Twelve Things That Alcoholics Anonymous Doesn't Want You to Know
1. People Are Just as Likely to Quit Drinking on Their Own as With a 12-Step Program Like AA
There have been exactly four scientific, controlled studies of the effectiveness of AA or 12-step treatment: Ditman (1967), Brandsma (1980), Vaillant (1995), and NLAES. The Ditman (1967) study compared drunk drivers who were court-ordered to attend AA with a control group of drunk drivers who were given no treatment at all.
There were no significant differences between the two groups in terms of re-arrest rate or any other variable studied. Brandsma (1980) compared the effect of 12-step inpatient treatment with psychotherapeutic treatments and an untreated control group. Because two-thirds of the patients in the 12-step group dropped out of treatment, it was impossible to compare this group in a meaningful fashion with the other groups.
Only one-third of the other groups dropped out. Vaillant (1995) did an 8-year follow-up study of 12-step-treated and untreated alcoholics and found no significant difference between the two groups—both the treated and the untreated groups had improved just as much.
And the NLAES (The National Longitudinal Alcoholism Epidemiological Survey)—a giant study conducted by the US government—actually found better outcomes among alcoholics who had never been treated than those who had undergone 12-step treatment (Peele, 2000).
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is About Twice as Successful as 12-Step Programs at Helping People to Quit Drinking.
As mentioned above, two-thirds of patients assigned to 12-step therapy dropped out of the Brandsma (1980) study. Only one-third of those assigned to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy, or the control group dropped out.
Those treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and those treated with Psychodynamic Therapy both did significantly better than the control group at improving their drinking—and the retention rate was twice as good as the 12-step group.
3. Calling Yourself an "Alcoholic" Is Harmful to Your Mental Health.
David Burns MD, a pioneer of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, tells us that labeling ourselves is bad for our mental health. An example of this sort of labeling is when you identify with your shortcomings. Instead of saying "I made a mistake" you tell yourself "I'm a nerd" or "a loser".
AA asks you to label yourself an "alcoholic" in order to disempower you as an individual and to empower the AA group instead. This is a classic tactic used by religious cults. Rather than label yourself an "alcoholic," it is much healthier to say that you are a strong and empowered person who does not need to drink.
4. AA Is a Religion by Definition.
AA often claims that it is "spiritual, not religious," however, AA has a divinely-inspired holy book (the Big Book), a congregation (AA members), and inviolable dogmas based on divine revelation but not supported by scientific evidence. AA meets all the criteria for defining a religion.
Moreover, 3 federal district courts have ruled that coerced participation in AA is a violation of the first amendment of the constitution because AA is a religion. These are: The Ninth Federal District Court (MT, ID, WA, OR, NV, CA, AZ, HI, AK, Inouye v. Kemna, No. 06-15474; Docket No. CV-04-00026-DAE), The Second Federal District Court (NY, VT, CT, Warner v. Orange County Department of Probation, Docket No. 95-7055), and The Seventh Federal District Court (WI, IN, IL, Kerr v. Farrey, No. 95-1843).
In point of fact, AA is a Calvinistic religion which teaches predestination. This is evident from the following AA slogans: "There are no coincidences in God's perfect world" and "No one walks into an AA meeting by accident." Moreover, AA believes in a God that created the 100% fatal disease of alcoholism and let everyone die from it until He decided to give the cure to Bill W. in 1935. This is not my kind of God.
5. Over 10 Billion Dollars Per Year Is Spent Promoting AA.
12-step treatment programs were invented by AA members for the purpose of promoting AA to a captive audience. The world's first 12-step treatment program was created in Ohio in 1940 through the collaboration of AA co-founder Dr. Bob Smith and a Catholic nun named Sister Ignatia at St Thomas Hospital (Darrah, 2001).
Shortly thereafter, several AA members got together in Minnesota to found Hazelden treatment center in Minnesota (McElrath, 1987). Ninety-five percent of hospitals and treatment centers in the US use the 12-steps not because the 12 steps are effective at treating drinking problems, but rather because AA has been highly effective at doing PR to promote AA. AA member Marty Mann founded the National Council on Alcoholism in 1944 for the sole purpose of doing PR for AA; she was eventually fronted millions of dollars by AA member Brinkley Smithers for this purpose (Peele 1997).
According to Stanton Peele (1989) over ten billion dollars a year alone is spent on 12-step treatment programs in the US. Twelve-step treatment programs don't cure drunks but they do promote AA. This is not to mention the money spent by the National Council on Alcoholism and the fact that every TV show you see these days has an AA character in it. This is clearly a program of "promotion, not attraction."
6. Project MATCH Did Not Study AA.
Although the US government spent 35 million dollars on Project MATCH in an attempt to prove the effectiveness of AA, neither AA nor typical 12-step treatment programs were studied. Project MATCH invented something called Twelve Step Facilitation Therapy which involved one-on-one sessions with a professionally trained counselor and studied this instead of the AA or typically available forms of 12-step group therapy which had already been proved ineffective by the studies of Brandsma (1980) and Ditman (1967).
Twelve Step Facilitation Therapy proved about as effective as Cognitive Behavioral Group Therapy--it is just far more expensive and unavailable at any treatment center that I am aware of. All twelve-step treatment centers that I am aware of use ineffective 12-step group therapy. Since treatment centers have no accountability if their clients die of drugs or alcohol after discharge, there is no financial motivation to use an effective form of therapy. 12-step treatment centers use the cheapest and least effective therapies possible in order to maximize the profit per client.
7. Many "Alcoholics" Eventually Become Moderate Drinkers.
According to Vaillant's (1995) study, about one-third of untreated alcoholics become moderate drinkers and about one-sixth of treated alcoholics become moderate drinkers:
8. There Is No Meaningful Definition of the Word "Alcoholic."
Science has abandoned the word "alcoholism." Today, the correct terms are Alcohol Dependence and Alcohol Abuse—which are two distinct and separate psychological conditions.
9. AA Has Not Been Updated Since Its Inception in 1935.
Science has discovered a million facts about alcohol problems since 1935, but AA's Big Book and its program remain unchanged. Would you wanted be treated by a doctor who used a 1935 textbook?
10. AA Founder Bill W. Demanded Whiskey on His Deathbed.
According to Susan Cheever's biography, Bill W. demanded whiskey on his deathbed and threatened to punch his nurse in the nose if she did not bring it to him.
11. AA Claims That It Is God.
AA slogans like "Make AA your higher power" and "G O D stands for Group Of Drunks" are frightening. They are even more frightening when you look at Step Three: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him" and Step Eleven: "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out."
This is all about disempowering the individual in order to empower the group—the hallmark of a cult. Stop and ask yourself, "Did AA create the heavens and the earth?" AA is not God, no matter what it claims.
12. You Can't "Take What You Like and Leave the Rest" in AA.
When you go to your first meeting you will hear that the steps are "merely suggestions" and that you can "take what you like and leave the rest." But once you have been sucked in by declaring that you are powerless and decided to rely on AA as your higher power and the rest, you will soon hear that "This is like suggesting that you put on a parachute before you jump out of a plane." You will also hear what Bill W. wrote in the 12 by 12, "Unless each A.A. member follows to the best of his ability our suggested Twelve Steps to recovery, he almost certainly signs his own death warrant." Nothing in AA is optional.
If you like AA and find that it helps you, then fine, more power to you, keep on going. But if you don't find AA helpful, or if you find it to be harmful, then don't let anyone try to coerce you into going. There are better ways to deal with alcohol problems that have a better proven success rate. Hook up with a cognitive program like SMART if you want to quit, or use a harm reduction program like HAMS if quitting is not your goal. For full disclosure, the author of this article is the CEO and and founder of the HAMS Harm Reduction Network and the author of the book below.
- Brandsma, J.M., Maultsby, M.C., & Welsh, R.J.. (1980). Outpatient treatment of alcoholism: A review and comparative study. Baltimore: University Park Press.
- Burns D. (1999).The Feeling Good Handbook. Plume.
- Cheever S. (2004). My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson--His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. Simon & Schuster.
- Darrah M. (2001).Sister Ignatia - Second Edition: Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous. Hazelden Publishing.
- Dawson, D. A. (1996). Correlates of past-year status among treated and untreated persons with former alcohol dependence: United States, 1992. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
- Ditman, K.S., Crawford, G.C., Forgy, E.W., Moskowitz, H., & MacAndrew, C. (1967). A controlled experiment on the use of court probation for drunk arrests. American Journal of Psychiatry, 124(2), 160-3.
- McElrath D. (1987). Hazelden: A Spiritual Odyssey. Hazelden.
- Peele S, Bufe C, Brodsky A. (2000). Resisting 12-Step Coercion: How to Fight Forced Participation in AA, NA, or 12-Step Treatment. See Sharp Press, Tucson, AZ.
- Peele S. (1989) .Diseasing of America: How We Allowed Recovery Zealots and the Treatment Industry to Convince Us We Are Out of Control. Lexington/Jossey-Bass.
- Peele S. (1997). R. Brinkley Smithers: The Financier of the Modern Alcoholism Movement
- Project MATCH Research Group. (1997). Matching alcoholism treatments to client heterogeneity: Project MATCH posttreatment drinking outcomes. Journal of Studies on Alcohol.
- Stinson, F.S., Yi, H., Grant, B.F., Chou, P., Dawson, D.A., & Pickering, R. (1998). Drinking in the United States: Main findings from the 1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey (NLAES). Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
- Vaillant, G.E. (1995). The natural history of alcoholism revisited. Cambridge, MA: HarvardUniversity Press.
- Wilson, W. (1939, 1976). Alcoholics Anonymous. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services.
- Wilson, W. (1953). Twelve steps and twelve traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services.
How to Change Your Drinking
Audio: Addiction Treatments That Work
- Addiction Treatments That Work
This is a series of interviews with experts in the addictions field with a focus on evidence-based cutting-edge approaches to substance abuse problems such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, pharmacotherapy, harm reduction, and many many more.
Alternatives to AA
- HAMS--Alcohol Harm Reduction Support
The HAMS Harm Reduction Network provides information and support for people who wish to reduce the harm in their lives cause by the use of alcohol or drugs. HAMS neither encourages nor condemns alcohol use or alcohol intoxication.
- SMART Recovery | Self Help for Alcoholism & Addiction
SMART Recovery helps people recover from all types of addictive behaviors including alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling addiction, food addiction, alcohol abuse and substance abuse.
- Welcome to Women For Sobriety, Inc.
Women For Sobriety, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women overcome alcoholism and other addictions. It is, in fact, the first national self-help program for women alcoholics.
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)
Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) is a nonprofit network of autonomous, non-professional local groups, dedicated solely to helping individuals achieve and maintain sobriety/abstinence from alcohol and drug addiction, food addiction and more.
- LifeRing Secular Recover
LifeRing Secular Recovery is an abstinence-based, worldwide network of individuals seeking to live in recovery from addiction to alcohol or to other non-medically indicated drugs.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.