Alcoholics Anonymous has long been viewed as an important part of recovery for those struggling with alcohol abuse. Although the group is, as the name tells us, anonymous and therefore exact records on attendance aren’t kept, it’s estimated by the General Service Office (which keeps track of a master list of the number of groups themselves) that there are 120,300 groups and 2,087,840 members worldwide. Still, some people believe that A.A., and 12-step groups in general, are ineffective and outdated.
An article was published in a 2015 edition of the Atlantic called “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous.” The author describes the experience of a man referred to as J.G., who began drinking at age 15. He tried going cold turkey off and on through the years, and eventually checked himself into a treatment facility. The facility, according to J.G., did little more than allow its clients to attend A.A. meetings. Being an atheist, he was unsure about the program, but eventually gave in to pressure to join the meetings. He claimed that A.A.’s focus on abstinence, far from helping him recover, put him on a path of a constant back and forth between abstinence and binging.
The Big Book, which is described as the Bible of A.A., tells us that “Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.” According to J.G., the program tells people like himself that they are failures, that there is something fundamentally wrong with them.
The author of the Atlantic article suggests other methods of recovery from alcoholism, such as prescription medication, therapy, and learning to drink in moderation.
A rebuttal was published in Psychology Today, wherein the author, who is also a therapist, argued that the Atlantic piece was needlessly biasing people against A.A. She pointed to the fact that J.G. struggled with anxiety issues, which A.A. is not intended to treat. She also referenced a 2014 research article from the journal of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research titled “Estimating the Efficacy of Alcoholics Anonymous without Self-Selection Bias: An Instrumental Variables Re-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials,” in which researchers concluded that increased A.A. attendance leads to a decrease in alcohol consumption that can’t be achieved alone.
One reason that A.A. might be less effective for some people is that it has to be integrated into a mental health treatment plan. As with the case of J.G., perhaps if he had been receiving co-occurring treatment for his anxiety, he might have had a better outcome. It’s also true that the religious aspect is insurmountable for some people, but secular alternatives do exist, like the aptly named Secular Alcoholics Anonymous.
If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.