Dangers of Alcoholics Anonymous

I’ve no doubt that Alcoholics Anonymous does a great deal of good in the world– I’ve seen it first-hand. This recovery path has worked for many people, and it is wonderful that these individuals have been able to break free of the miserable life of a drunk. The founder of AA, Bill W., is one of my heroes, and I would never try to discourage anyone from trying out the meetings. I do not personally subscribe to most of the tenets of this group, but I don’t have any interest in AA-bashing just for the sake it. I do think that it is important to talk about the more dangerous aspects of this program though, so that people who are experiencing difficulties with this group do not feel alone.

The Philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous Supports Addiction

The principles of Alcoholics Anonymous can be used to support addiction as well as recovery. I attended my first AA meeting at 18 years of age, and it came as a bit of a relief to find that I had this disease called alcoholism. It meant that for the next 17 years, I had the perfect excuse for my fuck-ups – of course I’m drinking, I’m an alcoholic. The philosophy of AA supported my behaviour because it was made clear to me that I needed to hit rock bottom before I’d be ready to quit. There were many times when I felt desperate to stop drinking, but I didn’t want to return to the meetings – AA members told me that this was a sign that I wasn’t really ready and that I should keep on drinking until I could fully accept the program. I now look back on this advice as not only bad but possibly even abusive.

The other way that this program supported my behaviour was by making relapse appear so natural. After all, I would always be just a recovering alcoholic, and the best I could hope for was staying sober one day at a time. At one point I managed to stay sober in AA for two years, but I never really felt free during this time – the old timers constantly reminded me that all I had was a daily reprieve that was dependent on my willingness to go to meetings and follow the program. I obediently went to a meeting almost every day for that two year period, but I still ended up back drinking. I didn’t feel too bad about my downfall though because I’d been told that alcoholism is a relapsing disease. It would be too cynical to claim that AA created the rehab revolving door syndrome, but it doesn’t seem to have done much to undermine it.

Alcoholics Anonymous is Oversold

The thing that worries me the most about the Alcoholics Anonymous program is that it is too heavily promoted. The members of this group can be very passionate, and the zeal by which they promote this approach can border on fanaticism. I was repeatedly told over the years that AA was my only hope of recovery, and there are still parts of the world where this is the only show in town. The success rate for this group is far from impressive (mind you, the same could be said for all addiction treatments), so to tout it as some type of miracle cure is disingenuous. It may be the best recovery approach for some people, but it is certainly not the best approach for everyone. It is horrible to feel ready to quit alcohol and to be told that AA is the only viable option, and to know that this option will not work for you. How may chances of recovery have been lost due to this shitty advice?


Alcoholics Anonymous, Circular Reasoning, and Group Think

Alcoholics can engage in a dangerous form of group think. There is this ‘us and them’ mentality, and members are encouraged to think of themselves as this special group with special problems. This feeling of having a unique set of problems can border on the ridiculous – I’ve heard people in Alcoholics Anonymous suffering from the common cold who talk as if they have some type of special alcoholic’s cold.

Those who follow the AA program can feel threatened by any type of criticism, and they sometimes seem more interested in defending AA than in helping alcoholics. I can’t remember ever meeting even one member of that group who was willing to suggest any other option than the meetings. This is all made to seem acceptable by using some fancy circular reasoning – if you are an alcoholic your only real hope is AA, but if you manage to get sober without AA you were never a real alcoholic to begin with.

Alcoholics Anonymous as a Refuge for Dangerous People

One of the nice things about Alcoholic’s Anonymous is that it is open to anyone. The downside of this is that there are plenty of dangerous people hanging around, and it is relatively easy for these individuals to gain positions of power over the vulnerable newcomer. It is expected that old timers are treated with respect but some of these guys are as fucked up as the people they are trying to help. Too many of them act as if they are on some type of power-trip, and there are even some of this guys who use their position to gain sexual favours from newcomers. The only requirement for AA membership is the desire to stop drinking, and the only requirement for winning respect in the meetings is the ability to say the right things.


Alcoholics Anonymous Does Work for Some People

Despite all of the dangers I’ve listed here, I still feel that this approach to recovery will work for at least some people. I’m glad that the meetings are there for those who need them. I think that AA suffers from problems that all large groups sharing a belief system end up having to deal with. Bill W. created the 12 traditions to help members avoid some of the most common pitfalls associated with this type of fellowship, but it is probably not possible to remove all the dangers.

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12 thoughts on “Dangers of Alcoholics Anonymous

  1. AA is one of the safest places I’ve ever known – I was scared of the shadows when I was still drinking.

    All open organisations will have different people in it and different opinions, I don’t recognise the AA you mention here. I was at the start concerned over some of the “old ways” but as I’ve stayed and grown in AA realised the reason much of this is jealously guarded is because over 70 years it has worked for so many people – so why fix what isn’t broken? Is I think the real sentiment for many beneath what you consider “group think”.

    1. Hi Furtheron, thanks for your comment. It sounds like you are happy with the AA program, and I know that there are many more like you. My reason for writing this post was to share my experiences with the group that were not always so positive. I’m not trying to talk anyone out of the AA program, or encourage them to fix anything, but I do think that it is important that those of us who had a different experience with AA have a voice too – not criticism for the sake of criticism but so that people who have had a different experience can feel less alone. The danger is that if only the positives of AA are promoted, it means that those of us who do not do well in the program end up thinking that there is something wrong with us.

      1. Paul

        I’m very lucky in any 24 hours I’m no more than 22 hours and 10 miles from a meeting – I’m lucky I live in a busy area with a lot of people and a lot of AA meetings.

        I like some meetings a lot and the people who go there, I relate to them so well… others… well I don’t click, the “Fall on your knees and pray” brigade I sometimes call them. That doesn’t work for me, it never will do.

        I think given you had limited opportunities for attending many meetings given your location that is a shame. As I say in my local area alone there are as many different meetings/groups etc.

        My advice to anyone wanting to not drink is to try AA – go to as many different meetings as you can if you are lucky you’ll find ones that work for you.

        1. Hi Furtheron, if AA works for you then it is nice for you have meetings nearby. I personally wouldn’t choose to use this group no matter how conveniently they were located – even if there was one on every corner. I spent a huge chunk of my life going to the meetings – including a two year period where I went to a meeting every day – but I never felt comfortable away from alcohol while using that program. Seven years ago I found a path that works for me, and it has led to a level of inner contentment and freedom that I never imagined existed. Sure, it is good advice to suggest that people might give AA a try, but it is less helpful to keep telling those who are uncomfortable with this approach to keep coming back – not that I’m suggesting that this is what you are doing here.

  2. Reading the entire post has been quite an enriching experience. Reading the comments also insightful, conflict of interest is what makes us humans so diverse. Each person is different and so is the tolerance of him to quit any habit. Any addiction can take a part of you and affects your lifestyle. At the end it is a personal choice to make a difference.
    Pam Sanders recently posted..How can I stop drinking on my own?

  3. Thankyou for writing this Paul.

    I must disagree with you on a few points Paul. I think that you do not nearly go far enough in the criticism of the AA faith and its profitable business arm, the recovery industry cartel.

    AA, particularly corporate AA, such as the rehabs, talking points from the GSO and AAWS, and all of the talking heads from Drew ‘Dr Death’ Pinsky to Dear Abby continue to promote the unearned admiration and undeserved credibility of the AA faith.

    Most people who convert to the AA faith do so because they are coerced. They are coerced with very real threats of incarceration, loss of parental custody, termination of employment, and we now even have credible reports of human organs being withheld by transplant teams for failing to convert to the cult religion.

    This also does not the very real dangers of having a huge criminal element (many there via court order) being allowed to operate under a cloak of anonymity.

    One must only recall the Petit murders in Connecticut where a physicians family was held hostage in their home, the wife forced to make bank withdrawals before the wife and children were raped, murdered and the house burned down by an AA sponsor/sponsee tag team.

    These are very dangerous people, and even though court ordering people has been deemed to be unconstitutional under the Inouye V Kenma ruling it is still happenin everyday, by creating a situation forcing others to ‘volunteer’ to convert to the AA faith.

    We have study after study, such as Brandsma, Valliant, and Ditman to show the real harm created by authoritatively counseling people they have a concocted ‘disease’ When this is combined with the 95% failure rate of AA, according to their OWN NUMBERS, we have the worst medical disaster in recent history.

    Please join our forum at the orange papers. http://www.orange-papers.org/forum

    Thanks, DeCon

  4. AA didnt work for me sorry also its got a very low success rate which put me off a bit 95% i think, like most recovery programs, good if it works for you but AA isnt for me sorry, the meetings were a bit like going to church or sunday school im not an AA basher it just didnt work for me

  5. I like you spent a large chunk of my life in AA. My mid thirties to early forties I was in AA and had the same success as you did. Two years sober, maybe six months, year and a half and would relapse for maybe a day or a couple days whatever. I no longer attend and drink moderately and feel much better about it. I still struggle with mental health issues but continue to go to a therapist and psychiatrist. I am sure you have heard the expression “Just another Bozo on the Bus”. I don’t want to ride the bus with a bunch of Bozo’s I want to be a better person and improve my life which I have done without the help of AA. AA destroyed my self confidence and made me think that I should just get retarded if I do drink because one is a thousand etc. I don’t hate AA and find that it does help people and probably helped me for a period of time. But it really needs to be looked at more deeply. But AA has the stronghold on Hollywood and film and is shoved down everyone’s throat. I think it needs to change.

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