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Twelve Things That Alcoholics Anonymous Doesn't Want You to Know

Kenneth Anderson, MA is the founder and CEO of The HAMS Harm Reduction Network and the author of a guidebook on harm reduction for alcohol.

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).