Washington Post Article Challenges AA Approach

A recent article in the Washington Post will be of interest to many here. It takes AA to task for being ineffective and sees no real purpose for the entire Rehab industry. The author does accept the ‘illness’ concept and is a University of Virginia psychiatrist with ties to the pharmaceutical industry. But he is largely dismissive of the 12-step approach and cites some revealing studies. See it here. The article starts by recounting the news that Lindsay Lohan is beginning her 4th stint in rehab. It goes on to  discuss the lack of evidence that rehab, and the whole 12-step approach,  provides any statistically verifiable success. The author writes, “We have little indication that this treatment is effective. When an alcoholic goes to rehab but does not recover, it is he who is said to have failed. But it is rehab that is failing alcoholics.”

The article goes on to cite some of the few reasonably trustworthy statistics that exist — that 25% or so of addicts successfully quit entirely on their own, contrary to the ‘powerless’ paradigm. And an old but oft-cited study finding only 5% of those who start AA are still involved a year later. Another study found AA no more effective than those based on different approaches than the 12-step model, and that “almost all of the effect of treatment was achieved after attending a single session. In other words, it was the initial decision to try to get better that determined a person’s chances of succeeding; what followed made little difference.”

Here’s another very important quote from the article: “Although AA doubtless helps some people, it is not magic. I have seen, in my work with alcoholics, how its philosophy can be harmful to patients who chronically relapse: AA holds that, once a person starts to slip, he or she is powerless to stop. The stronger an alcoholic’s belief in this perspective, the longer and more damaging relapses can be.”


  1. Gord A on August 5, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Why so quiet on this thread?
    I just downloaded “How was your week?” and will take a look.

    • Craig W on August 6, 2012 at 10:37 am

      We welcome comments on our website, and I do monitor them and try to provide responses, but it’s not designed to be a busy forum. We do offer a real forum though! The LifeRing Forum is at http://forums.delphiforums.com/lifering. There, you’ll find lots of discussion of various topics having to do with sobriety. If you have questions about LifeRing, feel free to write me at cswhalley@yahoo.com.
      — Craig

  2. tnan55 on December 11, 2010 at 10:55 am

    I am very glad to see thr truth coming out about the sad recovery rate of A.A. It is so sad that the majority of supports of A.A. are in absolute ignorance of what a abusive cult A.A.really is and always has been. ”the only house on the block” A.A. took great prine in this trap for 75 years and is in such denial that “they” will continue to take prine in a lie. A.A. is a cult in denial of being a cult.

    The author’s name escapes me of the book ”A.A. cult or cure” but the documented facts are researched and looking at A.A’s dysfunctional approach the truth can’t be in ”denial’ The only one in denial is A.A. IT’S SELF!

    After 23 years of sobierty I have not been a member of ”meetings” for 20 years and stiill sober thank youvery much. Like most cults A.A.has what are called scarce tactics that most ”recovered ” people can laugh at of if you don’t go to meeting you will ect ect ect…………… a total joke.

    I requires a certain mind set for 3-5% that ”keep coming back” it called brainwashing.

  3. linda l on November 12, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    i love to read articles such as this. i have found AA to work for me for almost 17 years and i thought i would never stop drinking. obviously if the author is using lindsay lohan as an example, he ought to put down the gossip rags and maybe attend an open AA meeting and see “how it works.” and no one need spend $26,000 – $48,000 for treatment. AA asks for a contribution of $1 when the basket goes around, and if you don’t have it, you won’t be asked to leave.

  4. Danny Mundy on November 1, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Well I think that it works iof you want it to. I have been in and out of rehab 3 times before I got it but a lot of at had to do with me wanting to be sober.

  5. Mary on August 28, 2010 at 3:47 pm


    I am just saying that my experience in Lifering has been a lot like AA. I get in the chatroom, and I don’t hear a lot of focus on here and now–I hear people talking about wanting a drink, or almost picking up a drink for whatever day it is. This is not helpful. It is no use talking about alcohol and other drugs with other addicts/drunks. One has to learn that if you hang out with drunks, that’s what you’ll be. If you hang out with normal people, that’s what you’ll be. It’s all in the company we choose to keep.

  6. Tom J on August 25, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Well, I’m an ex stepper, and a five year LSR member. I agree with Craig. We share with 12 step programs the commitment to abstinence, and that’s about it. We don’t bash other programs. Most of us who have a background in AA have issues, but we are not attending Lifering meetings to air those grievances. There is plenty of room in the peer support area for everyone.

  7. Lr. Bill on August 25, 2010 at 11:50 am

    It seems LR groups are quite heterogeneous. The one I attend is not at all like AA. Most of us have gone to AA and that’s why we go to LR – it’s very different. I do not find AA at the core of LR.
    It is so hard to judge how well any treatment places, programs, books … work because of the anonymity of 12 steps, confidentiality of medical programs and that people drift away from groups and programs and may or may not go back to using. William Miller’s work (U of New Mexico) comes to mind. I believe he found most things ineffective.
    I suppose it would be good for Lifering, SMART, SOS etc. to get more publicity, but it’s better that they keep focused on their members. They are making inroads into a previously AA dominated society.

  8. Donald T. Quinn on August 22, 2010 at 10:09 am

    @ Tom…

    “I’ve found that lifering has a very strong 12 step influence , although it isn’t generally discussed , the forum is full of Steppers , the moderators are openly pro A/A , the only difference is that they don’t believe in god , so what we have is A/A without the higher power part.”

    I’ve noticed the same thing.
    LifeRing is a great idea and has the potential to become the next big recovery movement, but there is a problem…

    From my perspective, there is no accountability as far as 12 stepping within LifeRing goes. It almost seems like LifeRing is riding the back of AA the same way that AA rides the back of religious organizations… It’s a shame.

    I know that LifeRing polls it’s membership, or has done so in the past. It’s too bad that there’s really no way for LifeRing to poll the folks who’ve checked it out and decided it wasn’t for them. I think the major consensus would be that LifeRing is just way too much AA for most ex-steppers to swallow.

  9. Dale K. on August 20, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    I convene a meeting in St. Cloud, Florida. Thus far, the mix has been about 80/20 12Step participants/non 12Step attendees. I always open our meetings with a format statement that includes the definition of secularity and asks that all who participate leave their religion and any proselytizing at the door. So far I have not had to ask anyone to respect our guidelines. I do keep copies of the AA and NA schedules on our literature table. This is not to encourage 12Step attendance. It is to discourage those that believe we are in some kind of competition for recovery. I also have a statement on hand from Bill Wilson in which he is quoted as saying there are many paths to recovery. So far I have not had to deal with anyone that is in the room to create dissension or to sell the 12Step philosophy. I believe, and LSR states, that we are all for any program that aids us in staying sober. Curiously, many of the 12Step members of our little group say that they come in order to augment their program, not to replace or discuss it. We seem to get along just fine, and focus on staying away from alcohol and other drugs.
    Stay joyous and free,

  10. Craig on August 20, 2010 at 6:29 am

    Tom wrote: “I’ve found that lifering has a very strong 12 step influence”

    Interesting take on LifeRing, Tom. What we share with AA is a commitment to abstinence and the use of peer-to-peer support. Is it one of those that bothers you? We don’t do “steps,” we don’t accept “powerlessness,” we don’t use “sponsors” and we don’t deal at all with “higher powers.” We do welcome members who are fond of parts or all of the AA approach — is that a problem? Do you think they should be banished, or at least silenced?

  11. Tom on August 20, 2010 at 12:27 am

    I’ve found that lifering has a very strong 12 step influence , although it isn’t generally discussed , the forum is full of Steppers , the moderators are openly pro A/A , the only difference is that they don’t believe in god , so what we have is A/A without the higher power part.

    It’s sad to see that a cult such as A/A is still influencing sites that were set up as an alternative to Stepping.

  12. Dale K. on August 19, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    With regard to increasing awareness about LSR, Gmail has an application called “Reader” which is a blog and news site search engine that returns desired results on a daily basis. I put in the filters for LSR and also for secular recovery. I get notified when an article appears that mentions us. I try to respond to the authors when possible. It would be easy enough to put in a filter for 12Step, but I am afraid the filter would get inundated with results, so I haven’t tried it. I suspect that other Html newsreaders and email programs have a similar application. What I am suggesting is an effort by all our members to use this method to uncover and respond to any topics related to recovery. By doing so, we should be able to greatly increase our exposure; but, it will need to be a group effort in order to achieve results. If we use our group correspondence effectively and keep hammering on these news sources, we will get recognition.
    Stay joyous and free,

  13. Marty N. on August 16, 2010 at 10:10 am

    An important article on the same general topic as the Washington Post piece appeared in a British Columbia business publication, which Michael Walsh, Executive Director of LifeRing Canada, brought to my attention. The lengthy article, at http://www.bcbusinessonline.ca/bcb/top-stories/2010/08/04/boom-bc-addiction-treatment, says that the BC government is spending a lot of money on addiction treatment, but there are no reliable numbers on whether this treatment (almost all of it 12-step) actually works, and much anecdotal evidence that it mostly doesn’t.

  14. Marty N. on August 16, 2010 at 9:57 am

    In response to Mary, about group format: Your point is well taken as applied to the standard 12-step speaker meeting format, which features extended drunkalogues or drugalogues. But LifeRing meetings focus on the sober here and now (“How was your week”), and extended discussions of the sodden past are strongly discouraged. By rejecting all group support because of the negative content of some groups’ format, Mary is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Group support can be a strong and effective motivator for a very wide range of wellness efforts, including freedom from alcohol and other addictive drugs.

  15. Edward on August 15, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Did any Lifering members who reads the WaPo send a letter to the editor referencing Lifering? This is usually quite easy to do on the online editions (usually in the “comments” section). Personally, I’m covering all the alcohol/addiction focused articles in the LA Times.com and TMZ.com. By this I mean I post a comment to each of the relevant articles in these publications. It is a very simple and straight forward comment and is usually something like this (an example from my comments re Lindsay Lohan’s recent problems with alcohol): “After an effective residential treatment program, hopefully Lindsay is able to commit to a long-term recovery support group such as AA or Lifering. This gives her the best chance for a life of sobriety.” Short and sweet, and certainly enough to increase our mindshare and have some readers come to our website.

  16. Mary on August 14, 2010 at 9:59 am

    I am a firm believer in Rational Recovery, a “groupless” approach. Too often, when I hear people of group support talk, they speak in past tense about their drinking, and what happens for me is an ecstatic recall of what it was like to drink, making it harder to resist temptation.

  17. Dawn Anderson on August 14, 2010 at 7:50 am

    I’ve seen a lot of these “AA doesn’t work” articles in the past 10 years, but almost none of them mention Lifering, SOS, SMART, Women for Sobriety, etc. We need to get the word 0ut there!

  18. floonrege on August 14, 2010 at 2:14 am


    just registered and put on my todo list

    hopefully this is just what im looking for, looks like i have a lot to read.

  19. Donald T. Quinn on August 12, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    It’s about time this issue was brought up in a major media publication.
    The suppression of alternative ideas and methods regarding addiction treatment has gone on for long enough… It’s time to speak out.

  20. Dale K. on August 12, 2010 at 8:51 am

    For me, AA and other 12Step Programs have one strength: the presence of individuals most of whom are seeking recovery. I have a network of friends there that go back almost thirty years. I have learned in that time to take what I need and leave the rest. The biggest problem I have with their approach is the idea that I am powerless. That is simply not my experience. I also regret the frequently stated mantra that it is the “Only house on the block,” and that if I am unsuccessful there I have no chance of recovery.
    Stay joyous and free,