Monday, July 25, 2011

Amy Winehouse: Rabbi Raises Ugly AA Claims

The tragic death of Amy Winehouse has once made the Alcoholics Anonymous you-need-God myth raise its ugly head once again. It's like a monster that won't die.

You know the myth I'm talking about: the only way to recover from addiction is to turn yourself over to a "higher power." Unfortunately for addicts everywhere, study after study has shown that AA doesn't work, and actually hinders recovery for most people. (I've written about AA before; see Christian Shocker: God-Based AA Program Harms Alcoholics.)

Here's what Rabbi Shais Taub had to say over at Huffington Post:
"In a grim sort of way, the only "news" to me about Amy's death is the date. After all, what really could have stopped this from happening? The only time I have ever seen recovery in a case like Amy's is by an act of God. ... One of the axioms of recovery is that the addict is beyond human aide and that's why addicts need a "higher power" to live. You can call that hocus-pocus. I call it an everyday reality. There is no fact more real to me than the idea that no human power can stand up against the power of addiction."
Except for one thing: Rabbi Taub, you are wrong. Dead wrong. It is not an "axiom." It's a myth that's been perpetrated by religious people with good intentions who don't care about the truth.

The myth that addicts need a "higher power" to help them recover is factually false. The real truth is that there are many types of people and many approaches to addiction. The faith-based approach works for a minority of addicts. But for many addicts, it has the reverse effect: it convinces the addict that he's powerless, and thereby provides justification for ongoing substance abuse.

If you want to learn more about this, I recommend this detailed summary of studies, which contains dozens of links and references to original material. For those of you who want a quick summary, consider the study that was done in San Diego county a while back. The courts randomly assigned 301 people who had been arrested for public drunkenness to three groups: AA attendance, no treatment, and a professional alcholics medical treatment facility. Guess what?
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.
Got that? AA has a success rate of less than zero. It actually does more harm than good.

And here's another cop-out, one of those tricks that appears to guarantee that Rabbi Taub can't be mistaken:
Oh sure, there are people who "get in trouble with drugs" and then get scared straight. But addicts, real addicts, don't get scared away from addiction too long. Barring miracles, real addicts play for keeps.
This is the easy-out clause for AA supporters and Rabbi Taub. If someone manages to recover from addiction without God, then Rabbi Taub can claim they weren't a "real addict." A "real addict," according to Rabbi Taub, is one who can't recover without God's help! So anyone who tries to argue with Rabbi Taub is automatically wrong.

That's not fair. But more importantly, it completely skirts the facts. Every time anyone does a proper scientific study, it shows that AA's "higher power" approach actually does more harm than good. Addicts have a better chance of recovery if they don't attend AA.

The simple fact is that even hard-core addicts can recover, and the most successful method is when the addict takes personal responsibility for his own life. It's exactly the opposite of what faith-based programs like AA advocate.

And one final criticism for the good Rabbi (and millions of others): it's presumptuous of us to assume Amy Winehouse died of her addiction. A member of my family passed away very recently, and we went through the same thing. He was a recovered addict, and his erratic behavior in the last weeks and months of his life made us suspect he'd "fallen off the wagon" again, and possibly died from the drugs. But our faith (not in God, but in our loved one) was too weak. It turned out he died clean and sober. His erratic behavior was actually a symptom of just how sick he really was.

The cause of Amy Winehouse's death isn't known yet. The news stories of her last hours aren't consistent with a woman who overdosed on drugs. Have some respect. Don't jump to conclusions.


  1. I too tried to read the Rabbi's column and turned away at the utter smugness of it. I am grateful that the people of AA (many of them nonbelievers that soft-pedal their beliefs inside "the rooms") when I put down the drink many years ago. However, as much as I'd like to think that the AA magic is in the fellowship, the organization is built on Christian principles; for every person in the rooms who is willing to encourage each newcomer to have his own higher power, even if it is a "Group Of Drunks," there are many others who inject their own (clearly successful) life-long Christianity. Just as an aside, is there anything more irritating than religious people who assert that if I can't explain something like how it all began then that must mean that their god is responsible?

  2. Alcoholism as well as other substance abuse problems are often (but not always) linked with a genetic predisposition as well as other mental(really neurological) disorders/differences.

    I do not agree that addicts should be exhorted merely to "make up their minds" to beat their addictions. That is almost as ignorant as AA philosophy. One may as well ask an asthmatic to make up his mind to stop wheezing (without giving him the benefit of bronchodilators and/or information on avoidance of allergens).

    In any event social support/group therapy,perhaps the only helpful ingredient of AA is an essential supplement to every successful mode of treatment and it is this (small) benefit of AA meetings that helps obscure the other dehumanising, infantilising, superstitious and harmful aspects of AA>

    Would that we could call a halt to the officially sanctioned waste of precious resources - energy, funding, time - most especially the precious time on earth of those with addictions - on this failed treatment modality - and spend them instead on developing and pursuing other treatments.

  3. And while it is a pity about your family member, he obviously did not die sane. Ever hear of a "dry-drunk"? One does not have to be under the influence for the disease of addiction to affect them. It is a disease and the substance which is abused is merely a side-effect of the disease. Sounds like you need to do A LOT more research on addiction, dude. Good luck.

  4. Anon - You're saying a scientist has to be an alcoholic, or a schizophrenic, or manic-depressive, or a murderous psychopath, or else all of the science he does about those conditions is invalid? Get real. That's just dumb.

    The studies I cited about alcoholism INCLUDE studies that were done by and for AA. AA has known for decades that their own program is ineffective, based on studies that they commissioned!

    You're the one who needs to do research about addiction. I've lived with it, and I've studied it extensively. You've restricted your knowledge because the truth doesn't agree with your faith-based beliefs. Open your mind and follow the links I provided. And ... don't just take those articles as the end of the story. Look for scientific studies that support AA's position too. I'm sure there are some. Read it all, and draw your own conclusions. You may end up disagreeing with me, or you may find the science compelling and change your mind.

    You lose credibility when you try to claim that the careful scientific studies that have been done by reputable scientists are invalid because I'm not an alcoholic. That makes no sense at all.

  5. I have been in AA for a long time. This is farcical rubbish. Mindless drivel.

  6. Anon - "farcical rubbish"? You illustrate the main problem with AA. It's based on faith, not science. It works for you. It works for a minority of alcoholics. But it doesn't work for many or most. Those are facts. Why do so many AA members refuse to believe it?

  7. Shockingly a large segment of the mental health community continues to believe that AA is the solution for everyone. I know I got a lot of it shoved down my thought when I was treated for alcohol abuse and I found the entire higher-power bit offensive.

  8. Dear Craig: A number of years ago I was drinking too much and being introduced to the principals of AA help me tremendously. How? When I looked into the AA mumbo-jumbo about being helpless and having to rely on some higher power I concluded that the AA crowd were a pathetic bunch who at best traded one addiction (alcohol) for another (religious insanity). Then and there I cut down on my PBR and MD 20-20 intake, quit drinking Listerine altogether and took up smoking Crack in an effort to block from my mind the horrible images of grown men collectively groveling before hallucinated visions of an invisible soothsayer who they believed resided somewhere in the sky. Sadly theirs is an addiction which is not only incurable but is actually contagious—smoking Crack is in all likelihood a better option.

  9. Anonymous, I was in AA for ten years. I did get sober in AA, but I have also been sober for years without AA. People like yourself(pro AA) love to quote the literature, but the thing that never ceases to amaze me is the fact that the same people in turn contradict the literature. What do I mean by that? "Our book is meant to be SUGGESTIVE ONLY..." and yet people who know the literature inside and out(or claim to) they regularly sweep this neat little tidbit of info under the table. The other thing is that I denounced Christianity, and I became a Nichiren Buddhist. As a Nichiren Buddhist I am my own higher power. I was about to chant for 2 hours and quit smoking within the first 2 weeks of getting sober for a year and a half. There were Christians who had been sober 10 years and they still couldn't quit using tobacco. I said in a meeting one time that someday we will have a brain implant that well keep the desire to drink away. The book even says that science will most likely accomplish this one day. These so called big book thumpers attacked me for making such an outrageous claim. I directly attacked their AA mumbo jumbo. You can claim that AA is the only way all you want, in my experience Nichiren Buddhism is more effective. That is not my plug for Nichiren Buddhism, but my point is that other things do work whether a person like yourself wants to admit it or not.

  10. All the attacks and ego trips aside I MISS AMY WINEHOUSE......Peace Amy....

  11. AA is awesome, saved my damned existence. I guess Im one of those unlikely percentages? Im not harboring religious fanaticism either, go figure. People just love nay-saying, if you have destroyed yourself to a point, taking a few suggestions and following a few easy rules to keep you alive and content is easy. Very.

  12. Dear author, im sorry you believe this.

  13. Your link to the studies comes from a website notorious for misinformation; Are you searching for an honest appraisal or one which suits your agenda?
    There are multiple paths to sobriety today. That said, AA works for me and I see evidence at meetings that it works for others. That is not far fetched blind faith built on dogma and beliefs. If I actually do what was done successfully before me, I get the same success. The only statistic I can actually prove is that of my own experience. 4

  14. I am from London, I am so glad I have read this stuff and had constant doubts within the rooms. I am out and went in with a job, home and friends now i dont have the first, the second is imminent and the last is linked with the last two. At forty I went in and at 49 I came out with a worse drinking problem than when I went in - was told to hand it over and give time time and god wont give you you more than you can handle in one day. This was the most dangerous and misleading theory I based my decisions on, my gut instincts were overiden by this brainwashing shit and I am now trying to get a job at 50 and see the future in reality, reclaim my identity not I am xx. I am an alcoholic, but I am xxx an intelligent and employable woman that wants an employer to give me a chance to get back to normality and keep a roof over my head. AA is not individual based enough and agree with others on site, the ammends thing is totally the recipe of suicide for people that have been the victims of employee bullying or any other suffering that literally they played no part in.


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