Most people think Alcoholics Anonymous is a beneficial group that helps people recover from their their addiction to alcohol. It provides a safe, structured and open environment where people can discuss their problems and provide mutual support to stay clean, get better, and move on with their lives.
But in actuality, AA is the opposite: it is a society for people to remain sober temporarily and pretend to address their problems, while keeping open the possibility of relapsing and returning to drink and drugs at any time, which then gives them the freedom (or excuse) to do whatever they want.
Of course, these people say that AA works and is the only thing that helped them. What they don’t say is that they have relapsed many times while in AA, and they will probably relapse again. In fact: “No experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or TSF approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16856072
If you’ve been to an AA meeting, you may have gotten the feeling that you were not in good company. You may have had a bad feeling about certain people. Perhaps you went with a friend, and you thought the meeting was very interesting. You found the shares fascinating and you found yourself clapping after each. But you decide it’s not for you. Something about it seems creepy and manipulative. But you think, it’s good these people have this kind of meeting to go to. It helps keep them off the streets, and at least someone is watching them.
Your suspicion is correct. In fact, AA is a haven for liars, criminals, and sociopaths. These are people who enjoy drinking because it gives them an excuse to behave badly. For example, they enjoy getting into fights, making trouble, neglecting their family, abusing their wife or children, cheating and random hookups, etc. By going to AA, they can at least claim that they are trying to get help for their problem. Furthermore, because AA teaches that addiction is a disease, and requires that the member admit powerlessness, the attendee can claim that their behavior is not really their fault. And as they sit in the meeting, they can fantasize about what they plan to do the next time they are overpowered by the urge to drink.
AA is a school for scoundrels. It teaches people that it’s ok to spend your youth drinking and doing drugs and having fun, neglecting your family, commit crimes, and then get sober for a while to make it seem like you are trying to reform. Then, relapse and repeat the cycle when sober living gets boring. Just claim that you had an overpowering craving to drink again, and despite your best efforts, you just couldn’t stop yourself.
This behavior is modeled by the speakers who come to AA to tell the stories of their own addictions — as recounted in the section “Things We Heard at Meetings”. In most cases they are men and women who went to AA when they were young, but didn’t “get it” and they left. They continued on with their hedonistic lifestyle, drinking and drugging and partying for many years, and openly brag about the fun they had, even though it adversely affected their families, and put innocent people at risk through DUI. They didn’t come back to AA for good until generally middle age, often describing a feeling of being ‘done’. Whereas, the ones who come back at younger ages tend to have shorter sobrieties, since they are not done with their partying, and we are only seeing them between relapses.
For example, here is a Craigslist post by a late 30’s man who ‘sponsors’ many younger attendees and describes how they show a brief interest in the Big Book, and then cycle out of sobriety:
The fact that the core AA groups are composed mostly of middle age (and beyond) men and women proves this simple fact. There are no dedicated long term young attendees. (There are a few exceptions to this rule, but generally these people have various kinds of disabilities that make them unable to participate in a youthful way of life.) The reason is that young attendees either naturally moderate their drinking (as most people do), or they continue a cycle of relapse with binge drinking, followed by recovery/AA, repeating for many years.
Among women and gay groups, the dynamic is somewhat different. In this case, the reason for attending is mostly social. Gay men and single women may seek a social outlet to replace the bar scene, which is no longer fun as they’ve gotten older. AA is a great place to socialize and meet other people in the same boat, as well as bad boys and fixer-uppers, if that’s what you’re into. However, these people are generally not really alcoholics. They didn’t have serious problems with alcohol, and didn’t have a hard time quitting. In fact, for many it’s a relief not to have to spend money on booze, or to wake up every weekend morning with a hangover. The only problem is that these people must admit to being an alcoholic in order to be accepted in the group, and this unintentionally perpetuates the Myth of Addiction. They justify it to themselves by believing they are helping those with ‘real’ addictions.
Of course, there are many women and gay men who are truly scoundrels, and use AA as a platform for 13th stepping, and taking advantage of others. But there is a much lower level of criminality among these groups. And of course there are many straight men who started drinking to quash feelings of guilt, inadequacy, or financial stress. These men will leave once they can resolve these feelings. Those who can’t may stay a while. The web site AddictScience.com is a pseudoscientific explanation of addiction by Steve Castleman; it is a monument to the sublimation of feelings of shame and inadequacy caused by years of systematic emasculation by his power hungry wife.
The core philosophy of AA reinforces its self-serving, corrupt and hedonistic purpose: you are powerless over alcohol (step 1) and so you must turn your will to God (or Higher Power) to help you regain control over your life (steps 2 and 3). There should be no mistake: the solution to alcoholism is not addressing the core emotional problems that tend to cause excessive drinking, as we would naively believe. The solution to alcoholism is a spiritual belief. This is intended literally and much of the Big Book focuses on this very point, and emphasizes it in various ways. Yes there are steps that focus on evaluating your own life, but these are intended only for the purpose of being able to open yourself up to let in the Spirit.
Remember that we deal with alcohol-cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power-That One is God. May you find Him now! (Big Book, p. 58)
We trust infinite God rather than our finite selves. We are in the world to play the role He assigns. Just to the extent that we do as we think he would have us, and humbly rely on Him, does he enable us to match calamity with serenity. (Big Book, p. 68)
AA philosophy provides the member with carte blanche to do as he pleases, as long as he believes that God wants him to, or as long as he believes that he is under the control of an evil spirit (such as whiskey).
It is a travesty that our courts send impressionable young people into this environment to be indoctrinated into this way of life.
Bill Wilson, the creator of this brilliant scheme, is the prototypical alcoholic. He was an inveterate womanizer both before and after his sobriety. (For more information, see the section on the “Big Book” in the blog post: Why does every best seller on addiction turn out to be fake?)
AA perpetuates several myths to make the public believe that alcoholism is a disease that can strike anyone. The Big Book is full of stories of professionals – doctors, lawyers, engineers, CEOs — who are struck down in the prime of life with this debilitating disease for no apparent reason. But if you actually attend AA meetings, you discover no such thing. Most attendees have limited education and few work skills. Often AA’ers say they know of a doctor or professional in the group, but I haven’t seen any. Every once in a while a professional-type will come to a meeting. But they generally don’t stay around for long. Sleeve tattoos, nose piercings, and sun-seared cheeks are much more common. Nevertheless, the myth persists.
Alcoholism is a disease that strikes people who sometimes have difficulty telling the truth and have a history of getting into trouble. The reason is simple: alcoholism — the compulsion to drink — is a lie, a fantasy, a hoax, a fraud. Often people at AA will admit they’ve had a history of lying. If someone has a history of lying, then we shouldn’t automatically believe that they have a drinking compulsion just because they say they do. More likely, they drink because it’s fun and they enjoy making trouble or getting into it.
When sharing at meetings, they often describe the thought patterns of this ‘disease’ as if normal people would not have negative thoughts. But everyone struggles with pessimistic, cynical, and even sadistic thinking. It is not a disease, as long as you can acknowledge it and deal with it without hurting others.
There are also many people in AA who were brainwashed into believing it. Often these people are lonely and looking for a group to which to belong. If they have to admit to something that’s not true, then it’s a small price to pay. These people generally discover that there is not much of value in AA and leave after some time.
AA perpetuates the myth that drinking is compulsive. But in fact, listening carefully to the stories, this is never actually an issue. I have never heard anyone ever describe a situation when they didn’t want to drink but did so anyway. Instead, they may describe a situation where they decided to have “just one drink” and it spiraled out of control — drugs, sex, DUI, etc. etc. But what’s the deal with the first drink? They never mention any concern about it. In fact if anything they feel entitled to be able to enjoy just a drink, as any man would.
AA also perpetuates the myth that it works. One often hears the mantra, “AA was the only thing that ever worked for me.” And we are relieved, because otherwise what would we do with these people? But many of these people are still actively cycling through relapse and recovery, and the ones past middle age no longer have interest in drinking and instead prefer the social aspects of the group and the potential for 13th stepping an impressionable and vulnerable newcomer. Also, some are professional addictions counselors, so their livelihood is completely dependent on the belief in its effectiveness.
AA also provides speakers for schools, who teach the kids the lesson of the 12 Steps: don’t do drugs because you may find that you are powerless over them and they will take over your life. Most children will of course be cautious with drugs, but some will consider this as a career option. This is the goal: many of the speakers work at rehabs and sober living facilities that have every interest in maintaining a flow of new addicts.
All this may be hard to believe, but there is ample evidence that AA is no more effective at preventing excessive alcohol use than no treatment at all. The main evidence for its effectiveness is self-reported from addicts who are life-long liars to begin with. This is the key to understanding the value of AA: don’t listen to what the members say; watch what they actually do. We as a society are much too gullible, especially when we see a group of people who seem like they are genuinely trying to help each other.
Is there anything of value in AA? There are 2 main features for which we are tempted to forgive the group its faults: it teaches to make amends to people harmed by the addiction, and it encourages service to other addicts. However, overall it causes far more harm than it prevents, and making amends is simply a way to regain the trust of those affected — even if they’ve been let down many times before. AA emphasizes the importance of apologizing quickly instead of focusing on how to prevent it from happening again. Also, service work does make people feel needed, and this is important. But there are better ways to make people feel needed. Furthermore, service work in some cases is nothing more than trying to convince others that they are alcoholics in need of treatment.
AA provides a fellowship for lonely people, and this is very important. But it would be far better if it did not require that one admit one is powerless to join the group. This only sets one up for manipulation by others. For example, sponsors, who promise freedom from the newly diagnosed disease, have great power over naive inductees who are looking for someone with the answers to life’s questions.
AA provides people with an opportunity for self reflection and growth, and we think this is a good thing. But in fact, this is something we all do continually, whether we are in AA or not, and we are expected to do, and it is patronizing to think that some people need a specialized program to do this. In fact, it is just a cover for their transgressions, so that they can maintain a facade of righteousness.
AA is really just a school for scoundrels, with tentacles in many areas of our lives, the government, and our children’s education. More than any other organization, it promotes the Myth of Addiction — which harms innocent people at the expense of the selfish and sadistic, and squanders precious years and resources. The myth is a modern delusion that must be exposed and discarded.