asserts:

Contrary to popular belief, most people recover from their addictions without any treatment—professional or self-help—regardless of whether the drug involved is alcohol, crack, methamphetamine, heroin, or cigarettes. One of the largest studies of recovery ever conducted found that, of those who had qualified for a diagnosis of alcoholism in the past year, only 25 percent still met the criteria for the disorder a year later. Despite this 75 percent recovery rate, only a quarter had gotten any type of help, including AA, and as many were now drinking in a low-risk manner as were abstinent.

Of course, many people do need help in overcoming their addictions, but as the article points out:

This is not to say that there is no benefit at all to 12-step programs: It’s clear from studies of recovery, with or without treatment, that some of the most important factors in success are having social support and a sense of meaning and purpose. Both of those can be provided by AA—at least to those who find its approach amenable. Rather than treating AA as one potentially excellent resource out of many, though, all too many people still regard 12-step programs as the only true way.

And that is where LifeRing stands: “one potentially excellent resource out of many …” The article contains much more — see it Here.




  1. george Murdo on February 16, 2014 at 12:17 am

    Science, in terms of psychiatry, tends to be as much about faith as AA is. By this I mean that all it takes for a new “illness” to come into being is that a group of experts decide that a collection of symptoms constitutes one … no science involved. (If you wish to consider a polemic in regard to the cultural creation of mental “illness”, then one need look no further than Thomas Szasz “The Myth of mental Illlness.) Illnesses can be eradicated by a simple voting procedure too .. (American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II), as the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses in 1973 illustrates. That said, I have no wish to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, and accept that many positives have emerged from psychiatric research. Should the type of faith AA, psychiatry or any other organisation employs help individuals, then more power to them.
    I, too, am against any form of hegemony in the field of addiction, believing in the “horses for courses” approach to them, understanding that when and if the time comes, recovering addicts will move on to the type of recovery system, should they continue to require support, that suits their current and/or developing beliefs. I see little reward in continuing to attack systems which others continually, successfully and habitually use to their benefit until, or if, that need passes
    I have quite a few criticisms of AA as it is practised and often voice them in one to one situations. In much the same way I also have criticisms of other recovery organisations where I pursue a similar line. This individualises the whole field and stops my becoming more mired in the treacherous field of moral “rights and wrongs,” and of unconsciously souring a person of something which might be exactly what they need at that point in time.
    The research which illustrates the reality that the majority of those seen as having substance abuse problems recover without external intervention has been available for a number of years. I remember discussing this a long time ago, funnily enough, in an AA setting. Once more, if this works for an individual good and well. It didn’t for myself so I have used quite a number of organisations over the years, each satisfying my needs at that moment in time.
    Over the years I have taken responsibility for my own mental health, employing only the “talking cures” and never using any medications except for physical issues but, of course, some of those substances also have a psychological component. Indeed, I have been stopped from discussing this issue under threat of being banned from the site. This leads us neatly to, once more, getting mired in what constitutes being “sober”, and the status that bequeaths. For me this leads only to divisions and power platforms where the ego tends to take the place of reasoned argument based on facts, and cliques emerge, both in AA and in other organisations too.
    I found the article a rehash of old research and ideas which provide nothing new and, in that respect, I was disappointed after reading it. As far as the “Nurture versus nature” aspect goes the jury is still out, and, if Karl Popper is to be believed, it always will be. Personal preference in recovery is in many ways similar to the personal preferences employed in the choice of what substance one chooses to use at any given time? There are many who would press “rights and wrongs” on people but my understanding of life is far too fluid a concept to anchor myself down and build a personality and power base around what I believe to be right for me at that moment in time. This stops change in it’s tracks, and for myself, change is the only constant in recovery.

  2. AguaCLara on February 15, 2014 at 11:50 am

    So let me understand: If science can’t prove how and why it works, it’s not valid?
    Lives thriving after addiction all across the globe and still debunking the validity of AA 12 steps?
    AA is the most efficient, time tested anarchic tribe when it comes to recovery. Reality IS the evidence!

    And, Who’s got a problem, really?