I was quite frankly shocked when I heard this. While I'm not religious, I have always admired AA members for their dedication and selfless efforts to help one another. I've had close friends and family members who were alcoholics, and wished they could find the strength to acknowledge their disease and go to AA for help.
But no more. After reading this damning article, which refers to dozens of scientific studies including several sponsored by AA board members and advocates, I now see AA for what it is: another faith-based folly that continues because of faith, not reason. In study after study, scientists, sociologists and doctors find that AA is worse that getting no help at all.
And it's pretty clear why. Look at the first three of the famous twelve steps:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Here is just one of the examples cited by "A. Orange" in Effectiveness of the Twelve Step Program. In San Diego County, 301 people arrested for public drunkenness were randomly assigned by the courts to one of three programs:
- Control group that got no treatment
- Sent to a professional alcoholism medical clinic
- Sent to Alcoholics Anonymous
In every category, the people who got no treatment at all fared better than the people who got A.A. "treatment". Based on the records of re-arrests, only 31% of the A.A.-treated clients were deemed successful, while 44% of the "untreated" clients were successful. Clearly, Alcoholics Anonymous "treatment" had a detrimental effect. That means that A.A. had a success rate of less than zero. Not only was A.A.-based treatment a waste of time and money; A.A. was actually making it harder for people to get sober and stay sober.That's shocking enough, isn't it? But what's even worse in my eyes is that the people who run AA have known this for years. It's another example where faith trumps reason. AA has turned into a religion, and people keep believing in spite of clear, compelling evidence that AA doesn't work, that it actually harms people and delays their possible recovery.
One of my biggest criticisms of Christianity and religion in general is that it takes away personal responsibility for our accomplishments and takes away blame for our failures. You're not good enough, you're a sinner, you're a bad person. It's a lesson that is drilled into Christians from an early age.
And when someone with the terrible disease of alcoholism comes to AA this message is reinforced: You're a failure. And not surprisingly the alcoholics agree and continue to fail.
But lest anyone think I condemn everything about AA, I don't. The one aspect of their program that I believe is exceptional is that of the "buddy system" where new members are assigned a sponsor to help them in time of need – someone to talk to, someone to be a friend, provide encouragement, share stories, and help them when they have trouble. I believe that whatever successes AA can claim are due the the dedication and tireless efforts of the volunteer sponsors. That is a life-affirming, positive way to help someone in the grips of alcohol or drugs. Many addicts have no social support, no family and no friends. A sponsor can make all the difference in the world. Sponsors, all of whom are former addicts themselves, work selflessly and tirelessly, often for years or decades providing that helping hand and support that helps addicts get and stay on the path to recovery.
Update: I forgot to mention: Thanks to Eric Hass who made a comment in this blog that made me look into this issue.