Sobering Facts About AA’s Effectiveness

It’s surprising to note that, according to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) — a massive government study of 43,000 Americans’ lifetime alcohol and drug use, about 75 percent of people who recover from alcohol dependence do so without seeking any kind of help, such as specialty rehab programs and Alcoholics Anonymous. And only 13 percent of people with alcohol dependence ever receive specialty alcohol treatment. In spite of this, Alcoholics Anonymous and others have persuaded most Americans that alcoholism is a disease, no different from cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

Imagine a study finding that 75 percent of people with damaged hearts requiring open heart surgery received no treatment at all — and still recovered. Would you start to wonder if they really had a medical illness?

Or, imagine a study showing the 75 percent of people with cancer refused any form of treatment — but went on living healthy lives anyway. And furthermore, what if most of the people who left cancer treatment centers relapsed within days or months of their release? Would you start to think the cancer treatment centers were possibly rackets or shams?

The difference between alcoholism and a real disease is that real diseases require actual treatment in order for the person with the disease to recover. While receiving that treatment is no guarantee of recovery, that person will certainly remain ill and probably die without that treatment.

Yet with alcoholism, we have a situation where 75 percent of people quit on their own. In other words, 75 percent of people with the “disease” of alcoholism cure themselves. You’ll never find that sort of self-cure with real diseases.

One of my favorite sayings is, “Consider the source.” People who, almost religiously, advocate Alcoholics Anonymous and the disease model of alcoholism have a way of sounding sure of themselves. They’re really the only game in town. Nobody else, at least on any wide scale, has made any systematic attempt to explain alcoholism. The one with the biggest mouth sometimes wins, regardless of the content of what he or she is uttering. The prevalence of ideas spread by Alcoholics Anonymous and others that is completely contradicted by basic scientific findings shows how this ideology is not science, but something more like, well, yes … religion.

The NESARC study also revealed that these recovered alcoholics don’t, as a rule, abstain completely from alcohol. “Twenty years after the onset of alcohol dependence, three-fourths of individuals are in full recovery,” it notes. “More than half of those who have fully recovered drink moderately, at low-risk levels, without any symptoms of alcohol dependence.”

I have seen evidence of this many times. I recently wrote about this fact in one of my Life’s a Beach newspaper columns published online and weekly in two of my home state’s newspapers. Of course, several times in my article I warn that one must be careful and proceed with caution when trying to drink moderately. Much to my fascination, I received phone messages and emails saying things like, “How many thousands will now have to die because you’re telling alcoholics to start drinking again.” It was one of the most pious, yet almost hysterical displays of groundless self-righteousness (completely devoid of facts) that I’ve ever experienced. Those with big mouths for brains care little about facts and staggering statistics that contradict what their big mouths utter.

Proponents of AA are solely grounded in emotion. When the tenets of their faith are questioned, they replace reason with intimidation. Those who have nothing to back up their ideas other than faith and emotion have no choice but to resort to intimidation. But as long as reason and objective truth remain one’s standard, the intimidation will have no effect. They’re like children screaming for not getting their way. But truth prevails in reality.

That aside, as a general rule (and in line with what I warned in my column), if you have a terrible time handling alcohol – if for example you consistently find that one drink inevitably and always turns into five or ten – then I would definitely rcommend stopping and staying stopped. If any doubt exists, why not just stop? Abstinence has never harmed or killed anyone. But not everybody is the same, and we have to consider the finding that half of people who are no longer abusers of alcohol still drink moderately.

Long-time AA critic Stanton Peele, in an essay entitled “The Hijacking of Sobriety by the Recovery Movement” at, writes:

When I suggested to my AA friend Ken (not his real name) that [actress Elaine] Stritch shows one-time alcoholics can control their drinking, he objected strenuously. For Ken, “the fact that she has to limit herself to one drink a day proves she’s an alcoholic.” That’s right, drinking in a controlled manner proves you’re an uncontrolled drinker.

Ken says he’s “never known an alcoholic to resume drinking in a controlled manner.” Ken mainly knows ex-drinkers, like himself, who are in AA. But this group is a small percentage of recovered alcoholics, the large majority of whom never go to AA or enter rehab.

According to this mentality, you’re an alcoholic because AA says you are. But wait – medical and mental health professionals actually require real, objective evidence of sustained and impaired functioning in order for one to exhibit “substance abuse” or “substance dependence.” It’s not a precise quantitative measurement, but it’s nevertheless an objective standard or requirement.

AA basically defines alcoholism as … anything they say it is. For most staunch AA advocates, this means any drinking at all.

I’m reminded of a (former) friend who was once (and probably still is) a zealous member of AA. Interestingly, and according to mutual friends who had known him since his early 20s, this person never exhibited much of a drinking problem. It’s quite likely he joined AA to make friends and find a place to belong. He found a psychotherapist with whom he met weekly for years (probably still to this day) who also was a strong proponent of all things Twelve Steps. Once, at a party, this friend hesitated to eat some fudge when he learned there were a few drops of bourbon in it. I asked him if he didn’t care for the taste of fudge with bourbon in it. “It’s not that,” he disdainfully replied. “I can’t eat something with alcohol in it!” There it is in a nutshell: The AA ideology and attitude.

As Stanton Peele goes on to write in his article at, “For recovery absolutists, no one recovers from alcoholism without AA, just as no one can recover without giving up drinking forever. What arrogance! Who gave these self-appointed experts the power to tell everyone how they must achieve recovery?”

It’s a fair question, and though Peele means it rhetorically, there actually is an answer.

The two things that cause advocates of AA to be so righteous and arrogant are: (1) faith, reinforced by (2) group-think. Put another way: “I believe it, therefore it’s true; the people around me believe it, so that makes it even truer.”

If you want to know what’s responsible for most of the evil in the world on a large scale, it’s these two things: Faith, grounded in group-think.

The opposite of faith is reason. Reason employs logic, facts and consistency – i.e., adherence to reality. Reason is not automatically right and does not always lead to the right conclusion, but it’s self-correcting. Any error found via reason can ultimately be corrected by the same method – reason itself.

While it’s possible to have a group of rational, reasoning people, reason does not – by its nature – require groups for proof or validation. Human history is full of reasoning individuals who were provably right, but mocked, ignored or even tortured and murdered by the majority, including their peer groups.

Faith does not always imply religious belief. Communism was explicitly atheistic, and even outlawed the practice of religion. But it was grounded in a blind faith in the group or the collective, a ferocious group-think empowered by the government that smashed and terrorized all that got in its way.

Nazism was a religion of the dictator and the state. It was every bit as faith-based as the religious dictatorships we see in Islamic countries today.

Faith refers less to organized religion than to an arbitrary truth accepted as a primary axiom. In the case of AA, it’s the arbitrary truth that if you drink, you’re an alcoholic. While some AA advocates might deny this statement, their adherence to it is implied by their refusal to accept that anyone can drink a little once they’re established as an alcoholic, and that nobody can stop drinking without surrendering to the group dynamics and attitudes of AA.

Source: The Hijacking of Sobriety by the Recovery Movement, 3/22/14

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