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Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.
Essays and Blogs Concerning Mental and Emotional Health

Concerning Problems Within AA

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: May 7th 2007

cocktail umbrella tilted on its sideIt's time for a follow-up on my AA is a Cult? Essay of about a year ago. Two reasons for this. First, Newsweek recently published a three page article profiling an AA group in the Washington DC area which has been accused of cult-like and abusive behavior. And of course, as AA is by design an open organization at the ground level, there are not really mechanisms in place to keep predatory sorts of folks from joining and then manipulating the organization. Some words on how to identify and avoid predatory behaviors and characteristics are perhaps in order. Second, because the comments on my original AA article keep on coming, and there are distinct patterns emerging therein which are worth commenting on.

The Newsweek article first. The article concerns meetings held at Midtown, which is represented as one of the oldest and largest meetings in the DC area. According to Newsweek, Midtown members pressured a recent attendee, a young woman named "May", to cut off ties with anyone outside the group, to stop taking doctor-prescribed medications for her bipolar disorder, and to date and become sexually involved with other group members. Apparently, newer group members were also pressured to do chores for more established group members, as though they were pledging for a fraternity. There are other accusations as well, but these listed here capture the tone of the complaints.

Some of these behaviors, such as encouraging members to go off prescribed medications, become sexually involved with other members, and do chores for other members seem simply abusive, controlling and arrogant. They are against established AA guidelines as I understand them. Other behaviors such as the group's efforts to socially isolate members may have started out with good intentions. Some social control can be a good thing when dealing with addictions. Addicts build up habit chains, which are series of linked behaviors that lead them down a path towards becoming intoxicated. For instance, seeing a friend with whom you used to drink can set off a chain of behaviors which culminates in you drinking again. The best way to cope with these sorts of habit chains is to avoid getting them triggered. It makes sense, therefore, for newly recovering alcoholics to avoid the people, places and things associated with their drinking habits which get the habit chains started. It similarly makes sense for an organization designed to promote sobriety to encourage newly sober members to avoid those triggering people, places and things as well. There is a line that can be crossed into abuse here as well. You can certainly attempt to control people too much. However, the bar is higher for calling this sort of social control abusive than for some of the other behaviors Midtown is accused of perpetrating.

A little more on the social control complaint. A frequent criticism of AA groups is that members are not allowed to grow out of AA. In the case of the Midtown group, a member alleges that when she tried to leave her sponsor told her that she would die without the group to support her. There may be some merit to this behavior too, despite its seemingly sinister bent. Alcoholics are typically psychologically vulnerable in early recovery. Their minds and behaviors have been compromised by those addictive habit chains I spoke of earlier. Their judgment is typically crappy by which I mean that they may believe that they can go out with their old drinking friends, go to the bar, etc. and not end up drinking. It is as though they believe they are immune to their entrenched habits if they want to be. People who are more experienced with overcoming negative habits know better and do what they can to avoid triggering their habits in the first place. Understood in this light, a sponsor getting angry with a sponsee who wants to leave what seems to be shelter for a return to old habits makes sense. It is a helpless feeling watching someone who seems determined to hurt themselves and will not listen to warnings.

To take the other side of this argument for a moment, I have long been troubled by the idea that AA doesn't seem to provide a clear path for maturing out of the group for those people who over time cease to require it anymore. Or if there is such a path, it is not widely discussed. I have seen people whose entire social lives revolve around AA decades after their initial involvement and last drink and I have to wonder (from my non-addicted point of view) if that is necessary or entirely healthy. I don't question that there are people out there who will continue to need the constant support of AA for the rest of their lives. I don't question that people who have become addicted will remain vulnerable for the rest of their lives. I also don't question that it is a good idea for addicted people to remain sober for the rest of their lives. Better safe than sorry is a good policy. However, I also know that there is a larger world than AA out there, and it seems like it would be a good idea for experienced and long-time-sober AA members to expand their social horizons outside AA, even as it is also a good idea to keep their connection to AA alive.

I've said this before and it bears repeating. AA is not necessarily the best available treatment for alcoholism, and it is certainly not the only one. I'm partial to the scientifically derived treatments myself. Relapse prevention and motivational interviewing approaches are what I'm most comfortable promoting. However, these sorts of interventions are administered by professionals and cost a lot of money to obtain. They cannot be frequently administered to large amounts of people, or at least people cannot typically afford them in any frequent format. Also these scientifically derived interventions don't do a very good job of providing available sober social support; a sort of support that is absolutely critical for early recovery to progress in most cases. AA provides frequently available social support and promotes sobriety every night and every morning and in many places at lunchtime too. AA is free. AA helps people who are open to its message. AA makes an excellent adjunctive treatment for those who can afford to take advantage of the scientifically derived therapies. It is what is available to those who cannot afford those therapies.

There is a baby in with the bathwater, is what I've been saying, and what many people who have commented on the AA essays have been saying too. There are really some treasures within AA if you can get to them. In order to get to them you have to find a good AA group in the first place (which is not guaranteed to be available to you, apparently (but what in life is?), and you also have to be open to the idea that your judgment is faulty; that you need to submit yourself to a "higher" judgment; the judgment of people who have struggled with alcoholism and learned how to live sober.

The thing is, even though an alcoholics' judgment is generally crappy, they still need to keep their wits about them. They still need to be making judgments about the motives of the people in the AA group they're attached to. They need to be satisfying themselves that they are in a group of people who are not trying to take advantage of them but rather who are trying to do something altruistic (and self-preservative too). Both con artist and saint will need to be giving explicit and somewhat controlling directions to the newly recovering alcoholic, and because it is hard to take directions; because there is generally so much pride at stake, these two efforts to control may appear to be indistinguishable. Nevertheless, it is important for the newly recovering alcoholic to be able to reject the one and embrace the other. This is one of the harder things to do in AA, I suspect.

For what they are worth, here are some pointers for what to avoid in a support group and in AA. Stay away from groups that encourage you to:


  • Avoid your friends and family (unless there is a clear and logical rational for why you should avoid your friends and family (e.g., there is concrete evidence that they will undermine your sobriety or mental health). When this is the case (and it really is the case sometimes), it is reasonable that the avoidance should be temporary rather than permanent and something that can be attempted again in the future if that becomes a reasonable thing to do.

  • Discourage engaging in leisure or daily activities that don't involve group members. It's okay if alcoholic or drug-involved activities are discouraged, but that is where the line should be drawn.

  • Discourage using other forms of treatment besides the group. Any group member that tells you to not take prescribed medication should not be listened to. Any group member who tells you to not attend psychotherapy should not be listened to.

  • Rely on group decision making processes for making your important decisions. There will be times when it will be wisest to delegate decisions to others (e.g., when you are intoxicated, when you are in very early recovery and you can't seem to keep yourself sober), but such delegation should always be done on a temporary basis, and it should be limited in scope. Allow the group to help you troubleshoot difficult situations (e.g., what do I do when I go to the office party and everyone else is drinking!). Allow a more experienced person to help you find a sponsor. Do not allow a more experienced person to tell you to stay with a sponsor you know to be abusive. Do not give your life savings to a support group. Do not let the group dictate who you must date or become sexual with, etc. On the other hand, it is a good idea to follow the general AA rule to not date during the first year of sobriety. It can be tricky figuring this out.

  • Take up an us/them mentality. Your membership in the support group should not become your only and sole identity, or if it must (because otherwise you know you will drink), then let that be only on a temporary basis, until you've built up the coping skills necessary to have outside relationships. In other words, support and understanding within the group is good. Suggesting that no one else outside the group will ever understand or care about you is not.

A variety of people have shared their experience with AA and there is an interesting pattern than has emerged. The positive comments are not unrelentingly positive. However, the negative comments are very and unrelentingly negative. What I mean by this is that most people who've written in defense of AA say something to the effect that AA helped them but they recognize that there are some difficulties with the organization. They promote and support AA very much but do not pretend that it is not a human institution with human problems. You might think that those saying negative things about AA would have a little something positive to say, but by and large they don't. Our negative comments are very polarized; very black and white. Very absolutist in nature. The positive comments are a lot less demanding too. They offer an opinion and an experience and do not pretend that they have the whole picture. On the other hand, some of the negative comments demand that any mention of the positive be removed. They actively try to shame. Here are some examples of comments by way of an illustration.

Here is a positive one:

As an M.D., Ph.D. and AA member, I see that AA has a lot of glaring problems. First and foremost, AA presents addiction and alcoholism as a spiritual defect. This notion is absurd. Is any disease related to a spiritual defect? If I have high blood pressure, is it due to a spiritual defect? The answer is NO!! In this regard AA must move into the year 2007. With the vast amount of solid medical evidence and research, the causes of addiction are now understood better than ever. Treatments are improving and new medications are on the horizon that promise to dramatically improve recovery rates from this disease/disorder.

I am honestly disgusted when AA members fail to recognize that change is needed. They fail to see that program fails for 95% of the people that come in the doors of the program. They DENY that anything may be wrong with the program at all. If a person fails to say sober, the contention is that they were not spiritually fit, or they didn't want help bad enough, or they didn't hit rock bottom. This is a load of crap. People relapse because addiction is a nuero-biochemical brain disease, end of subject.

I realize that AA was formed when little was known about addiction so the God concept worked for Bill & Dr. Bob. Hell, it was once widely believed that the black plague was due to spiritual defects and sin; however, as we now know, the plague was simply a disease caused by bacteria. Again, I implore AA to grow up and live in the present.(2007)

Why do I remain in AA? The answer is simple, the people. I have met some absolutely wonderful and amazing people in the program who love to help others. Sure I have met a lot of egotistical cult members, but I cannot abandon the people who come into the program because they have no where else to go. Believe me, not all AAs are wacko occultists. Many are just like me in that they suffer from addiction and want to be around others that understand their plight.

Here is a negative one:

Read and heed sir. AA is, in fact, a haven for socio paths. And, you know it. I know that you know it. Full stop.

Your credibility is at stake, sir. As is, your honor.

The world is watching: when will you end your referrals to AA?


either the editors can legitimately dispute rays' arguments or they can't. the "your mileage may vary" comment manages to sarcastically skirt the issue while also being downright unhelpful.

there are plenty of problematic things about AA's methods (as both a program and an organization), and its efficacy as a manner for treating alcoholism is debatable at best. there are no shortage of articles and comments on this website that speak poignantly and directly to those very issues.

i think the general consensus is that alcoholism (in the united states, at least) is a public health concern. starting from that premise, then, it's the only public health concern i know of where the most identifiable and widely applied approach to treatment is the prescription of a "spiritual solution". on its face, that is just absurd.

ray uses the statistical numbers rightly to show that a lot of very needy people walk away from the AA prescription (however dubiously it may be "suggested") in large numbers often disgusted and despondent. because the AA brand has so permeated the public consciousness -- thanks largely to an intellectually incurious (or, worse, 12 step adhering) therapeutic community -- those people who walk away are left to find solutions on their own or, all too often, to return to self-destructive behaviors.

characterizing that kind of failure at the organizational level (and there's no other way to characterize it -- if AA's primary purpose is "to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety" the numbers suggest that it is not getting the job done) as an individual experience of 'varying mileage' is as smarmy and despicable as the hot air one might get from any other used car salesman.

you ought to be ashamed to have even thought about posting it as a response.

I don't doubt that there are reasons and personally terrible experiences behind such unrelentingly negative comments. I suspect that these are people who have been hurt in some fashion by AA members and who are trying to warn others to avoid that fate. And to the extent that there are sociopaths and the like at meetings taking advantage of people, that warning is useful and appreciated. I can't help thinking, however, that such an unrelentingly negative message - one so at odds with the AA I know through personal acquaintances and through the more positive comments made – is negatively biased and overgeneralized in its fundamental assumptions. There is a truth there at the bottom of it, I know, but they've magnified that truth until it becomes their whole world, and it now obscures their vision of the other more positive elements AA has to offer.

There is a psychodynamic defense mechanism known as splitting, which is often seen to occur in borderline personality disordered individuals and other dramatic-erratic personality disordered individuals. Splitting occurs when individuals fail to be able to integrate opposed points of view and instead pick a single point of view and deny the other's existence. In other words, when someone cannot bear to think of something as having both positive and negative qualities, that person may simply deny that there are negative qualities, or that there are positive qualities present. For instance, a child abuse victim may report that he deserves the treatment that daddy dishes out to him and that daddy is a great man. He does this because it is vital to him that daddy love him and in the interest of keeping this love alive the negatives of being beaten are overlooked. As another example, a woman who has caught her man looking at internet porn may feel as though he is an absolutely negative being with no redeeming qualities, even though she did not feel this way prior to her discovery. Splitting is considered to be a "primitive" defense mechanism, mostly because in its operation it takes the individual who is doing the splitting away from a shared vision of reality into a more private and skewed one. As I look at the negative comments I'm getting regarding my relatively positive position towards AA, I can't help but see splitting in action. I know I'll get flack for pointing this out (it will likely come across like a judgment rather than a description), but it is useful to know the state of mind that some of the critics are coming from. It's not that their concerns are unfounded. Rather, its that they are not seeing the whole picture very well.

"Caveat Emptor" is the old Latin phrase we're all familiar with meaning, "Let the buyer beware". AA is a positive force for sobriety around the world, but it is not without its problems. People seeking to become sober should avail themselves of a range of treatment options including rehabs, relapse prevention and motivational interviewing approaches and related therapies as well as AA to the extent that these can be afforded and accessed. AA should be used for the good it can provide. There is much wisdom therein. At the same time, people should not abandon their street smarts upon entering AA. They should be careful to avoid the more abusively controlling and immature sorts of members and rather associate themselves with those other members who are working towards a more straightforward and sincere recovery. Not an easy task, I know. One that becomes harder if you allow yourself to become isolated and unable to check in with other people about the validity of your perception. So, to the extent that you can avoid it, don't allow that to happen. Listen to your gut and check your perceptions with others who care about you. Do what you can do to not be taken advantage of. At the same time, don't be so paranoid that you fail to take advantage of what help is available.

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. was Director of Mental Help Net from 1999 to 2011. Presently, he is an Oakland Psychologist (Lic#PSY25695) in private practice offering evidence-based acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and addressing a range of life problems. Contact Dr. Dombeck by calling 510-900-5123, send Dr. Dombeck email or visit Dr. Dombeck's practice website for more information.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Rumor and Gossip in AA - - Mar 24th 2021

Unfortunately I`ve been the brunt of rumor and gossip in a maslicious manner. I really don`t need grade school cafeteria in my program. I have gone to meeting away from my usual area but why should I need to? I really don`t need a resentment when I go to a meeting. It seems most meetings I`ve attended have a high school type clic mentality. They proclaim welcoming people with open arms until they decide wether you worthy after they take your inventory.


- Hannah - Oct 17th 2020

I hate it when people say something deliberately provocative, then say "ugh, I guess I'll get flak for this."

Yes, you will, because you just demonstrated exactly why people like me are wary and frightened of A.A. You just suggested that disliking a religious, pseudoscientific support group with serious issues around sexual abuse was a sign of having borderline personality disorder.

This is doubly insulting, as many psych professionals are now positing that so called BPD is actually just a misogynistic term for women with PTSD who are 'difficult' patients.

Loved This - Thoughtful - Jan 7th 2020

This is definitely my experience. It was so helpful at first but I find the healthiest people tend to eventually drift away. There is so much codependency in the room. Some people seem able to navigate the landscape but many people also struggle. It reminds me so much of high school or any unhealthy environment. Certain people just can't do well in that structure. Honestly I feel AA is filled with people who display high levels of narcissm and those who are very needy and codependent. These are also the two types of people who are likely to end up in a toxic relationship (shocker that there are so many hook-ups in the room.) In some ways I am better for my time in AA but in other aspects it has also exposed me to some of the most manipulative people I have ever met. 

I don't care what AA does. They can exist but my experience has also shown me that many members will go out of their way to shut down other options for Recovery. I had an old-timer come to my SMART meeting just to have a debate. It was total "word salad" and anytime one would make a point he would change the topic.

Any process that takes away individual ability to question and think is likely cultish in some way. I personally feel AA borders on cult behavior in certain metings and areas. For a long time I felt a responsibility to try to help AA become a safer place however I see there is no changing it. Perhaps it must be chaotic for it's very survival and existence. Maybe the environment must be somewhat unhealthy for newcomers to feel somewhat welcome.

A user above name Elisa or Elise wrote some things with which I just disagree. There was a lot of shame blasted at people who don't agree with the perspective that AA is perfect and in a way shamed people for being needy. I have never seem a needy person change because someone told them harshly to stop being needy. People don't operate that way. Some level of consequence is good but her comments reminded me a lot of the mentality I don't feel comfortable around in meetings. I also never saw the "shame and blame" approach presented in the Big Book. Perhaps if the individuals who claim they know the book acted more like the later chapters in 164 described I'd be more willing to want to stay.

Again, if AA helps people that's great. They do covertly shut down other groups who try to start if not at a National/Global level then the autonomous groups have members who make it part of their 12-step work. My only problem with AA is the same problem I experience with major religions - I don't care what you do as long as you don't limit the freedom of other individuals. As long as individuals from AA keep trying to shut down other options I will continue to be skeptical and analytical of AA. 

Also, I know some of you aren't going to be able to not point out the above is the action of individuals. Even if the book and literature say there is "no opinion on outside issues" as long as AA groups that are powered by AA members continue to insist the folk religion of AA is the only way then there is an opinion on outside issues. This actually is against tradition. AA World Services can keep saying they have no opinion and each group is autonomous except for things that affect larger AA however as there has been enough evidence that individual AA-ers are hostile to other forms of treatment which affect the perception outsiders have of the program World Services could step in on this issue. They choose not to do so either due to malice (doubtful), ignorance/delusion (likely), or indifference as long as the coffers are still being filled (equally likely).

Design for living - Clark - Oct 14th 2018

AA can be whatever you want it to be.  I choose to adopt the "Design for living" in the AA textbook, as a just that, "A design for living."  Basically a way of thinking and acting in a mature manner, incorporating submission to Higher Principles, or Power.  Inventories, and helping others along the way.  Same techniques mature thinking people have used all through history.      

What people say in meetings are their own outlooks.  No different than any other organization.  

I have been a recovered alcoholic in AA for 33 years.  The "Design for living" has afforded me a good and interesting life and will continue to do so as long as I apply it to my thinking.   

Problems and positive attributes of AA - - Apr 30th 2018

First I must say that I myself had a deeply awful experience within AA along with meeting very good, kind and funny people.. with so much to offer.

Unfortunately, the experience i had with no desire to have experienced.

It led me to research so many various stories, experiences and to witness as well be subjected to many experiences like you wrote about.. 

As in the numbers of groups I've attended there can be an underlying sort of circle of Genuinely unwell and truly distorted thinking.  Along w very negative behavior, only amongst certain types of members..  Many themselves dont seem to recognize as the de sire to remain sober is so important and full of fear at the mere thought to drink or use any substance again.   I my self to wouldn't want that either.    

However,  I think that can lead to some being misled by more unwell or deceptive members with more inappropriate intention and begin to believe maybe it helped them.  Or maybe it will make you remain sober.   

Based on in my case lies from an old experience with some bad people i unfortunately  dealt with which then preceded my experience through absolutely harmful behavior which led to many years of harm with no ability to stay or go by the nature of my experience.

This is im sure isolated experience just  in the groups dealt!!   

Just misunderstood perspectives.... from a bunch within AA using nothing related to the book.

In the meeting i had attended there was a sort of circle within the regular meeting.  It was hard to  noticed.  These particular members were often dealing with other sources often imposing the ideas of others without the knowledge of the regular members.  Some the misinterpreted beliefs of spirituality from another outside religious sect. 

not everyone is the same - - Jan 12th 2018

I don't doubt that AA is helpful for some people.  I developed a dysfunctional social drinking problem due to life crises, and it continued after the problems resolved.  I decided to go to AA.  I've commited to quitting drinking socially for one year.  I also am going to one AA meeting a week with an open mind regarding learning something.  The AA meeting I attend is appears to be a form of brainwashing.  Repeating, reading the same literature out loud, self-flagellating testimonials, etc.,  are interesting to me but seem sadly manipulative.  People there are shocked that I have quit drinking so easily (no withdrawal, no relapses, no cravings for 6 months) and say "you just wait, we know that alcohol is cunning!") I decided to quit drinking, and I did. I don't believe that I am weak and unworthy. I am a religious person and have always looked for guidance and help from a higher power.   I'm not criticizing those who seem to struggle everyday even after 8-10 years, but want to tell them "not everyone experiences problems with alcohol in the same manner." That doesn't make me better than anyone else in the group, just different. There appears to be a conformity of thought that seems creepy to me. I can see where someone might become so discouraged by the negative self-assessments of the group members that it would drive him or her to drink! I will continue to attend the meeting, because I can derive some positive benefit and find it truly interesting.  I think alcohol use and abuse is experienced on a continuum, and is not a binary phenomenon.  I think AA misses this point completely.  

Surviving a Sociopath Encounter in AA - Cathy - Mar 10th 2016

I am in the process of healing from a sociapathic/narcisstic relationship that I encountered in my AA home group that I have been a part of for 7 years. What helped me get out of it so quickly that I was married to one for 20 years, divorced from him as long as I am sober and I was quick to see the signs with this guy and end it within a month of our relationship.  Although, I do believe he had been setting me up and preying on me for about a year and a half and I did not recoginise that until I actually got into an intimate relationship with him. I have been sober for 10 years and the fact is, that in my case, anyway, I do give my program of recovery in AA the credit, but not all the credit. I give my honesty most of the credit since it is suppose to be an honest program. I left my ego at the door and learned to live in truth. Aa taught me that. 

AA Is Outdated - - Mar 8th 2013

AA has not changed with the times. In my city AA needs a security guard. I found that people who are social misfits and don't have friends stay in AA where they think they are accepted. No one ever turns anyone away from AA. It is full of people who have been in prison for violent crimes. Sexual preditors love the bashful newcomers. There have been rapes in the AA building and robberies in the parking lot. For my own mental health and safety, I do not attend AA meetings. I have been able to get private professional help and go to support group meetings provided by my psychologist. It is much safer to go to these meetings than to go to AA where anyone can go and pretend to be a person that is interested in getting help when they are just trying to find an easy "mark".

 I would never recommend AA for a vulnerable person trying to get help with addiction. There are too many psychos that go and they can really be detrimental to a person who is trying to get help.


Negative and positive - Happy dog - Nov 29th 2012

I have been sober in AA for 20 years.  I have also heard a lot of the dismissive attitude toward medications for mental illnesses through the years, which I internalized and went off anti-depressants for 17 years.  I stayed sober but fought depression and horrific anxiety problems daily.  Some days were mental hell.  I finally decided being able to say I wasn't on meds in meetings wasn't worth this hell and I got treatment for my mental health issues that greatly pre-dated my first drink.  My life changed completely for the better.  I am now able to participate in life outside of AA and develop actual interests in the real world.  I even talk to my neighbors now, on a regular basis, when before I was so anxious that I would hold my head down and scurry into the house.  I generally pass for a regular person.

AA can also consume a person to the point where they do nothing else and still people in AA will demand more.  I have seen the condeming eyes when I didn't do what they considered "enough", I have opened and closed a meeting for YEARS only to have suspicious looks after being sick and not being there one night. 

I think AA sucks the life out of anyone willing to allow that.  There are preditors galore of all kinds, from the guys lurking around women's half-way houses spewing spiritual jargon to little old ladies sucking their sponsee's bank accounts dry.  There are good people also, but those meetings are more difficult to find, and even the good folks are indoctrinated into the constant judgement of one another such as "is she working a good program?" "what meetings does he go to?" "he's sad for 15 years, I'd bet he's slacked off from going to a meeting every night".  Those thoughts are burned into our brains in AA, I've had them!  I struggle not to judge others with AA jargon every day.

I still attend a meeting, and for the forseeable future for me I will attend one a week (not carved in stone one way or another).  I have been trying to come off some of the more extreme thought-programming since finally facing my mental health issues and getting real help.  I don't want to look at people strictly through the recovery lense.  That's not all there is to either life or perception.  I wish there were therapists to help people with long-term sobriety back off the AA thought-drug.  I could use some help in that direction from time to time.  But before I am judged for the errors of my ungrateful ways (though I am grateful AA caught me when I fell), my life is good today and I am glad I am living it.

The Spiritual Solution - Steve - Aug 31st 2012

Thanks Mark for this sane, thoughtful article.

You must be aware that AA's "Spiritual Solution" was directly given to AA by Carl Gustaf Jung?

AA is kinda like WalMart - Suzanne - Aug 18th 2012

When one asks another about their opinions on WalMart, you are bound to get a rather passionate response, positively or negatively.  Same thing with AA.

However here is where no matter what you think of AA or WalMart, we can find common ground.  Once you have decided to walk thru the door, and look around, it is next to impossible not to see, recognize or want something they have to offer. :-)

Shop AA like you would WalMart. Walk up and down the asiles of the 12 steps. Some of the stuff you see, you'd never be caught dead putting in your cart, much less buying. So leave it on the shelf.  But other stuff you might look at and say, "huh. I've never really tried that." and you buy it,  just to give it a go, knowing you can always return it....


Re; Midtown groups and cult activites in AA - Michael Summer - Apr 27th 2012

A site that deals with some of the issues raised in the article:

THANK YOU! - Laura Tompkins - Apr 9th 2012

I so appreciate your work. AA does day at a time...for those who GET OUT. 


It's simple; never forget, 12 step groups are not PROFESSIONAL TREATMENT! - Andrew Park - Aug 11th 2011

I have just read all comments in this thread, and boy was it engrossing.! I am 27 years sober, and a treatment professional for last 25 years, the last 18 years I have been the manager for the National Football Leagues drug treatment program for the 9 teams in the Northeast. I was clinical manager of a NYC hospital based treatment continuum for 21 years my practice is addiction in its' focus.

Let us see why the emotions are triggered as they were; I feel its'because of the unclear, enmeshed,  75 years of AA and the "field" symbiotically existing without a break. AA IS NOT TREATMENT!!!! It is a self help philosophy that has a lot to offer many people, but it is not ever created, intended and administratively meant to be a marketed as professional treatment. I know that all of you who hold the fellowship in value, feel that Bill W. would turn in his grave if he could see how this philosophy has been, unwittingly "hijacked" AA is not to blame as an organization,it is the professionals' who cannot distinguish between their own value systems from professional values, ethics and the patients' "right to choose". Now all of us who "carry the message" are by traditions ideally practicing these principles in all our affairs" Let's agree  to support AA by not confusing it with professional treatment. The field is totally guilty of not making distintions in this regard especially from esteemed and respected leaders who I believe are not realizing how they make this issue worse; like Dr. Nora Volkow, Dr. Marc Galanter, Wesley Clark etc. These are good peoople whos' hearts are in the right place. But we have always had 12 step entrenched inapproriately as atemplate for professional counselors. 12 step facilitation groups have been marketed to make this line more blurry. This venue would have been perfect as SELF HELP FACILITATION where all groups are described in their strengths and availability. I do know that feeling an obligation for fairness I was lucky enough to speak with Dr. Keith Humphrey who was instrumental as a driving force in Prpoject Match and authored several books, of which I reccomend pro or not ; CIRCLES OF RECOVERY.

I will sign off and save my talk with him for a later comment, please respond, my bottom line is AA is a non-professional self help group whose philosophy was not created or intended to be professional, "forever non-professional"

Andrew Park LCSW

AA works for those who are willing to work it - Sandra in San Diego - Jul 11th 2011

Hi,   I have 23 years of sobriety in AA.   I continue to go to meetings not because I have to, but because I feel I have an obligation to give back what was so freely given to me.  In other words, I still work the 12th Step..."Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs."   If there would not have been people with lot of time sober to help me when I first arrived at AA, how could I have known how to work the program?

The program of AA, ie: the 12 Steps, have given me a blueprint for living that has served me very well.  Yes there are a lot of very sick people who come through the doors of AA and most don't stay sober, but those who do, such as myself, live a good, happy life and become productive members of society.  

lets grow up - nononsense guy - Jun 14th 2011

AA is a fairy tale.  God heals people with writing, confession and amends.  Does a 4th step work on cancer?  I mean if it does go to cancer ward and give em some pencils and paper.   AA claims this phony disease is cured by religion and tell their subjects they have a spiritual malady.  Comical at best.  Dark age medicine with pop psychology and sorcery.  Here is the medical cure for alcoholism........ready?..........stop drinking and stay stopped.   Make a decision to stop. 

a.a. has helped me... - Eileen Hudson - May 13th 2011

Well, I just wanted to say that I was one of those hopeless variety of alcoholics..In and out of A.a.for years.Alcoholism is a symptom of my disease..A.A. is not perfect..but..I have been sober now for 6 yrs.(Age 67),,My life was a total disaster while drinking..I never ,ever want to go back to that life....Life is worth living now and my children and grandchildren are happy I am sober...anyway..there are sick people at a.a.,some sicker than others..But, reality is..there are sick people all over the place that are not alcoholics..I have meet some real sick ones any where I  go...especially being sober and not in an alcoholic fog..But,anyway..I do not feel a.a. is a cult in anyway..all, I know is I have a second chance at life and I am gratefull....Now, I am learning have to live on live's term, try to accept things (Reality,etc.)Let God run my life.....the process of building self esteem..which I lost a long time ago..It is a process and nothing happens over night..I thought since I quit drinking things would be idyllic alsmost perfect..But, facing reality is what I could never do while drinking...Learning how to deal with life..sober...learning this every dsay for the rest of my life... ONE DAY AT A TIME....NOthing is perfect in this life..I dont have to be perfect....That is good news....

To Jon H--Don't jump to conclusions - Hecramsey - Apr 15th 2011

I got sober in downtown AA and I know if you go to the larger social meetings it may look a lot like what you describe.

There are certainly nuts and predators, and plenty of whining and wallowing.  But I think the "sqeaky wheel" theory applies here.  The sickest tend to be loud, tend to put on a show and draw a lot of attention to themselves, so they seem prevalent.  Also the majority in the big meetings tend to be newer and younger.

I can assure you there are plenty of wonderful people in this community. 

I rec going to some smaller meetings in the area (>40 people, say)

You may also want to try other areas of the city, and rememeber NYC is different from where ever you came from. 

Get to know AA - Steve Paesani - Apr 10th 2011

There are many assumptions and conclusions drawn about how "AA sees" things, what "AA's approach" is, what "AA's view" on things are etc..

An example is the assumption or presumption that AA sees alcoholism as a 'spiritual disease'.

Another is the assumption or presumption that AA sees alcoholism as a 'disease' or 'an illness'.

These assumptions about how AA sees alcoholism or in fact anything at all are not based upon an accurate survey of AA. AA is a fellowship of men and women, not a book nor one person's opinion and that fellowship has not been surveyed or asked to present it's view or take on what alcoholism is or isn't, wether or not it is 'a disease', wether or not it is a 'spiritual disease' etc..

Untill the views of AA, the fellowship of men and women, have been requested, submitted, and approved by AA to be the views of AA, quoting "AA" is at best misrepresentation and at perhaps worst sheer folly if not complete insanity.

Get to know AA and if then there is some light, some correction, some alternative, regardless of any backlash from any AA member whose title or image or ego or whatever is at stake, then by all means, shed that light, make the correction, offer the alternative, broaden the scope of recovery.

Get to know AA, the fellowship of men and women, and see then if  AA might  be included as not the only way yet one of the many ways to recover from alcoholism.

I am not an AA advocate yet I am 'pro recovery', 'pro light', 'pro clarity',  'pro insight'.

Get to know AA.

And thanks for taking the time to be concerned :")

Good Point - Lisa W. - Mar 7th 2011

Good point Mickey 3/2010.  AA does have some good features, but I've been thinking that the bad is outweighing the good, by far.  Too bad.

to Rico - Jonathan H - Feb 21st 2011

@ Rico:

I hear you, dude!! I'm 17 years sober and recently moved to downtown NYC. 90% of what I see in downtown AA meetings - especially from people with a significant amount of time - is neurotic whining and insanity. A lot of these folks have disdained the solution in our common text altogether. The women, especially, are completely insane. They hug each other and sprout all this therapeutic nonsense about 'love and acceptance,' and meanwhile NONE of them has the courage or love to be honest with each other. The men are by and large sick, sometimes preying on newcomer women (a HUGE no-no where I come from). By and large, meetings are emotional free-for-alls. There is little talk of AA's spiritual solution as laid out in the Big Book. In fact, there is a fairly anti-religionist view of the Big Book in general. Self-will run riot is the order of the day. These city-folk are just so hip and smart, they can do it themselves!! Just 'Don't drink and go to meetings! That'll make it all better!"

IMO - in the coastal cities, AA has been deluged with the moral relativism of therapy culture. There is no 'Sollution,' and there's 'No right way to do this.' Hence, people stay completely insane for LONG periods of time. I'm shocked after some people's 'shares' to hear that they have 10 + years!! We're SUPPOSED to get better here!! We're SUPPOSED to be of service to OTHERS when we EARN recovery through hard work and soul-searching. There IS a truth in AA - which is revealed in our PERSONNAL EXPERIENCE with the SOLUTION!!

really?? - Jonathan H - Feb 21st 2011

A mental health proffessional who says, 'Don't go to AA, we have the cure!"

Nah. Really??


AA..the good, the bad and the ugly - Rico - Jan 24th 2011

Soon I will be celebrating my 29th year of sobriety..clean and sober.  I feel I've seen it all although I'm sure there are things happening that would still astonish me.  The problem with AA is that imperfect humans are the body working it and running it.  And although we all read the same Big Book, work the same steps and strive for growth it seems that what is read has 10 different meanings to 10 different people and we work the steps for growth related to our own personal circumstances.

AA really did save my ass.  Actually the treatment program of 27 days started the process and AA was the continual action I took to maintain a daily reprieve. I highly recommend it to anyone starting out.  There are so many groups available that if you take the time you can find one to suit your needs.  Something to remember is that the group or even AA as a whole is not responsible for some asinine comment made during a meeting.  And we all have made asinine comments at one time or another. 

The concept that people eventually out grow AA is a critique that I find plausible at this point.  It's not that I have reached anything like perfection it's more that I cringe inwardly everytime I go to yet another meeting that's overloaded with newcomers in the height of their dysfunctional behavior.  It's seeing people with 2 or 3 years sober who still haven't learned to be honest and still seem to work best in chaos.  I'm at the point where I don't want to spend a year or two listening to someone deny their abusive relationship before moving on or taking steps to change the dynamics of it.  Unfortunately the meetings I go to are sadly lacking in people with 3-10 years of sobriety to help the newcomers.

My question is where do people like me go from here? I have tried to find reading material on it to no avail. I feel I still need a certain amount of support but don't want the dysfunction. Surely others are experiencing this.

AA is not the only option - NT - Mar 26th 2010

I think it's dangerous for therapists to recommend AA or 12-step programs as the only solution for alcoholism. While AA works for some people, I went to AA for 1 1/2 years and now attend LifeRing meetings instead.

AA walks a fine line between "spiritual" and "religious," but I think it's religious if you say the Lord's Prayer after every meeting. Alcoholism doesn't discriminate on the basis of religion, why should your support group?

Er.... - Mona Lisa - Mar 11th 2010

an excuse for what?


acceptance - Mickey - Mar 11th 2010

“When the doctrine of allegiance to party can utterly up-end a man's moral constitution and make a temporary fool of him besides, what excuse are you going to offer for preaching it, teaching it, extending it, perpetuating it? Shall you say the best good of the country demands allegiance to party? Shall you also say it demands that a man kick his truth and his conscience into the gutter, and become a mouthing lunatic, besides?” (1)

The quote above pretty much says it all for me. It covers most of my so-called excuses as you call them. As for acceptance, well I have accepted the fact that someone needs to warn others of the potential dangers of the A.A. cult. If you want to stay sober in A.A. you have to accept the fact that everything about A.A. is conditional.

Here is a partial list of some of those conditions:

  1. You have to buy a “Big Book and only read A.A. literature,
  2. Accept that A.A. and its members know more about alcoholism than scientists or professionals,
  3. If you relapse it is your fault, never blame A.A.,
  4. Members with long term sobriety are “winners” so find one and let them run your life,
  5. You can never recover so accept the fact that you have to go to A.A. meetings for the rest of your life,
  6. A.A. is spiritual not religious, so a “door knob” can even be your “Higher Power.” So accept the fact that you are now “Dumber than a Door Knob,”
  7. No one understands an alcoholic like another alcoholic so disassociate from anyone that isn’t an alcoholic,
  8. Alcoholism is a “Disease” and the 12-step cure is to repent your sins to make your “Disease” go into remission, so accept that it is a “Disease of moral ineptitude,”
  9. If you have a resentment about someone that severely abused you, then accept the fact that you have to deny their abuse and figure out what you did wrong to make them abuse you,
  10. Alcoholism is a “Family Disease” so your spouse and children need to get their own 12-step program or they won’t get better. So accept the fact that alcohol not your bad behaviour was the cause of their problems,
  11. The only way you can stay sober is to find other alcoholics and encourage them to join A.A. Yes this is solicitation but deny that and call it “Passing on the message,”
  12. Bill Wilson was all knowing if you can deny the fact that he was: “An experienced, industrious, ambitious, and often quite picturesque liar.” (2)  

So I have accepted that my experience in A.A. is founded on many excuses as you say. And my biggest excuses for staying away from A.A. are that I no longer have to kick my veracity and scruples into the gutter, and become a mouthing lunatic to stay sober. And I no longer have to preach, teaching, perpetuate the lies of A.A.

So you see, I am over it, I am just “Passing on the message,”

(1)   “Consistency”, (1884), paper read at the Hartford Monday Evening Club, following the Blaine-Cleveland Campaign, in The Complete Essays of Mark Twain, p. 582

(2)   The Private History of a Campaign That Failed (1885). Mark Twain

practice acceptance - - Mar 10th 2010

sounds like to me maybe yall are just using your experience in aa as an excuse. maybe you need to practice acceptance and then just get over it

Reasons for the dismissal of bad experiences - Mona Lisa - Mar 5th 2010

Mickely, I've thought a good deal about the issue of why negative experiences with AA are dismissed, denigrated or given less weight than those who report good experiences.  I think there are many different reasons for it.

1.  As you mention, 12 step is deeply ingrained into the treatment system in the US, resulting in many players having a huge financial incentive to defend the status quo and dismiss its detractors.

2.  Those who complain are essentially a disempowered minority: not only are we "addicts", but we are addicts who have the audacity to complain about the treatment sanctioned by the majority.  (And along these lines, it is worthy of note that AA was founded by, and the majority of members continue to be, white Christian males.)

3.  AA members themselves feel threatened by challenges to their belief system, particularly the notion that the individual is powerless and that one's Higher Power provides the power necessary to stay day at a time, contingent on the maintenance of one's spiritual condition.  I heard a rather crude analogy somewhere that makes the point well: it's like telling Dumbo that the magic feather isn't really making him fly. What's the first thing Dumbo does?  Crashes to the ground, his illusion shattered.

4.  Mental health professionals who have been recommending AA/12 step for years must, I imagine, feel defensive about having done so indiscriminately and perhaps causing harm as a result.  I am a professional myself, and if someone suggested that something I'd been doing for years was wrong and had harmed my clients, I am sure I would feel defensive and threatened by the suggestion.  I imagine that I would feel an impulse to defend what I had been doing and perhaps to diminish the naysayers in the process.  I hope I would not do that, but I am human, and I am sure that mental health professionals are not terribly unique in that regard.

One thing I am quite sure about is that the reason that our stories are dismissed is NOT that they are untrue.


Response to Decorum - Mona Lisa - Feb 27th 2010 - Mickey - Feb 28th 2010

Mona Lisa

Thank you for this posting, it bought to mind something I failed to bring to light in my other postings. In a review of Rebecca Fransway’s book, Stanton Peele made reference to those who speak out about bad experiences in A.A.

Peele noted that Fransway addressed this issue in the following manner: “So why tell such stories? Those who tell their stories in this book reply, "Because the stories are true." Others add, "Why are we asked to accept at face value all the sugar-coated tales told by AA devotees and long-time members? Why is their reality better than ours?" (1)

Indeed, any critical opposition to A.A. is far too often taken as offensive and the negative critic as you noted deemed “less mentally competent than those who speak out about good experiences.” Why is that?

Unfortunately, the only rational conclusion that I can come to is that there are millions of dollars to be made in the treatment industry of addiction and it is easier to “scapegoat” anyone that criticizes the only nationally accepted treatment method; that being the A.A. paradigm of treatment.

I don’t want to come across as being naïve, paranoid or attempting to introduce some irrational conspiracy theory here. Obviously there are many other more obscure reasons behind this also. One such being that we live in a society that has adapted to accepting that the majority are powerless concerning issues surrounding the way our elected officials run our countries. Do the politicians not also make use of such manipulative tactics to excuse their inabilities to rationally defend their positions?

It is certainly possible that I am reading to much into these issues, but it certainly does prompt me to consider other possible explanations.

Having said this, I hope it will have the same effect on others as well.

(1) '12-Step Horror Stories: True Tales of Misery, Betrayal and Abuse' by Rebecca Fransway

Stanton examines the incredible bravery of Rebecca Fransway — and of those whose 12-step horrors she catalogues — and explains why this antidote to idyllic tales of AA glory is crucial.

In: Rebecca Fransway, 12-Step Horror Stories. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press.
© Copyright 2000 Stanton Peele. All rights reserved.


Stanton Peele, Morristown, NJ


Response to Decorum - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Feb 20th 2010 - Mickey - Feb 27th 2010

Thank you for you comments on my posts. Your critique has been noted and I apologize if it was taken by anyone as an attempt to be offensive or degrading to either party that I was responding to. However, if you were referring to the term “idiot” in my response to Mark L.; please note that Mark was the one that introduced it in his original post. Since I noted no objection to his comment I mistook it as being acceptable here. If you are referring to my comment that: “No one in A.A. has the “BALLS” to stand up and confront them,” then I apologize for not minimizing what I have found to be true in every meeting I have attended throughout Canada. In light of this I change my comment to: “No one in A.A. has the “confidence” to stand up and confront them,” in hopes that it meets a more acceptable standard for this forum.

I do however appreciate that you have also made mention that your comment was not directed at me alone. Unfortunately, it is sad that it took my posting before someone indicated that some form of restraint needs to be applied if you post to this forum.

Furthermore, if you are referring to my comments to Dr. Dombeck as being offensive, I again apologize if they were taken as being disrespectful and unfounded accusations; rather than my original attempt to invoke an idea that Dr. Dombeck has missed some of the valid points about the negative posters.

If you feel that my comment: “My gaud man, you are a licensed Psychologist, think about what you are saying here,” is intended to insult Dr. Dombeck, nothing could be further from the truth. We are all human and we all make mistakes and at times we all become to focused on our own ideals and miss the whole picture of what we are trying to convey in our messages to others. My attempt, although poorly worded was nothing more than that. No disrespect to Dr. Dombeck was intended.

However, it you found the following statements offensive: “Here you have designated that those whose negative comments are absolute in nature are either borderline or have some other dramatic-erratic personality disorder. This is also known as splitting: “Splitting Hairs.” To put it more precisely, you are delving in the exact same “psychodynamic defense mechanism” and diagnosing a group of people without any more information than a few negative comments,” I am sorry but I refuse to apologize. Dr. Dombeck has made an accusation that all the negative posters “border on dramatic-erratic personality disorders such as the borderline personality disorder.” I find this as offensive as anything I have posted here.

In defense of my statement here I offer the following: “Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image, and behavior. This instability often disrupts family and work life, long-term planning, and the individual's sense of self-identity. Originally thought to be at the "borderline" of psychosis, people with BPD suffer from a disorder of emotion regulation. While less well known than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), BPD is more common, affecting 2 percent of adults, mostly young women.1 There is a high rate of self-injury without suicide intent, as well as a significant rate of suicide attempts and completed suicide in severe cases.2,3 Patients often need extensive mental health services, and account for 20 percent of psychiatric hospitalizations.4 Yet, with help, many improve over time and are eventually able to lead productive lives.” (A)

Please explain to me how anyone would not find Dr.Dombeck’s accusations here offensive. Not only did Dr. Dombeck make reference to BPD, he also suggested other dramatic-erratic personality disorders may be involved. Such other dramatic-erratic personality disorders would therefore have to include: a narcissistic personality disorder, obsessive compulsive personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder or a histrionic personality disorder to mention a few. In any case, his suggestion of such disorders is equally as offensive. Such observations taken only from a few negative postings are not a functional means of diagnosis. The criteria surrounding such disorders require much more in-depth psychoanalysis before such a diagnosis is formed. With this said I will leave it up to the reader to form their own conclusions.

I hope that this posting clarifies what I was trying to say in my previous postings and meets with the self-control required for posting to this forum. If it however does indeed not, then may I suggest that a list of acceptable etiquette and restraints required to post here be added to this site?

On a personal level I am open to any criticism about my postings and welcome all comments either positive or negative regarding the nature of what I am trying to say. If something is taken the wrong way because I have failed to clearly state my intent, then I certainly deserve to be criticized. On the other hand, it also hoped that everyone will take such critique as a method that affords me or others an opportunity to clear up those issues. If I or anyone else for that matter are not open to such criticism and willing to accept responsibility for what is said, then we definitely should not be posting anywhere.


(A)  Borderline Personality Disorder, A brief overview that focuses on the symptoms, treatments, and research findings. Raising questions, finding answers (2001). (Retrieved Feb. 27, 2010 from

The following references were extracted from the above site and were used by the writer of the article. They were included here only to verify the writer’s research for their article.

(1) Swartz M, Blazer D, George L, Winfield I. Estimating the prevalence of borderline personality disorder in the community. Journal of Personality Disorders, 1990; 4(3): 257-72.

(2) Soloff PH, Lis JA, Kelly T, Cornelius J, Ulrich R. Self-mutilation and suicidal behavior in borderline personality disorder. Journal of Personality Disorders, 1994; 8(4): 257-67.

(3) Gardner DL, Cowdry RW. Suicidal and parasuicidal behavior in borderline personality disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 1985; 8(2): 389-403.

(4) Zanarini MC, Frankenburg FR. Treatment histories of borderline inpatients. Comprehensive Psychiatry, in press.


Decorum - Mona Lisa - Feb 27th 2010


What you may be missing here is that the tone of Mark's blog here is, in many respects, no less offensive than Mickey's response.  Mark asserts that, essentially, those who speak out about bad experiences in AA are less mentally competent than those who speak out about good experiences.  Mickey's reaction may not feel respectful, but then again, neither was the blog that prompted it.

I understand that Mark's opinion on this issue has undergone some revision; if this is the case, perhaps this blog should be revised or removed.


Decorum - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Feb 20th 2010


The tone of your comments borders on being offensive. Debate is fine and there is no need to agree with one another. However, there must be some degree of mutual respect in the face of divergent views. There is no need be insulting or to even approach being insulting. We want your participation but, please, some decorum.

By the way, this is true of everyone. Please.


Reply to unrelentingly negative comments - mickey - Feb 20th 2010


To Mark Dombeck, in reply to some of your statements in your article.

You have noted that “A variety of people have shared their experience with AA and there is an interesting pattern than has emerged. The positive comments are not unrelentingly positive.”

     Then you state that “However, the negative comments are very and unrelentingly negative. What I mean by this is that most people who've written in defense of AA say something to the effect that AA helped them but they recognize that there are some difficulties with the organization. They promote and support AA very much but do not pretend that it is not a human institution with human problems. You might think that those saying negative things about AA would have a little something positive to say, but by and large they don't. Our negative comments are very polarized; very black and white. Very absolutist in nature. “

     Mark, of course the negative comments are unrelentingly negative. Your comment that “You might think that those saying negative things about AA would have a little something positive to say, but by and large they don't,” is absurd.  My gaud man, you are a licensed Psychologist, think about what you are saying here. Would you tell a client that they should find something positive to say about being raped or brutally attacked? I don’t think so. If someone has discovered that they have been coerced into believing that they have a life long illness and will never truly recover, why should they candy coat the facts? Certainly there are some very nice people in A.A. Unfortunately they believe they are superior to the so-called “Normies” because they have a special program of living. A.A. members know one thing, A.A. and anyone that complains about the program or has nothing positive to say about it is obviously sick an in need of help.

     Further on in your article you refer to splitting. “There is a psychodynamic defense mechanism known as splitting, which is often seen to occur in borderline personality disordered individuals and other dramatic-erratic personality disordered individuals. Splitting occurs when individuals fail to be able to integrate opposed points of view and instead pick a single point of view and deny the other's existence.”

     Here you have designated that those whose negative comments are absolute in nature are either borderline or have some other dramatic-erratic personality disorder. This is also known as splitting: “Splitting Hairs.” To put it more precisely, you are delving in the exact same “psychodynamic defense mechanism” and diagnosing a group of people without any more information than a few negative comments.

     Anger is a natural and healthy human emotion and as a psychologist your misguided representation of this diagnosis is bordering on unethical conduct. You are implying that people that have had more harm done to them by the groupthink and cult like activities of A.A. should minimize their pain to appease some unethical organization and its members. Try running that by a few of your colleagues and see what they have to say about it. Maybe they will recommend a 12-step program to help fix your own personal denial problems.

     Would you recommend that a rape victim attend a 12-step group filled with sexual predators?  I hardly think so, yet A.A. is filled with sexual predators that hit on the vulnerable new comers and go unchecked. A.A. members have gotten around this sort of behaviour and now call it dating so they can deny its existence. In turn they can blame the victim and tell them that A.A. recommends that you don’t even consider “dating” for at least a year. Now that is candy coating. This type of manipulation and misinformation goes on relentlessly within A.A. and bad behaviour has become an acceptable act within the organization. After all, they are sick people and it takes time to recover from the adverse affects of their fictional disease. These are highly notable entities of the A.A. program and those individuals that have managed to break free from the dogmatic propaganda and doublespeak of the program are speaking out about them in anger; and why shouldn’t they? Every time an individual condemns A.A. for these very outrageous conducts they are countered with accusations that they are sick or perverted individuals with a vicious agenda. They are riddled with character assignation in the very same manner you have done here. As a professional I would think you would have considered that before you drew to the conclusion that the negative commenters are “black and white” thinkers.

     I would also like to point out another misrepresentation that you have made: “The positive comments are a lot less demanding too. They offer an opinion and an experience and do not pretend that they have the whole picture.”

     Again, you are coming to this conclusion from your own personal website and have obviously not researched any other forums before you made these claims. This is another favorite ploy of A.A. they cherry pick every study and find only those that make claims of A.A.s enormous success rates. However, have you ever seen A.A. post anything other than the fact it has two million active members? I have never seen them address the fact that there are 22 million active alcoholics out there and that a vast majority of them do not want anything to do with their program. The ninety-five percent that do go to A.A. and leave are blamed for their failure because they can’t accept or don’t want to go to A.A. A.A. never lames itself for having a dogmatic, spiritualist connection that many just don’t believe is the solution to their problem. The truth here is that A.A. ‘tap dances” around all the negative aspects of their program and scapegoats those that won’t buy into their misinformation. Those scapegoats, being the negative commenters who have had enough of A.A.W.S and its member’s tactics of shame, blame, guilt, and fear mongering in an attempt to discredit anyone that criticizes their model of recovery.

     As far as your comment goes: “On the other hand, some of the negative comments demand that any mention of the positive be removed. They actively try to shame.” All I have to say is what goes around comes around. If you are constantly ridiculed and blamed for something that doesn’t work and it’s not your fault, then you had best believe that you are going to be bombarded with the very same tactics that you have bestowed upon others. To put a more psychological twist on this statement, it boils down to the abuser blaming the victim.

     Clearly you have missed on vital point that has been noted throughout the comments of the negative; that being the sociopath antisocial or the narcissistic individuals in the program. These types of individuals with these types of personality disorders are very fluent with language and many are highly intelligent and relentlessly manipulative, even to the well trained professionals in your field. As a psychologist you should be well aware of that fact and the fact that many of these individuals have had loved ones committed to asylums by using their cunning and underhanded skills, when it was them, not the spouse that should have been committed. How many of these have you detected in the so-called more positive A.A. posters on here. None that I can see, at least you have made no mention of them or even the possibility of them making such postings.

     If you follow the protocols you have used on here then I guess I am just another “black and white negative thinker with a psychodynamic defense mechanism known as splitting.” Then again, maybe I am a rational person that has done an enormous amount of research and has drawn to some very rational conclusions. However, as an ex-A.A. member and a self-recovered drunk that has bought into the theory that I was indulging in a bad behaviour and needed to take responsibility for my actions, rather than blame them on a made-up disease, I don’t see how that could be possible. My assumption for this is based on the rational thinking of A.A. members that I simply wasn’t a “Real Alcoholic.”

     I realize this is an old forum, but I truly look forward to you comments on my reply. Thank you.

A.A. kick backs - mickey - Feb 19th 2010

Mark L.

First let’s define “Kick Backs.” A kick back is a reward, a financial gain, a bribe. In the loose terms you suggest here we will go with financial gain as a reward. So the answer to this is that A.A. receives financial gains from institutions that use the 12-step program as their primary source of recovery from the clients that will definitely have to in the very least buy a “Big Book.” Considering the fact that A.A.W.S. is nothing more than a publishing company that supports itself by selling literature, there is a definite profit motive behind A.A.s alleged non-for-profit organization. A.A.W.S. is supposed to keep a modest reserve for financial backing; I hardly think that a $10, 000000.00 in reserve is modest. Also if you read some of the GSO reports, they budget close to ¾ of a million dollars for board members and trustee activities. What in the heck are 21 members doing for activities that require ¾ of a million dollars a year? If you want to talk about kickbacks I suggest you start questioning A.A.W.S. board members and asking where that money is being spent and what they are doing that requires such a large amount of money.

2.  Orange tells a sad story of a chronic relapse alcoholic, who was ordered “90 AA meetings in 90 days” by the courts. Upon yet another relapse, Orange says, the woman was “kicked out” of AA” which sent her on a downward spiral and into the streets as a hooker.   First, I don’t know of a single AA group that would “kick out” a “relapser”.  Conversely, people who relapse and come back to AA are welcomed back with open arms.  Sadly, relapses happen with many people even with AA.  Further, if some idiot in AA told this woman to “go away” after another relapse that makes the idiot the idiot.  AA is loosely organized and is good as the people attending.  If a particular meeting doesn’t work for you, then GO TO ANOTHER MEETING.

     Unfortunately there are far too many idiots in A.A. and they go unchecked because A.A. is as you state is loosely organized. You suggest; “If a particular meeting doesn’t work for you, then GO TO ANOTHER MEETING.” I have traveled across most of Canada and attended hundreds of meeting in different towns and cities and have seen far too many of these idiots go unchecked in all of them. No one in A.A. has the “BALLS” to stand up and confront them for fear of being told that they are interfering with another’s sobriety and program. This double-standard protects the idiot and harms the vulnerable new member. Either you learn to live with these hazardous dogmatic thinkers or you leave. If you leave then you are the problem not A.A because you are putting personalities before principals. This is another double-standard, if protects the program and blames the person; the exact thing that Orange note over and over again in his papers. Another thing that far too often gets thrown out by A.A. members is that if someone criticizes A.A. they must be angry and resentful. This dogmatic style of thinking is misleading and is used to try and discredit the individual’s criticism. The truth is that anger and resentment are natural feelings and are often health in evaluating a vast amount of situations. In fact they play a major role in the A.A. recovery program. Unfortunately, A.A. members see these emotions as detrimental, rather than productive. The rationality behind this misguided rigid thinking is toxic rather than prudent.

If A.A. can’t stand up to criticism then there is a major flaw in the program and it is to blame not the people that have tried it and refuse to buy into lying to themselves by disregarding the obvious faulty logic that A.A. dispenses.

Give your head a shake and go back and read more of Oranges work and maybe you will learn something. Five minutes isn’t a fair evaluation; if it is then only one meeting of A.A. is a fair evaluation of the program and if the person leaves and never returns then any study done with detrimental outcomes is fair. Or is it only an A.A. members right to use the rational that people that leave after only a few meetings haven’t really given it an honest try or honestly evaluated the program? Rationalize this for me please. I would love to see how you do it.


Further to Thomas' comment.... - Mona Lisa - Feb 14th 2010

...and if you are in AA and find that it isn't helpful to you, be aware that there are other options (DIY, SMART, LifeRing, SOS....) and do not hesitate to seek them. 

Never believe anyone, be it a treatment professional or an AA member, tell you that AA is the only way or the best way to quit drinking. 

Never allow yourself to be bullied into attending 12 step groups or in remaining there if they are not to your liking.

Above all, do not be afraid.  If anyone ever tries to tell you that it's AA or  That is a lie.

Do not hesitate to question.  It's YOUR life, YOUR choice.


As with any other thing in life... - Thomas - Jan 13th 2010

As with any other thing in life, Alcoholics Anonymous must be viewed in balance. It is not a panacea for alcoholism nor a cultic conspiracy looking to subjugate humanity.

For me, it is a tool that helps me maintain sobriety after professional treatment for my alcoholism. My professional treatment is ongoing, and if I hear something in an AA meeting that sounds "off" I do not hesitate to speak with my addiction counselor about it.

Like any other organization or program, there are people that will take some of its teachings to extremes. There are also unprincipled predators and users. If AA is helping you, continue to go, but be sure you are comfortable with the people and their motives. Try to attend larger meetings that have been long established and have a good cross-section of people.

If you are seeking sobriety, and what you are doing is not working, why not try AA for yourself? I also recommend seeking profesional medical and psychiatric help. Go into a treatment center if you are having trouble quitting. It will rest your mind and body and clear the fog, so that you can find a program of recovery that works.

opinions r us - walternyc - Dec 27th 2009

One thing is for sure. After reading the endless, rambling postings it is clear that drunks sure do have a lot of opinions!

Alcoholism is sympton - Eileen H. - Dec 16th 2009

  as I write this I have been sober for 4 yrs. and 9 mths. I am very grateful to be sober (age 65) if I had continued the way I was going I would not be around today.. I am grateful for a second chance at life. I have been going to A.A. during this time..mayber 5-6- meetings a week (I am retired)also chair meetings ..anyway I believe alcholism is a symptom of my disease....I believe in working the 12 steps...getting a sponsor..This has worked for me so far...I was in and out of A.A. for about 11 yrs..could not stay sober...I know God has helped me, when I could not help my self...But, once I wasnt drinking, I had to take ACTION....I am learning something everyday..also, learning that I dont want to be like some of them in A.A.I have also met many good, A.A. people who are trying and want to, I know now quitting drinking is ONLY the beginning...I am learning to grow up at this age...My life is n ot perfect...but, it is  sure better than it used to be...I also am learning to deal with the world outside A.A......the world That I thought was hostile to me...

power of choice - EA - Nov 28th 2009

I've been in AA for about 6&1/2 years now.  I like what Robert Ford had to say about choice.  We are accountable for the choices we make.  God isn't gonna stop me from going into a bar if I'm dead-set on it.  If I'm determined to throw everything away and get loaded....I will.

I just simply do not want to.

I go to a few meetings here & there.  I'm not as active in the program as I used to be.  For the retired old-timers who have all the time on their hands to attend meetings, good for them.  Me, I work 50+ hours a week.  I haven't had a desire to drink/drug in years.  Life isn't a bed of roses, and it isn't expected to be.  But it's sure a lot better than the life I left behind.

The consequences for my "disease" or rather, my poor choices from long ago, have at times been excruciatingly painful.  But I know that only one person was responsible---me.  The "blame-game" is long since over.

Everybody deserves a chance.  The courts are sending people to AA rather than jail----to give them that chance.  How they use it is the power of choice.  (the judges probably know the attrition rate in AA is high)  I'm a firm believer of getting a second chance.  ONE second chance.  For those who squander it, that's when the kid-gloves should come off and the old Republican way of "get tough on crime" needs to be applied.

I tell people in first-step meetings who are new, and getting their slips signed, to use this chance they have.  It may be the only one they're going to get.

AA from the sobor spouse perspective - Isabella - Nov 20th 2009

I am now convinced that AA has contributed more to the demise of my marriage than my husband's drinking. In the beginning I thought it was an answer to prayer when he decided to go and get help!  He's been "sober" now for almost 4 years but he exchanged one addiction for another.  We have no life, no conversation, no events or activities that are not sponsored and approved by AA.  He has been encouraged to cut all of his ties with anyone that pre-dates the program and now because I want to expand our lives to more than AA 24 hours a day, his sponsor and group suggest that I do not support his sobriety and therefore he should "move on".  I think the program is a good begining for some people, but I fully agree with comments that suggest it's not the only way to go and that folks need to be careful about the issues of control and isolation that it can create; my husband and I are living proof of that.

rotten at it's core - Anne - Aug 29th 2009

"I know I'll get flack for pointing this out (it will likely come across like a judgment rather than a description), but it is useful to know the state of mind that some of the critics are coming from. It's not that their concerns are unfounded. Rather, its that they are not seeing the whole picture very well."

Not only will you get flack from me for supposedly "pointing this out", you get flack from me for confounding your argument with the child abuse example.  Are you really, with that example, trying to argue that an abused child needs to resolve his "split" over this issue by acknowledging that "daddy is a good man, he's just an abuser"????   I ask because the whole of your argument revolving around this "split" idea seems to be suggesting that it's just not good to resolve the split to one side or the other, one must in fact incorporate both sides of the split in order to be "balanced".  Um, I call hooey on that.  An abuser needs to be called out for exactly what they are and there is absolutely nothing wrong with letting an abuser know that they don't get the benefit of any "good qualities" until they stop being abusers, assuming they're not the historically un-reformable type of abuser.  Your example rather confounds your argument, sir.

AA is rotten at it's core and has been from the very beginning.  It has done little more for the world than saturate it with the false need to stroke the same narcicistic egos that founded it.  Lacing Strychnine with sugar doesn't give strychnine "good qualities" that "redeem" the fact that it's deadly.  Some things are just bad and there's nothing wrong with resolving any schizm over whether or not they are with an acknowledgement that they indeed are.

don't tell me that AA is THE way - Robert Ford - Jul 22nd 2009

I am coming up on 6 years sober after having been a drinker for 35 some years.

For me the premise that one must admit to being  'powerless' over alcohol and as a result my life was 'unmanageable' was and is wrong.

Rather I regained control of my life when I began to take back the power of choice that I discarded. Choice that included but was not limited to pouring a drink, lifting it and consumeing it.

Easy to do?, Nope, infact at times it is hard.

Doable? Absolutely.

My suggestion, if you have an internal locus of control, seek a CBT or REBT therapist and get to work. If you have an external locus of control, go to AA and get to work.

Just don't tell me that AA is THE way, the numbers speak otherwise.



AA does work - Jeremy - Jul 1st 2009

With an open mind, I have read many of the comments and information in this article. By no means am I on a crusade. I strongly disagree with some of the opinions put out here against the use of AA. I have been a sober member of AA for 4 1/2 years. In my experience I have never been approached about getting off any meds, or have engaged in sex with any members. I have heard that does go on but to me that is no reflection on AA. Since AA meetings (Fellowship) is free and accepts anyone, you never know what a particular persons problem may be. AA stands for Alcoholics Anonymous. Not for dual addictions, sex addictions, Bi polar disorder, etc. It is for people who suffer from Alcoholism. With that said, AA is strictly voluntary. The group I became sober with never told me I couldn't leave or there is no other way to get sober. Our literature (Big Book) is the program of AA not the meetings, etc. The Big Book makes several references that AA is not the only way (I'm paraphrasing) Additionally AA is a spiritual program which includes references to God. If someone is seeking help for alcoholism but has no desire or willingness to accept anything spiritual then AA may not be for them. My experience has dictated to me that I do have a spiritual malady. If I had been spiritually fit and content I would not need help. Again, that's my experience. Alcoholism is a disease of the mind and body obviously. In the beginning of this article there was reference to high blood pressure and why wouldn't that be considered a spiritual malady. My comment on that is that HBP is not mental first of all, secondly it has been proven that prayer and meditation can in fact lower one's blood pressure if practiced. That doesn't mean it goes away altogether but apparently there is a spiritual denominator that can be applied. I try, to the best of my ability and capacity to follow what is outlined in our literature more than what is shared in meetings. Since attaining sobriety in AA, I have a very, very wonderful life. I have numerous friends from the program that are very close. I have a job, car, apartment, money in the bank, credit cards, relationships with family, friends & God that I had never before been able to accomplish on my own. The day before I entered AA I was broke, homeless, basically jobless, legal troubles, depressed, hopeless, had terrible relationships with others, and suicidal. It was all centered around my in ability to control my drinking and later drugs. AA is more than just quitting drinking. Since alcoholism is a mental illness it begins before I drink. For me it's what causes me to want to drink or indulge so much. Once that part (spiritual malady maybe) is overcome then I can begin to straighten out mentally & physically. Also, AA is not a detox center. There are many, many hospitals for that. In my experience it wasn't as important to not take that first drink as it was to figure how to stay stopped thereafter. With taking continuous action with the 12 steps I can stay stopped. When I take no action and rely on jargon's and sharing in meetings it gets tougher. The main point for this lengthy comment is that AA + God saved my life and I am eternally grateful to this program. Finally, I have to say that AA is not my life either. I became sober to have a life and that means balance in my life in all areas including AA. I hope what I have said may help someone who might have a drinking problem. If not then obviously there are other methodologies out there. In my experience this one works and I am content.


Hey Maek - jcal - Mar 28th 2009

If you have been attending meetings for any amount of time  i wonder how could you not have heard the phrase " it is a PERFECT program for imperfect people? I have been attending AA for 14 years now and I can hardly take it anymore. Last week a member with over 30 years said the big book was divinely inspired. I was wondering how he knows this for fact.But the thing I like about it the most or dont is the fact that it is not religious its simply spiritual as we are getting ready to close to the lords prayer. The program is so full of contradictions I just wonder how any free thinker can possibly follow it. I do believe it can be a good place to sober up get your life together and move on, but I mostly see people from sober houses in early sobriety with a stack of coins and key chains, without work and no car and sharing a sober house with 20 other men come to the program and  claim their life is beyond their wildest dreams as they are waiting for their food stamps to arrive

- - Feb 13th 2009
Well, people can do better than AA.

Caveat Emptor - Claire - Feb 12th 2009

Actually, I find it quite interesting that Dr. Dombeck uses the term "Caveat Emptor" in connection with AA. The term, of course, means "let the buyer beware".  It's an old legal doctrine under which a purchaser of real estate could not recover against the seller for defects on the property.  The only exception was if the seller actively concealed latent defects.  The idea was that the purchaser could have inspected the property prior to purchase, and if he didn't do so, he was out of luck.  However, if the seller actively concealed problems, that was a different story, and the purchaser could get compensation for his damages. many folks do you think are given the most cursory opportunity to "inspect" 12 step programs before "buying" them?  How many "defects" in program do you suppose are being actively concealed by 12 step group members and rehab counselors?  I know that I, for one, never suspected that my own rehab counselor (a two-hatter) had slept with my sponsor while she was so new in sobriety that she was still shaking.  He didn't mention that, nor any of the other interesting things that I really would have liked to know before throwing my hat into that ring!

Caveat emptor, indeed!

frankly irrelevant - - Feb 11th 2009

"Caveat emptor", Mr Dombeck? I don't think most people who go to Alcoholics Anonymous initially think anybody is trying to sell them anything. After all, they are led to believe that it is nothing more than a no-strings- attached support group. The quasi-religious "spiritual" message that is the actual core of AA's real agenda is dishonestly evaded when one makes initial enquiries of AA or attends one's first meeting. I don't have a problem with groups which are religious in nature, but I do despise and distrust ones which are deceptive about their true nature and take refuge in inane semantic quibbles claiming there is a meaningful distinction between the terms "religious " and "spiritual" which renders the latter somehow relevant as a frame of reference for discussing addiction. Whatever else people may argue it is, AA is a de facto bogus pseudo-religion masquerading as a program of treatment for addiction.

I think the intrusion of this quasi-religious concern into the discussion of what it disingenouously tries to present as a health problem is an understandable cause of offence,repugnance and distrust amongst many exposed to the AA message, and leaves them feeling duped and taken advantage of at  a vulnerable time.

I found your generalised ad hominem against those making negative comments about AA quite condescending and offensive, as well as frankly irrelevant. It reminded me of one of the things I personally found most offensive about AA itself, the insistence that its message was infallible and sacrosanct, and that anyone who took exception to or even questioned any of it's received "wisdom" was, by definition, at fault.

Why on earth should people who consider that their experience of AA was overridingly an abusive one search around for positive things to say about it in the interest of seeming "balanced"? I see AA as a movement steeped in ignorance and superstition which has little or no real proven claim to helping people effectively overcome drinking problems, despite the exaggerated claims often made on its behalf.

I quit on my own - - Feb 10th 2009

Interesting.  I am one of those folks who are never taken seriously.  I quit on my own.  No AA; no 12 step; no sponsor.   I find it amusing -- and telling --  that people like me are discounted.   I think that folks should take note of that.

Experience in AA - Claire - Feb 7th 2009

Well, Mark H, this isn't the first time that two people have looked at the same data and interpreted it differently.  I stand by my point, and I'm sure you stand by yours. 

I do feel it necessary, however, to take issue with your apparent interpretation that I, personally, have no experience within AA.  In fact, I spent nine years in AA before leaving in late 2007; currently I've been sober for 10 1/2 years.  During the time I was in AA I wasn't a casual member; I was very involved, went to tons of meetings (4-5 a week), sponsored, was active in service, all that.  Thus, my experience in AA is just as real and valid as yours.  And my knowledge of what continues to go on in AA comes from the numerous AA members with whom I am still friends, including my former sponsor.  

With that clarified, my experience was that indeed, all the time, AA was called "a perfect program for imperfect people."  Perhaps this is not a slogan in your area; it certainly is in mine (a large midwestern city, not far from the birthplace of AA).  And absolutely, people who relapsed, particularly people "with time", were said to have done so because they had not sufficiently embraced the spirituality of the program, such that they lost their daily reprieve (I am sure you recognize the "daily reprieve" philosophy from p 85 of the Big Book).

At some point in one of your comments, too, you note that in your 23 years of sobriety you haven't seen anything like what happened in DC.  Well, here again, I have.  Not at that order of magnitude--nowhere near--but there are several charismatic individuals with a Michael Q-like hold over their flock...right here in my area.

So, all I'm saying is, you have your experience, and I have mine.  Go ahead and share yours, that's cool...but please, don't suggest that mine didn't happen, because I assure you, it did.

Re: Studies Studies - Maek H. - Feb 6th 2009

Hi Claire,

I’ll just repost the findings:

“Attendance at AA meetings appears to be instrumental in achieving a positive effect and not just reflective of greater antecedent motivation for recovery. In one large-scale study of alcohol-dependent male veterans initially treated as inpatients, their AA attendance within the first year after admission was found to predict lower alcohol-related problems at the 2-year follow-up. This effect was independent of their previously measured motivation for change, suggesting that AA itself plays a causative role in reducing drinking (Galanter).”

No disrespect to you, but you are in error to state: “This research outcome reveals nothing about the efficacy of AA; rather, it more likely speaks to the level of motivation of the individual.” Yes it does (first point), and no it doesn't (secong point). I refer you to the previous paragraph.  I have access to these studies through the university. I have read many that have found similar results. However, I will concede the point that AA, in many cases is effective in only “reducing drinking” as the study states. Great! Anything that reduces drinking is useful.

Some, like me attain long-term sobriety.  Yes, the turnover rate is tremendous. Many of these people want to get their court papers signed and get the hell out. Is this a correlation of AA’s success?It is as much an indication of the number of people who are sent to AA and to satisfy the courts.  They have no intention (desire) to attain long term sobriety. Their intention is in my opinion, to leave when the court is satisfied, never come back and continue to drink. I suppose a DWI is just and innocent “flub.” Many don’t believe they have a drinking problem, and how dare the courts disrupt their busy lives. Indeed. I have had many express that exact sentiment to me. I have to let it go. I just invite them to return. There are also many mentally ill people who attend. They are in and out of AA constantly. Should those two groups be used as statistics to determine AA’s success? Well, they are.

No one has said that AA is a panacea for all that ails every alcoholic. That is one criticism that I hear so often.  But AA is a way for rebellious people to find some structure and order in their lives. We all know that it is not perfect. If you want it, it is a tool to help you stay sober. That’s it. I have never in 23 years heard anyone claim that AA is "a perfect program for imperfect people." No self-respecting AA would ever call the program of recovery “perfect.” That is simply in opposition to all that AA stands for. Clair, did that statement come from a website? Is it someone’s opinion? Where do these statements come from? That statement is certainly not an AA axiom. Enough please.

AA is about freedom.  AA is the freedom to believe in a higher power (or none at all) of one’s own choice, even if it is an inanimate object. I’ve heard that before, and no one, but no one has ever challenged it. If it works for you; fine. Its the freedom to come and go as you please, as I do regularly; freedom to go back out and drink if you want, as many do.  No person that I know has made statements that indicate that the AA that goes out "relapsed because he was not spiritually fit." Where did that statement come from? That’s baloney; its not said in AA circles. If someone goes out, it is because he/she wants to. Personal responsibility is big around the tables. Where does this silliness come from?

I have a great deal of experience in AA, and I am very objective. I’m not brainwashed; I’m not guilt ridden; I’m not trapped; I’m not frightened to leave; I’m not a religious zealot (I’m actually an agnostic-the greater universe is my power greater than myself-I choose to call it God); I’m certainly not a mindless drone that was looking for a home. I was a regular person, and I could not stop drinking to save my life-literally. If games of control and coercion of which some people speak of were actually taking place, not only would I see it around me, but I and many other responsible AA’s would do all that we could do to end it. AA has to be a safe place; and it is. I have no clue what is happening in the D.C. group. It sounds like a few criminals gained a hold over the group.

As far as “correlation does not equal causation;” it never has. The correlation proves causation argument is a logical fallacy. May I suggest that you write the authors of these studies and try to defend that argument with them? I’m sure that such an offhanded rejection, or misinterpretation of their findings would elicit an interesting response.  In addition, there are no absolutes here. I don’t believe that anyone is silly enough, or arrogant enough to claim absolute AA success. In no way would I state or imply that all alcoholics can only be “cured” (I hate that word) through AA. Nor do is it implied that AA is the only existent path to sobriety. As the study states: "AA itself plays a causative role in reducing drinking." I make no claim beyond that. 

In my opinion, here are some of the reasons that all of this anti-AA rhetoric exists. First, returning to my earlier point:  many (many) more people are sent to AA by the authorities. They do not want to be there. Some are looking for anything to convince themselves and others that AA is a mind controlling cult filled with religious zealots so they can justify leaving. Second, there is a lot (a lot) of money to be made in the recovery arena. In these hard economic times, I believe that there exists a multitude of budding entrepenurers who see recovery as a cash cow. They realize that our program of recovery exists and it is free of charge. They would just love to see it go away, but since it won’t go away, steering people away from AA works too. It’s a business tactic. Third, people who actively write or speak against AA, are prone to have preconceived notions about AA (see The Orange Papers). They attend a few meetings and go away convinced that all that they thought about AA in the first place is true; the “I knew it-I told you so!” crowd. These people are already anti-AA and attend meetings for the sole purpose of finding something more to use as criticism. They look for negative aspects and ignore any of the good in order to reinforce their point of view. These people don’t attend enough meetings to form a reasoned opinion, they simply intend to criticize. What they will hear are regular everyday people expressing their opinions at meetings. Some may not articulate well, and a few do not speak for the body of AA’s. There are no leaders. There is no thought police.

The above are my opinions.

I do know this much: AA has worked just fine for me and many others that I know for decades, and there is much too much disinformation and outright fabrications about AA being bantered about by people with little or no experience in AA.

Studies, studies... - Claire - Jan 31st 2009

Mark, I can't read anything but the abstracts of the Galanter et al studies you mention without paying a good deal of money for the privilege; however, based on the abstracts, the outcomes appear to be a repeat of the finding, which I've run across before, that although AA isn't effective in clinical trials (i.e. it doesn't get people sober), people who remain in AA following initial treatment have (slightly) better outcomes than those who don't. 

But correlation does not equal causation. This research outcome reveals nothing about the efficacy of AA; rather, it more likely speaks to the level of motivation of the individual.  What is really being measured in these studies may well be this: people who want to get sober are more likely to go to AA.  Then AA takes the credit for the person's sobriety, when actually, the critical factor was the person's own motivation.

And, I then submit, the individual alcoholic, having given AA the credit for his or her success, becomes vulnerable to some of more problematic aspects of AA's ideology, the most dangerous of which, in my opinion, is the notion that one's sobriety is contingent upon the maintenance of one's spiritual fitness--a nebulous concept at best, often "defined" by its absence (i.e. "that person relapsed because he was not spiritually fit").

Understand that my motivation is not to "bash AA" per se.  I am all for anything that helps people overcome addictions.  What I don't like is the notion that AA is a panacea, that it is so good that no other options are made available, that it is "a perfect program for imperfect people" to use the oft-repeated AA slogan.

How AA work for me (just me) - Mark H. - Jan 27th 2009
Now that I’ve had my say about Mr. Orange (and my fill of him), I have something to say about AA.I was of the hopeless variety of drinker, and by the age of 23 I could not stop. I went through therapist after therapist, and when asked if I considered myself a problem drinker, I’d lie. I believe that they knew the truth. I sure didn’t.I banged around from hospital to hospital and in and out of AA until the age of 30. I was finally driven into AA for the last time because I was sick, physically. I had to drink to keep from going nuts, but I could no longer keep alcohol down. I sure couldn’t eat. My skin had a grey pallor to it, and the whites of my eyes were turning yellow. I was crapping tar, I smelled from the inside out, and my speech and thoughts were nonsensical. I had two little girls. Somehow, I still had the capacity to love them, because I sure didn’t love myself.I was taken in by two men in AA. One was sober for 4 years and his sponsor was sober for 7 years. I wanted to live, so I agreed - I AGREED - to do what they told me. I sure didn’t have to. I could have left. They got me into a 30 day program in Clarkston, Mi.  It opened my eyes to my self-destructive behavior, and to my addictions (plural).When I got out, I agreed to 2 meetings a day. I lived in Flint, Mi. Sure, I met some AA gurus, I met people at meetings that were sociopaths, users, criminals, and high on God, but I had enough street smarts to sort the bull from the cream. I also had the guidance of my now sponsor, and his sponsor. "Take what you need, and leave the rest," they told me. I was sober for about 8 months, when I was told that “all who live here, enroll in College.” I followed directions, and I enrolled at the University of Michigan-Flint. I was still employed (there were still jobs in the mid-1980’s), so I could afford it. My thinking by this time was clear enough to do well and finish with a four year degree.

While living there, they got me running, eating right, I quit smoking at a year sober (using the principles of the program), and my physical health improved greatly. They took me to large events (outside of AA) involving groups of people to improve my social skills, and help quell my fear of people. These are habits I've kept. I left them at 1 year sober. I’ve been sober for 23 years. The thought of alcohol does not enter into my mind as a coping skill, or for any other reason. I still see these men occasionally, and we speak on the phone fairly often. And here is what they told me; "we did for you, what was so freely given us. Just pass it on." That was the price of saving my life. That's it.

That my friends is not a cult. From about 6 years of sobriety forth, I left when I got enough. I came back when I felt uncomfortable. The rule (enforceable by our individual honor) is that these rooms must remain safe for our sisters, leave the women alone. If you happen to decide mutually to have a relationship, no person under 1 year sobriety.  Sobriety of 1 year or less is tenuous at best. They need support.As to this God thing. I was the center of my little universe. The sun rose and set upon my little butt. You can’t ingest substances for years and not be self-absorbed. The picture of myself in a state of constant, obsessive oral fixation, relentlessly ingesting intoxicating substances is horrid psychologically (see Freud). I HAD to remove myself as the center of all that there was. I HAD to get myself out of the way. I HAD to find SOMETHING to replace my obsessive, alcoholic, relentless will. Just a belief in a power greater than myself did it. For me-it was the universe. That’s all. No more complicated than that.Are there predators? Sure. Are there dangerous people. Sure. Are there people so full of themselves that they find a need to control every person and aspect of their surroundings? Of course.  There are thieves, thugs, cheats, child molesters, mentally ill people, and just plain degenerates. This, especially since the courts began sending people to the program. What to do. Stop attending if I FREELY feel a need?  These so-called “undesirable ”types of people were prevalent in the auto plant in which I worked. Should I have quit? Hardly.When I sponsor people, it is at their request. If they leave, they leave. I don’t chase after them. They usually come back beat to hell, just like I did years ago. In 23 years, I have seen none of the behavior as described in the D.C. group. Some AA’s are a little overzealous. But my God, sort it out! People do have brains and a some sense of individuality.  Find rational people. Most of us are just regular people. Get a grip folks!After 23 years its all cyclical for me. Like this:1.      awareness that I have a problem-anger, resentment-self-centeredness/preoccupation with my own problems-self-pity-can’t sleep-that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.2.      ask for the help of my higher power for wisdom and guidance - people often enter the picture-I find answers at meetings - and I nearly always find more answers in AA Literature.3.      with that insight-admission of the problem.4.      surrender the problem to my higher power (just let it go) along with the willingness to do what comes to me from that higher power-His/Her will not mine (mine is usually self-serving) be done.5.      faith that the problem will be resolved in my higher power's way, and in my higher power's time.       6.    acceptance of the answer I get -I don't always like the answer that comes.7     Last active step-do the work.8.      What I attain is growth in the program in my relationship with my higher power  -  and with others.9.      I gain, The gift of Humility.10.  Humility in turn opens me to a higher level of awareness-which is where I started.  The cycle begins anew. That doesn’t sound cultish to me. It sounds like good mental health. Correct me if I’m wrong. 

Sound and Fury - JR - Jan 27th 2009

People launching exocets at Orange on the basis of readings that are, in every sense, partial might note that The Man Himself does not deny his own use of propaganda and debating techniques to make his point (see Letters on the OP); nor does he deny his partiality.  As regards the most recent Phillipic, well, I am afraid that it only helps to make many of his points regarding the difficulty of conducting meaningful dialogue with AA True Believers (again, see Letters on the OP).

Best regards,


Orange Papers Highly Flawed - Mark H. - Jan 26th 2009
I have read about one-third of the “Orange Papers” and have found them to be barely readable due to the unbelievable number of basic logical fallacies in which he engages in the essays. Among the obvious are: ad hominem, the red herring, straw man, appeal to ridicule, appeal to spite, and false dilemma. In addition, Orange seems to be clueless concerning any difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, and he revels in the correctness of his deductive fallacies throughout. He regularly argues from the particular to the general. He ignores the difference between and analytical and contingent statements. Orange also has difficulty interpreting the subject/object dichotomy. I hold a BA in Philosophy, and I’m finishing my Master’s Thesis. I have been sober for 23 years in the Fellowship of AA. My life is great, and I have a mind of my own. Believe me! I come and go as I please. Here, I have read responses from attorney Claire and other researchers whom have stated that Orange’s arguments are cogent, well researched and check out.  I have two studies in hand; first “Attendance at Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, frequency of attendance and substance use outcomes after residential treatment for drug dependence: a 5-year follow-up study”, by Michael Gossop, Duncan Stewart & John Marsden, National Addiction Centre, Maudsley Hospital/Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, London, UK, July 2007; which states:   “There was no overall change in alcohol abstinence after treatment but clients who attended NA/AA were more likely to be abstinent from alcohol at all follow-up points. More frequent NA/AA attenders were more likely to be abstinent from opiates and alcohol when compared both to non-attenders and to infrequent (less than weekly) attenders. Conclusions:  NA/AA can support and supplement residential addiction treatment as an aftercare resource. In view of the generally poor alcohol use outcomes achieved by drug-dependent patients after treatment, the improved alcohol outcomes of NA/AA attenders suggests that the effectiveness of existing treatment services may be improved by initiatives that lead to increased involvement and engagement with such groups. The findings suggest that NA/AA can provide a useful aftercare resource, can supplement other forms of treatment and that regular contact may help to maintain the benefits accrued initially from drug dependence treatment programmes.”In “Spirituality, Evidence-Based Medicine, and Alcoholics Anonymous” by Marc Galanter, from The American Journal of Psychiatry. Washington. Dec 2008, Galanter says,  “Attendance at AA meetings appears to be instrumental in achieving a positive effect and not just reflective of greater antecedent motivation for recovery. In one large-scale study of alcohol-dependent male veterans initially treated as inpatients, their AA attendance within the first year after admission was found to predict lower alcohol-related problems at the 2-year follow-up. This effect was independent of their previously measured motivation for change, suggesting that AA itself plays a causative role in reducing drinking.”These findings took less than ten minutes of research to uncover. Respectfully; how can a professional submitting to this forum claim that the “Orange Papers” is a well prepared work and its facts check? One of many fatal flaws, the facts that Orange presents may or may not check out, but he omits all others. He is very selective with his data. This I believe, simply to support his thesis.I’ve contacted Mr. Orange concerning these matters. He will not respond. I’m not surprised.There are passages throughout the essays in which Orange will quote a passage from AA’s Big Book. Following, he proceeds to attach claims like “so what he was really thinking was (followed by his own dialogue),” or, “so what he was really calling this lady was a nosey old (expletive deleted). Often, he inserts his words into a subject’s thoughts, and alerts the reader to that subjects’s true motives.  Orange uses this tactic constantly as he seeks to destroy his subject’s value.  When I see this tactic used, everything that follows in the entire work is suspect. Its actually quite a disgusting practice, and I can barely stomach such vitriol.Respectfully Claire, I ask you to please explain to how ad hominem attacks like “ The stories about Bill W.  messing up the Big Book copyright, cheating on his wife, leaving Big Book royalties to his mistress, etc?” are logically relevant to the argument that AA is or is not effective? The man humbly stressed at every opportunity that he was fallible, and was distressed that some people looked to him as a saint. So many flaws exist in “The Orange Papers” that one could devote an entire book to exposure and refutation. Orange takes advantage of the fact that the Big Book is not copywritten, and uses it profusely. However, his site is copywritten, and that prevents any exposure of his flawed reasoning in a public forum. He will not respond to call my for open challenge. He sits on high and destroys others without challenge.  I must stop. However, I am concerned with the issue that concerns Mark L, that “The tragedy of Orange is that it may prevent someone from trying AA, which often the last is wrung on the ladder down from alcoholism [sic].” The issue of recovery is one of life and death. If AA is not for a particular individual; fine. To steer young people who may be soon end up as fatality or incarceration statistics away from AA before they have had a chance to honestly evaluate it, is irresponsible.

Evangelical Strikes again - Bill J - Jan 21st 2009
It is obvious Orange is a Christian Fundamentalist. Nuf said.

Orange Papers - JR - Jan 14th 2009

I second Claire on this. I first encountered the Orange Papers at a different stage – I was already trying to recover, so to speak, from Recovery. I had been through a 12 Step-based rehab program, from which I was propelled into a "recovery environment" in which the validity and efficacy of the AA approach is not questioned. Consequently, when I finally began to wake up from my alcoholic "dark night", and found that my personal convictions were seriously at odds with the beliefs and practices of Stepping, the experience was frightening and confusing. In the course of my early efforts to elucidate my problem, I blundered into the Orange Papers. I will be forever grateful to Orange for giving me the first real indication that I was not alone in having difficulty "giving myself completely to this simple program" and that this difficulty was not a result of some wild eccentricity, or even madness. Does this make me a "fan of Orange"? Well, I suppose it does. Like Claire, I come from a background of strong involvement with research (history and law), and I share her respect for Orange’s research. It is very extensive, and is used to stand up a very strong, consistent argument. This is not to say that I go all the way with Orange. Nobody would ever accuse him of leaving his argument on the half measure, and it can be argued that he goes rather too far in some respects. For example, while I can accept the suggestion that AA and its "clone" 12 Step organisations are religious in nature, and cultish in many of their practices, I am not sure that I would go the full way with Orange in saying that these fellowships amount to "religions" or "cults". I do find it interesting, however, that as I have advanced in my own enquiries and analysis, I find myself more, rather than less, inclined to agree with some of Orange’s conclusions that I initially found somewhat extreme. Mark L states that he has "read for 5 minutes on the Orange site only". Well, this is a huge site, containing a vast amount of information and embodying a very substantial argument on a sustained basis. One may agree with this argument, or one may not. However, 5 minutes reading is hardly enough even to scratch the surface of this resource. A much more sustained reading is required in order to arrive at a considered judgement on the Orange Papers. Some care in reading is also required. Mark L accuses Orange of "bad logic and deception" in relation to his argument that the professional recovery industry has economic incentives for channelling addiction sufferers into AA and other 12 Step fellowships. It should be noted that this is not based on a suggestion that AA makes "kick backs" to professional counsellors. Rather, Orange suggests (with much evidence, and at great length) that the professional addiction treatment "industry" is largely staffed and run by people who are, in effect, 12 Step "True Believers" (many of whom are members of 12 Step fellowships), who base their professionally-run rehab programs on the 12 Step approach, and for whom exclusive referral forward to 12 Step programs for their clients/patients is a natural step. In this situation, the commercial/insurance-funded rehab industry and the 12 Step fellowships are likely to be mutually reinforcing. Apart from the evidence and argument assembled by Orange on this point, many of us who have been through 12 Step-based rehab will have seen this association in our personal experience. I did my rehab in a private hospital, which supposedly based its treatment on medical principles. Nonetheless, most of my waking hours while on my "program" were spent in rooms with posters of the 12 Steps and the Serenity Prayer up on the walls, and the program itself consisted of group therapy structured almost entirely around the 12 Steps. In this situation, it is difficult simply to dismiss the idea that the synergistic relationship between 12 Step fellowships and commercial of semi-commercial ("not for profit") professional treatment facilities, employing paid "addiction professionals" is without economic significance. As regards the story in the Introduction to the Orange Papers – of the young woman who relapsed – it is true that Orange may be accused of slightly loose use of language. However, he does not say that the young woman was sentenced to "90 meetings in 90 days" by the courts; nor does he say that she was kicked out of AA. What he actually says is that the young woman was "sentenced" to "90 in 90" by "her true believer building manager (where she was housed in a program)". This "program" was, it appears, part of the professional recovery sector, which offered no answer to the woman’s difficulties beyond "Do the Twelve Steps, Get a Sponsor, and Read the Big Book". When this did not work, and she relapsed repeatedly, she was kicked out of the "program" in which she was housed – not out of AA. Of course, getting kicked out of AA itself sounds improbable – although life can be made very uncomfortable for anyone who admits a difficulty in "giving themselves completely". From AA itself, I can recall an incident in which one smug True Believer "shared" an incident in which he had had a rather vigorous "difference" with a woman in a recent meeting of the relevant group. He "hoped" that this would not stop her from "coming back", but it did not really worry him very much. He had no difficulty in finding some slogans – including "Live and Let Live" and "Take it Easy", to salve his conscience as to any damage he might have done to the woman concerned through his (admitted) overbearing behaviour. That was in AA itself. Professional Step-based programs, such as the one Orange’s friend appears to have been on, are in a position to take more direct and absolute measures to rid themselves of clients/patients who have difficulty toeing the 12 Step line, or who just do not seem to be worth the effort any more. Best regards, JR


Orange Papers - Claire - Jan 13th 2009

I certainly disagree with Mark L's assessment of the Orange Papers, but I understand where he is coming from.  When I was still a member of AA--several years back--I came across the site and was furious.  How DARE he?  He just didn't GET it, and where was the evidence for the statements he made?

But as they say in AA, "more will be revealed."  After a few more years watching constant relapses, sexual predators having an absolute field day (my favorite story is the guy with 30+ years who is on the board of directors of the largest treatment center in our area...he has a wife, a live-in AA girlfriend AND still takes up with the newcomers, but you can't "take his inventory!"), people bullied into stopping their psych meds, etc. I started to question things.  What the heck WAS this group, anyway?  

So I started doing research.  I'm a lawyer, so I know how.  I know how someone can create quotes out of context, blow things out of proportion, etc. so I always look at the source materials the person uses.  I spent weeks looking at Orange's website. This time, I wasn't suffering from "contempt prior to investigation".

To be sure, Orange wasn't pleased with his experience in AA, and if you read his introduction, you'll easily see why.  So you could say he has an axe to grind.  Sure.

But where he makes factual statements, they check out.  Research on AA's effectiveness?  Check.  The stories about Bill W messing up the Big Book copyright, cheating on his wife, leaving Big Book royalties to his mistress, etc? Check.  And so it goes.  The research is impeccable.  

Not to go too crazy with quotes here, but as they say, one is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.  If AA cannot withstand close scrutiny, this is not the fault of Orange. 



Orange Papers? - Mark L - Jan 2nd 2009
In your comments section, I've noticed a few references to a website called "The Orange Papers".  “Orange” is full of red-herrings and flawed logic; and comes to dangerous and reckless conclusions.  I can only guess that Orange had a bad experience with a particular AA meeting and is now a public crusader against it (the bully tactic of tearing down other people to make you feel better).  The tragedy of Orange is that it may prevent someone from trying AA, which often the last is wrung on the ladder down from alcoholism.   I’d be interested to know if anyone agrees or disagrees with me. If someone out there is a fan of Orange, I’d like to know the specific point.I read for 5 minutes on the Orange site, only, and had to stop because of the bad logic and deception.  Here are two examples to make my point:1.  Professional counselors are motivated to recommend AA for financial reasons because their in-patient institutions receive insurance money.  What Orange does not explain is the financial motivation for recommending AA – a non-for-profit organization. If someone can tie “kick backs” from AA to professional counselors or their institutions, I would love to hear of it.  it doesn’t happen.  2.  Orange tells a sad story of a chronic relapse alcoholic, who was ordered “90 AA meetings in 90 days” by the courts. Upon yet another relapse, Orange says, the woman was “kicked out” of AA” which sent her on a downward spiral and into the streets as a hooker.   First, I don’t know of a single AA group that would “kick out” a “relapser”.  Conversely, people who relapse and come back to AA are welcomed back with open arms.  Sadly, relapses happen with many people even with AA.  Further, if some idiot in AA told this woman to “go away” after another relapse that makes the idiot the idiot.  AA is loosely organized and is good as the people attending.  If a particular meeting doesn’t work for you, then GO TO ANOTHER MEETING.

Objective Science - Sheldon - Jan 2nd 2009
Regarding references to objective science & Harvard studies regarding the effectiveness of AA: §         If, as you say, “AA is a positive force for sobriety around the world” that force shouldn’t be all that difficult to quantify.§         Harvard said that people entering AA fare worse than people who try to quit on their own. This is poppycock.   Talk to me when you can find a scientific measure for “willingness” (or for “love”, “hope”, and “faith”, for that matter).  Once you have that metric, then we can talk scientific about the success rate of AA and other support groups (most all of them follow the same 12-step method). Recovery is not for people who need it or want it.  It is for people who are willing to do some work.  And, the result of that work is good (get things right with yourself and others; enjoying life, etc.) AA is loosely organized for a good reason.  If you don’t like what a particular group or sponsor does, then find another group!  If can’t make that discretion on your own, then get advice from a trusted friend that you respect.  

discernment intuition instincts - Valerie - Dec 30th 2008

I'll try to not ramble but pls bear with me :-)  I have 11 months of sobriety - no alcohol since 9.27.07 but relapsed with "outside issue" (mind altering substance & street drug) on my 119th day - I started attending AA mtgs June 2007 and went thru revolving doors 4-5 times that summer - I have had 5 yrs, & various 6 mo. 2mo. 1 & 1/2 yr periods of not drinking in my life without AA - it was mainly becuz it was inconvenient due to commuting to city daily & not about "willpower" the desire had blessedly GONE during these times - ANYWAY since I was 16 yrs old I knew inherently that I was a person whom there is no such thing as "having a couple of drinks"....I rationialized that I was "blessed" becuz I was a "ightweight" and would simply get SICK if I consumed more than a "ladylike" amount - again, it wasn't "restraint", it was purely not liking becoming ILL!  When I crossed "the line" of higher tolerance, switching types of drink, countless vain attempts to "find a way to indulge without consequences" ETCETERa & became tolerant of harder liquor & "accomplishing" feat of drinking any time of day or nite - also would drink myself "sober", stop , eat, nap, wash face, then START OVER within 12 hr period - I knew I had reached a place of knowing I had a drinking problem and the horrid realization that I no longer seemed to have the option to "cut back" "stop" etceteraaaaa.  So I asked my drinking friend's brother where & when aa mtgs were (he had 2 yrs of sobriety at the time, and was "hopeless" as in no one EVER imagined he would not only achieve sobriety, but also quality sobriety & without losing his individuality was able to utilize aa program with success.  To me success in AA means to be able to filter thru the troubling control/rigidity and cult like traits that occur, and to focus on the FACT that so many people who have been considered beyond hope drunks for life have become sober & stayed sober & without "white knuckling" it.  I for one had been "partying" for so many years that before attending aa I couldn't imagine how I'd ever have fun & be jolly without ingesting anything to "alter my state" (get loaded!).  I had a sick sponsor to start with, she truly is manipulative, mean spirited, catty, jealous, narrow minded, and is NOT HAPPY for others when they evolve/grow in a positive way - and while I'm obviously still processing my sickness at her horrid actions, it's calming down & I'm seeing that without this bad experience with her, it would not be so instilled in me the gift of discernment & truly respecting/honoring myself as a person that despite flaws/defects, is for the most part not way off base as far as my intuition/instincts/gut feelings.  I hope this makes sense, I'm rambling becuz I've been on computer for hours :-)  It'd take a novel to describe what I experienced with her, but all in all, looking back - when I asked her to be my sponsor (this was actually her manipulating situation in order to "appear" as if I ASKED HER when I was feeling "NO NO NO not her I don't want her to be my sponsor!"...story in itself!  even tho my gut feeling was NO NO NO not her - something in me (God likely :-) just knew that she was the one to start with becuz she does adhere to AA singleness of purpose & is structured about step work & knowledgable....I'm glad I did my steps 1-8 and part of 9 with her guidance - I got a good foundation - and looking back, altho many anxiety/depression/manipulation/mind f*** encounters while interacting with her - I had a realization that I truly am capable of focussing on task(s) at hand & that the other sick dillusional stuff about her personality was - well - just that - sick dissusional controlling and something SEPARATE from the fact that she is adept at stepwork foundation setting - just 3 months ago - ironically my interaction with her TAUGHT ME HOW to distance myself from her & get a different sponsor - a lady I felt drawn to in 2nd aa mtg I ever attended, it was just a fluke (or a God thing?) that the day I decided time to ask for a sponsor she wasn't there & my 1st sponsor was & was coming on strong.  I guess my point (or pointS) of commenting is that every human being, every group dynamic, aa, school, cliques, bridge clubs, baseball teams, bowling leagues, has some real a**holes control freaks officious manipulative negative "apples" and throughout history it has always been a given - forgive if this sounds trite/simplistic, but it's just TRUE - & I am not claiming AT ALL to "have found it!", just reflecting that we must find that place (or at least get close to grasping it) of trusting ourselves & our intuition & it's a lifelong process - cuz with being vulnerable/ill from alcohol & whatever abuse of all kinds & already feeling doubtful of our own reality & also being susecptible to controlling people when we are crawling into aa in that lost & desolate state of mind/spirit - there is STILL a strong awareness/instinct within us that just KNOWS when someone or some situation just doesn't "feel right" - we may not have a clue WHAT isn't right, or even IF it's about right/ just IS *there*, a feeling/vibe of something just NOT being "ok" - - - I'm finding as "more being revealed" that I don't "have" to know what specifically is "not right", for example why my stomach knots up around certain individuals - but I also don't "have" to address it or "find out" or explore WHAT/WHO/WHY - the day goes on, nothing "stays the same" - I guess that perception lots of people have when they are in a troubling distressing situation of it being PERMANENT & will "always be so" is what to me was extremely upsetting & frustrating - now, I'm becoming more confident in the fact that I am NOT at the mercy of others/scenarious/ - and basically just getting better at "being comfortable with being uncomfortable" geez I HPE this makes some sense, it's so hard for me to put it in words, but maybe in a few more months I'll be able to express my observation in an articulate manner - I just felt compelled to write this after reading this interesting posting of other aa member's experiences & opinions - I agree there are disturbing to say the least cultish & bullying vibes that abound, but I am so relieved/elated/refreshed to also note that there are aa members & dynamics that are just face value & common sense & sincerity in the main purpose of achieving some manageability/sobriety without fiending for drink/quality of life /peace of mind/having FUN in life and the fact that so many stay sober without "white knucking it" &/or "fiending for a buzz" provide "proof" somewhat that for some reason aa seems to be a workable route to address "problem drinking" i.e., when one is simply not a person who can "have a few drinks" & leave it at that - unlike those of us who have "a drink" that must lead to more, and more, and get further away from freedom to exist without ability to "stay in the present moment"!  ok I know I'm not making sense - again, pls forgive my rambling - as I said before it is beyond verbalizing what I'm trying to reflect on.  feedback most appreciated (pls don't flame or make fun of me :-)  thx for all the postings here, it is the first time I've ever explored aa on internet and it helps so much to read about things that I thought were "just me" and it really has alleviated so much self doubt I've had!  Valerie

Kudos! - Lisa - Dec 26th 2008

Thank you for a well-written and thoughtful view of the flaws in AA.

As I have written in response to another article on this site, I have been sober in AA for over 22 years. However, AA helped me the most when I dissembled myself into thinking it was THE panacea for alcoholism.

It is not. It works if the member believes in magic and magical thinking, and doesn't mind a roomful of predators and self-proclaimed gurus.  



Journey light - - Nov 29th 2008
I always believed in God but when I first came to AA meetings I never understood the 12-steps, they were not making sense.  Then one day, as I kept coming back the light was turned on.  I have been now sober over one year and that is a miracle.  My relationship with God today is so incredible.  I really believe in the power of prayer.  If it wasnt for God I wouldnt have made it to the tables.  I have so much gratitude and peace today.  I was hurting so badly when I started attending meetings,  I thought I was going to loose everything, including my son.  Over a year later, I have been working through the steps, Im now working on step 10, I have a sponsor, I contact people who are in aa on a daily basis, I also have a wonderful support network that is not apart of aa but they are supportive of my recovery and they have seen the miracles and they see now that AA is the right way for me today.  I was told I had to change, that meant CHANGING EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!  I still go through ups and downs but its apart of growth.  Growth is not suppose to be easy, but when you stay strong, and turn your will and life over to God the tides lead to blessings when you hang on........  Today I am with my son, which I do not take for granted!!!!!  I have landed the highest paying job I have ever had since sober, also going to college, and paying for things on my own.  Wow!!!!!!!  I am so blessed,  AA has really been their for me through good times and the tough ones I thought I would not survive through.  I have so much peace, hope, love, self-control, and Im learning on the importance of giving to others without expecting anything in return.... Thats what my journey is about,   Its not all about me today!!!!  Damn, sometimes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   Thank you AA and most of all thank you Lord!!!

How very unfortunate - Claire - Nov 19th 2008

I was with you on this, Dr. Dombeck, up until the end where you seem to suggest that folks who criticise AA are, essentially, immature individuals with crappy judgment.  

From reading your various writings on this website, it is clear to me that you have simply not been to enough AA meetings to have a true understanding of what goes on in them or how much dysfunction goes on underneath the satified smiles of many long term members.  Even in the best meetings, one can never get around the fundamental belief of AA which is that recovery is merely "a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of one's spiritual condition".  It is truly incredible to hear people with 20, 30, 40 years of sobriety claim that the further away they are from their last drink, the closer they are to their next...and to watch others nod gravely as if this made sense.

If there is indeed a baby in the AA bathwater, it is the comfort that we can all derive from talking to other people who have been in our shoes.  There is no doubt that this can be helpful.  It's just that the price of this contact can be so incredibly high.  

I am still close friends with many AA members, so I can vouch for the fact that decent people do go to meetings.  Not everyone is crazy!  But as a result I get to see some of the fallout from the group, and since I'm not wearing AA blinders anymore, I can see it for what it is.  The last thing I learned of was a relationship between a guy who is considered an AA "elder statesman" and a woman I used to sponsor.  He's in the process of a divorce, and living with still another woman in AA.  My former sponsee called me in tears, telling me about how she had MADE AMENDS to this man because she felt resentful at him for using her like this.

This is what AA calls recovery.  I call it nonsense.

Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly... - Melanie - Sep 12th 2008

I am 30 years old.  I went to my first  AA meeting when I was 22.  September 28, 2001. When I woke up that morning I was laying in a hospital bed hooked up to monitors and IV's.  I don't know how long I had been out or what exactly had happened.  I knew something bad had happened. I sensed my parents were in the room and that my my life had changed.   As I came to I realized what had happened. I knew that  I had overdosed and worst of all now my parents knew about my secret.   I had always been able to pull myself together.  Sure I indulged and went overboard with my drinking but I could control it when it came down to But that was a lie I told myself.  I could not show up for anything at the end. For my senior thesis,  I handed in 30 or so pages of unfinished work. I had spent three days in my room, stting at my desk, typing.  I handed in a stack of papers and my notes.  I put a post it on top that read I was sorry. That professor gave me a C and I graduated.

When I learned that God was involved in this program I stopped listening. I started attending  a different 12 step program looking to identify.  I got a sponsor and started meeting with her.  I wanted to get better but did not know how to deal with God.  She said that she did not know how to sponsor someone who didn't believe in God. It hurt to hear that from someone that was supposed to be my guide.  I felt utterly defeated and ashamed that I could not get it right.  I acted as if I was working the program, I had a sponsor who I met with regularly, I had service committments, I did assignments for my sponsor .  I was not willing to surrender to the process.  I pretended I was doing it right.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other to solve our common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.  That's it.  Everyone has the right to their own experience. After 6 years I needed something I was not getting from my regular meetings.  I chose another meeting the met the same day and time as my old meeting in my neighborhood.  I found what it was I was looking for all along, understanding, compassion,and identification.  

God will do for you what you have not been able to do yourself BUT God will not do for you what you can do for yourself.  I have take action and walk though the fear. The effort is me, the outcome is not.  Sometimes quickly...sometimes slowly, they will always materialize if we work fo them.


A therapist in AA - - Sep 1st 2008

It is too bad that those who aren't in the AA program have to bash it.

If you want to see people who have "grown out of" AA meetings, you will see them pounding their hands on the table saying, What happened.

I have seen lots of miracles in my years in the program and feel sorry for people like you who don't have the insight as to the tremendous healing that takes place.

We therapists have a lot to give both AA members and others. The concepts may not be enough for people who need social skills education, or steps to recover from depression. But I can't tell you how many people I have seen who have become active members of society, gotten married, had good homes, raised healthy kids because of their involvement in AA. Get on to something that you know about, that might help.

Interesting article - Matt - Jul 30th 2008

I found the article thought provoking and very even handed.  I say that as an active member of AA with 5 years who happens to be agnostic.  A couple thoughts I had:

It's hard to find anything objective about AA - so I really appreciated this.  Much of the discussion about it seems to either be pollyannish from those whose lives have been radically altered in a positive way or completely negative - often I think from people who have a problem with spiritual language.  Personally I've found that working on taking responsibility for myself, ammending my wrongs, and helping others leads to a much more positive outlook and stable sobriety - whether or not you happen to believe in God.  Some people in AA have tried to influence my beliefs, sure, but then again - I've encountered many of these same people at work, at school and in my own family.

I understand that AA doesn't have an established exit strategy and many people, myself included, don't plan on leaving anytime soon - even after years of sobriety.  I'm not sure this is all that sinister however.  In my experience, the vast majority of long-timers stay because of the close friendships they've developed and the postive experiences they get from helping new members.  If you were to announce that you planned to leave after years of sobriety, you would likely get a lot of perhaps misplaced concern, but a lot less than you would trying to leave your average church in my opinion.  Also... everyone I know who has sobriety of my length or more does have friendships, families and acquantances outside of the fellowship, even if we tend to have some of our closest and most trusted confidents within the rooms.

For me, AA is not the way. - Mike Whitmer - Jul 29th 2008

Allow me to preface this comment with a bit of background: I am young (19 years old) and I am an agnostic. This is important to note for two reasons: one, being a young adult, I do not have the breadth and depth of life experience as many of the other posters on this website. Secondly, by specifying that I am agnostic, I want to make sure that everyone who reads this understands that I entered the program of AA as neither a proponent nor an opponent of the concept of spirituality. To put it succinctly, I was, and still am,76y just plain confused.

With that out of the way...

I attended a 28 day treatment program at a facility called Fellowship Hall in Greensboro, North Carolina back in the spring of 2007. During this nearly month-long stay I was introduced for the first time to the 12-step recovery program as well as the disease model of addiction. During the first week, still withdrawing and coming to terms with my circumstances, I withdrew and heavily resisted what I perceived as only slightly disguised brainwashing.

During the next 3 weeks, I experienced what can only be described as a military-esque "break them down to build them up" program of indoctrination. Because of how fragile my mental and emotional state was at the time, I eventually came to accept it as gospel and this was reinforced by our constantly being told that the 12-step method was the only way to get and maintain sobriety AND have a happy life.

For the record, despite the very justified resentments I have regarding this experience, I do respect and appreciate that my time at Fellowship Hall likely stopped me from killing myself, either by accident or on purpose. The way I was going, it was only a matter of time.

Fast forward through the next 3 months, during which I lived in a halfway house and an "Oxford House," also known as a "three-quarters house." I met some of the best and worst people I have ever come into contact with in these houses, and during this period, attended probably 150 AA and NA meetings. It was during this time that I got a solid, semi-permanent sponsor and began "working the program." I was doing service work, cleaning up at meetings, working the steps, going to the detox facility to speak with incoming patients -- spreading the word, if you will, and doing everything that was asked of me.

Within a few months, I began to become disgusted with the attitudes and behaviors of some of the most prevalent AA members in the area. One gentleman, with 25+ years of sobriety, was well-known as a “thirteenth stepper” who slept with newer (young) girls in the program, who then consistently went back out a short time afterwards. Everyone, even the established women in the program, knew this, but no one did anything but treat it as a joke. My biggest issue, however, was with people who did not practice what they preached. The elitism, narcissism, and megalomaniacal attitudes exhibited by these people were positive awe-inspiring at times. Being told to “sit down and shut up” more than a few times was just one of many of the anti-intellectual tenets that I found the program to be built around. One of the AA maxims was “think, think, think,” and yet anyone who thought about anything but how perfect the program was invariably was demonized and told to “come back when they were ready to take the cotton out of their ears and put it in their mouth.”

I think that above all, my biggest issue with the program is the idea that it is an “infallible program for fallible people.” Seriously, folks? A pseudo-religious program of indoctrination into an extremely rigid way of thinking as a spiritual treatment for a medical disease is the best we can still do 73 years later? The idea that the 12 step program works if you work it is just fine, except that for the VAST majority of people who try it, it doesn't work – period. To state explicitly that the only reason why such a program failed for someone is that they were not willing to submit to indoctrination (candy-coated into something easier to swallow, of course) is, pardon the French, bullshit to the highest degree.

That is not to say that I have not met some intelligent, open-minded individuals in the program. One of my good friends in the area is an AA member of good standing with a little over a year of sobriety, and also a local high school teacher. He is one of the ONLY members of the local AA community with whom I have spoken that accepts that the Big Book and what it proselytizes is NOT gospel, and that the 12 step program is NOT the only way to get and maintain sobriety. He, along with a select group of others who are not pretentious, holier-than-thou know-it-alls, have gained my respect through their actions and not simply through their well-rehearsed, recycled speeches at open discussion meetings.

I think the bottom line is this: “caveat emptor” applies to a lot of things in life, and this is certainly one of them. Question EVERYTHING – because in doing so, in using your natural intellectual skepticism, you are protecting yourself from something that, in my opinion, is nearly as bad as the drinking and drugs were – that is, indoctrination into something that fits many of the qualifiers for a cult group.

I will add more to this as it comes to me. Thanks for reading.

Sober and recovering from AA - Patrick - Jul 26th 2008

AA is an interesting topic, first of its success numbers among people is irrellevent because its a persons choice to drink or not, everyones numbers are. Second, AA is a controlling "society" of recovery(or a religion of recovery). Thats what it is. I entered at 20 and have been led to believe things about myself that aren't true. Given psycho anallisis by uquallified people. Was told I was crazy and insane. Been told at meetings it was wrong to have sex(even after your 1st year) that all sex is a defective and wrong, been scammed, sexually abused, I've been told by many(so many I can't count) that christianity is the only true god, was told I was beyond help because I would go to a catholic church or confession. They have a "way" of doing things. If you listen to everything, you belong. If you don't your treated as if your a bad person. There are a lot of really twisted members and most meetings are churchlike societies with a few central figures who make rules and decide who is ready for help and who is beyond help. I've seen a lot of people  ostrasized because they wouldn't conform and give all their life's descions over to the group. Its sad to watch someone asking for help being told to leave because of their job, dating habits, or god preference. The worst part is you come in so broken with a lot of issues and they instill fear that if you don't do what they say you are hopeless, and that your a bad person. It happens to a lot of young people who don't want to act like 45 year old married men,  and the young people are struggling to build a life and cope with being young and addicted. Its a religion, and worse, most meetings are "societies." I wish I had been shown a different path a 20. My life was bad at 20, AA made it worse. 

AA - to Col - JR - Jun 21st 2008

Without knowing more of your circumstances I cannot really say, but it does sound as if you are one of the many (including myself) for whom the response to the "How it Works" proposition is that it doesn't actually, for me.  If you are free to do so, seek out alternatives.  References are available on the Orange Papars (Google).  Another Google that might be useful is "Rational Recovery" with "Trimpey".  RR is just about the antithesis of AA, and is definitely not for everybody, but the website is definitely worth a look - even if the rather austere recipe proposed by Jack Trimpey is no more for you than is AA.

One thing - I fully understand the point about preferring to promise your wife that you will not drink to getting enmired in the 12-Step business if the latter does not do it for you.  I am sure that my wife would say (and yours would agree) that she appreciates such promises - but only provided that they are matched with deeds.  "By their deeds you shall know them".  Very true, not least for alcoholics wishing to recover. 

You might try this - review your drinking history, the impact that this has had on your life and relationships, and the impact on your health and wellbeing, and ask yourself, "is it in my self-interest, is it consistent with my self-respect, is it even moral, that I should continue to drink alcohol, and feed the Beast of addiction within my body?"  And, if the answers to these questions indicates that you should not drink again, make an agreement with yourself - "I will not drink again.  I will not change my mind". 

Yes, Editor, I know - this is pure Rational Recovery/AVRT/Trimpeyism.  Well, fine.  It works for me.  Also, it is worth at least a look as an alternative for those who find the 12-Step approach unhelpful.  Not, mind you, that AA admits any alternative paths to Recovery (not the same thing as mere recovery, it seems) ...

My experience - Col - Jun 20th 2008


  • I'm in AA, and I dont like the God thing. AA said that if I fail, thats fine. I prefer promising my wife I wont drink.Cult is a good word; I have have been pressured by AA member - its just made it worse I drink more in AA than I did.
  • I have read AA is quasi-religious; I have to agree.


AA Mark and - JR - May 31st 2008

My, but aren't you the lofty one ? I know that it is a long-established debating technique to dismiss positions with which one does not agree witlh an insult ("vitriol") and then declare that to attempt to answer them would be pointless - but why go down that road ? Mind you, I wonder whether addressing insults and unreasoned derision towards the opinions of people who come to this topic from a background of bad experiences with AA is likely to prove productive or enlightening ?

Speaking of insults, the suggestion that these people necessarilyy "know nothing about" AA is a bit presumptious, is it not ? Not to mention improbable ? I know that from a viewpoint within the cocoon of the Fellowship it may be difficult to remember, but, well, the truth is that very few people who have not attained a degree of knowledge of AA actually have any interest in it. Most people would rather not know about AA, beyond a vague "understanding" that it is a group that holds meetings, and that offers some sort of magic cure (or at least containment zone) for an affliction that they would rather not know too much about. indeed, an affliction that they fear. If a person is interested in this topic, some level of involvement with, and knowledge of, the realities of the Fellowship might at least be assumed although, it is true, this knowledge may be merely practical rather than in a form supplemented by "book learning".

And when one appeals to an authority, it is surely better to do so on a sound basis. Carl Jung was an "adviser" to AA, therefore AA has a scientific base ? Dear me. As far as I can discover, there is little or no evidence that Jung was anything more than a very distant inspiration for the Fellowship's "spiritual program" in its early stages, and even this evidence now appears highly unreliable. More solidly founded evidence of limited correspondence between Bill Wilson and Jung many years later (1963, I think) hardly qualifies him as an "adviser", either. In any event, it is clear that Jung's apparent affinity with or approval of AA derived from what might be described as the mystical/spiritual side of his beliefs, rather than the scientific. This less material side of his thinking, which is well attested in his writings and in contexts other than this, has little to do with his contribution to science - Jung himself seems to have regarded these realms of the spirit as above and beyond mere, puny science. This sort of connection with Jung scarcely supports an inference that his approval (such as it may have been) substantiates the idea that AA has some sort of scientific basis. In any case, the Big Book itself eschews science in favour of "spirit". Unless I am seriously missing something. And, believe me, I can read ...

Best regards,


The Debate - Mark - May 30th 2008

I was pleasantly pleased to find an arena in which to discuss this topic.  As a long-time AA member, who found sobriety there after 6 failed attempts at "theraputic" hospital rehab, I have a great fondness for the organization.  That said, it has always been a source of frustration for me that there is no room (and I mean NONE) within the traditional confines of AA as it exists today for questioning any of the group's core beliefs.  Not attempts at refuting them, mind you, but even attempts at discussing how some of them might just not work for certain people, or are potentially self-limitting, etc.  That was my original purpose for joining this discussion, but after reading some of these comments, I think I will reserve those comments for another evening.  Instead, I simply have to respond to some of the vitriol being spewed about this organization by people who quite obviously know not one thing about it, it's history, it's traditions, beliefs....nothing!  The comments about AA completely lacking any scientific basis, for example, are obvously unaware that Carl Jung was an early AA advisor, and that the 4th step involves a deep and sincere examination of one's long-held fears, angers, resentments, etc, that clearly represent an early form of what we today consider psycho-therapy.  I would happily address many of these ill-informed arguments, but honestly what would be the point.  Fundamentalists are rarely swayed by reason or debate. 

Make no mistake, AA is as inherently flawed as any other human endeavor.  It works for some, and doesn't for others, but the same can be said for all other current approaches to addiction treatment.  What it is, though, is a free and widely available haven for those attempting the enormous challenge of finally addressing their disease.  I would love to address and discuss the many serious flaws which do quite obviously exist within AA, and would gladly do so with those who have at least taken the time and effort to do their homework, but honestly, from the tenor of so many of these letters, it would be like explaining Kafka to a chimp.


Excellent job, thanks - Allan H. - May 6th 2008

A fair, level-headed and intelligent summary.  Muchas gracias.  I made it 14 years of wonderful sobriety and basically worshipped A.A. until last year when I stumbled upon a klatch of these knuckleheads that have become the subject of this scandal.  I am still disturbed and basically heart-broken to learn of the existence of Mid-towners, Atlantic and Pacific Groupers etc.

Call me innocent.  I have been serving in the Navy and going to meetings all over this planet for years.  The fellowship I knew (and still know) is one of loose rules, good natured razzing and near constant laugher; guys cruising around in packs looking for meetings and the meeting afterwards, having coffee while charming the sh-- out of coffehouse waitresses.   Although I have many good and fulfilling friendships outside of AA, there exists a level of intimacy and genuiness in AA that goes far beyond those mainstream relationships.  Sometimes I almost pity those 'normies' because they don't have what we in AA have.

Then I met some of these Atlantic group clowns.  They have really caused a ridiculous amount of hate and discontent and embarrassment in our region.

Allow me to say what I notice about them:

They are extremely organized.

They emphasize service work.

They hold the sponsor in (much too) high esteem and give them way too much power.  It introduces the dangerous element of 'charismatic' leader.

They like bossing people around.

They have little if any social life outside of AA. They are highly prone to 13th stepping for that reason and also because they seem to have a very predatory disposition.  

They claim to be fun people.  Of course, they even set up "fun committees" to include of course, a Fun Club Chairman and vice-chairman, and probably several other officers.

They are intelligent and manipulative, and work into the intergroup and take advantage of us casual old-timers, citing traditions all the way as they subtley, skillfully, and methodically establish their vision of AA.

These sick f--s disgust and horrify me. I'm hoping they are still a minority and the wonderful AA that my father sobered up in 1974 and made it easy and obvious for me to go into in 1993 is still the AA the rookies see as they come in.

It is awkward and a bit dangerous for some of us veterans to walk gracefully along that fine line between 'elder statesman' and 'bleeding deacon', but I think we need to at the least, let them know what kind of horsesh-- they are...just not in front of the newcomers. 

neither are rehabs - - Feb 24th 2008
A stay in an orphanage has a "stepping off point", it isn't meant to be a permanent address!  aa is more like an adoption center without the legal checks and balances in place that at least attempt to legally defend the adoptees from abuse.  How about the large amount of aa members who staff the rehab centers?  Many are supposed to be overseen by  qualified and educated people but are primarily actuated by others who have accepted permanent powerlessness just until they can achieve positions of at least temporary power over others sent there by well-meaning family or the court system.  My husband's guilt-denying fear of church was apparent when I challenged him to attend 90 church services in 90 days since he felt I needed to go to 90 alanon meetings in 90 days.  It is a minefield of ego pitfalls, especially for those who have narcissistic defense tendencies.    

- agrippa - Nov 7th 2007

First things first -- No professional has any business sending anyone to AA.  At no time.  Under no condition.  AA is iatrogenic, by nature and intent.

If one does go to AA:  no surname; no phone number; no address; no sponsor; no steps.   Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead.  Thus, no serious disclosures; gossip is endemic.  Nothing is confidential.

 AA has become, in fact, part of the criminal justice system.  It has become:  "Do you want to go to aa; or, do you want to go to jail?"  This is by the intent of AA.  That is illegal in 17 states.  proceed as indicated.

The first paragraph is a warning.  It is not hyperbole.  If one attends AA, one must be governed by the principle of calculated risk.  The risk is proximate.

So many of the observations are right on... - - Oct 25th 2007

...although I myself am not an alcoholic, just don't drink by choice, intefers with my powerlifting, my wife is. She has been clean and sober for over ten years. We, from time to time, have attended AA meetings in town. The problem is always the same, and we've attended meetings all over the area...when we go togehter, everything is "rosy"...they just "love" us both...but, when she attends alone, she comes home shaking her head and literally stunned, at the predators that are trying to "13th Step" her, even though they know she is married, they know I could crush them like a grape and they must know it's just flat WRONG. The rest of the time, her "friends" at these meetings, spend their time telling her about how I'm "not one of them" and "can't understand what they go through", and she should be using her available "time" with them. Keep in mind, my wife and I have a wonderful marriage, cherish each other, respect each other, very, very much. My point is that like it or not, they can admit it or not, AA is full to the brim with predators and people with an agenda. Most people would be much better off doing what my wife and I do, take time each and every day to sit down and share our lives...our hopes, dreams, fears, concerns...what is making us happy today...what isn't. A little communication with a spouse, lover, child, parent, friend, goes a long way in not only dealing with addictions, but with life in general.

I urge everyone to do what works for them...but please don't go to any AA meeting without your eyes...and mind...wide open.

I wish everyone the best with their addictions and lives.      

No One Size Fits All - EW - Oct 11th 2007

Just like a pair of shoes, a shirt, or size won't fit everybody.  There's a saying:  "Take what you need and leave the rest."  That's what I do in AA.  Some suggestions are worthy and others I consider crackpot, but the person next to me might think otherwise.

Is AA a cult?  Personally I don't believe it is. However, I believe there are cults within AA.  Some groups (headed by certain people) take things way too far.  Example:  one group I attended had oldtimers who consistently raised a fuss about service-work.  Those who were too busy, going to other meetings, had families, etc. and couldn't make coffee were considered "stealing" from the program.  To them it didn't matter if you "suit up & show up," stay sober, and put a dollar in the basket---you've done your part.  The fact you "couldn't give back what was so freely given" angered them.  Did these AA gurus get anything accomplished?  Absolutely not.  But they sure made asses of themselves.  It was so pathetic it was funny.

 This is just one example of types of B.S. I've seen in the program.  I've been to other meetings where know-it-alls talk down & belittle more junior members.  The people who were crapped on vanish into thin air.  Did they go to other meetings or just say to Hell with it?  Can anyone blame them for leaving?  In early recovery we are sensitive folks.  They call it "onion skin."  Who needs a loudmouth jerkoff acting like a dictator?  It's not like (as if) the person being belittled was guilty of some horrific crime.  They didn't kill anybody.  All they wanted was help.  Not to be babied, but some guidance.  There's such a thing as in-between.  Yet, so many old-timers see only black & white.

And yes, I think those sponsors who try to convince their sponsees to go off their psychiatric meds in hopes that a loving God will cure everything should be arrested and fined!!!  Who are they to play doctor?  Can't they see they're literally gambling with someone else's life?

 I just stay sober and don't drink or drug no matter what.  Life is pretty dang good.  I got a girlfriend, a good job, money in the bank, and the desire to get loaded is not there anymore.  I just do what works for one person only----me. 

reservations about aa - meredith - Sep 16th 2007
i'm a fairly new member of aa and have had a couple of slips but recuperated quite quickly without any cravings or prolonged desire for more alchohol after a 1 day slip. I wasn't happy about my decision to pick up but I wasn't going to go in front of the group the very next day and make the dreaded confession as was suggested by my sponsor.  I was basically being manipulated into publicly shaming myself for having had some drinks.  sustained abstinence does not occur through these shame and fear based rituals.  Wearing a scarlet letter in front of other aa members will invoke feelings of resentment;self disintegration and self pity and co-dependency.  These will inevitably lead us back towards our addiction.  I believe that is why the success rate in aa is so low.  An aa members sobriety doesn't belong to  the individual anymore but to the collective group so I suppose their faltering has to be exposed to the collective as well.  AA almost has a sort of midevil flavor to it that is a bit frightning.  As the old adage goes: the road to hell is paved w/good intentions!

can you scientifically measure philosophy? - Elisa - Aug 28th 2007
I would like to add that as an American, I do NOT believe in court-mandated AA meeting attendance.  Court-mandated rehab?  Maybe.  Court-mandated psychological counciling?  Definitely.  Court-mandated AA attendance?  NOT AT ALL.  And if given the chance to vote about this, I would campaign and vote a really loud NO against court-mandated AA attendence.
That's not to say that parole officers and judges shouldn't be free to recommend it to offenders.  I just don't think it should be legally coerced in any way.
For a multitude of reasons.  First and foremost because AA is non-professional, and there's really no way to check up on these people anyway.

As an AA member, I support a decision NOT to sign court-ordered AA attendance slips. 
(I believe a nudge or a grudge is okay - but not a judge.)

As an AA member, I would never be rude or unwelcoming to someone who attends an AA meeting because they're court-mandated. 

But I have been known to point out to them that they could basically get ANYONE off the street to sign that sheet, and just put down the meeting from an AA meeting schedule. 

Court ordered AA is a joke.  And sadly, the joke is often at the expense of the good people of the community, including good recovered people in AA.

As a general citizen of the planet earth, in my personal opinion, people who are court-ordered to AA tend to be the people who seem to get the least out of it, never mind that they definitely seem to be the people who contribute the least.

If someone's forced into something, how effective can it really be?  Any measure of AA's worth based on people who were forced into a spiritual & philosophical based support group is inherently flawed.

AA is not an orphanage for adults - Elisa - Aug 28th 2007
I think it's ironic that the same people who viciously complain about the wrongs controlling people in AA do, want AA to become a controller to somehow stop the wrongs.

The problem is control.

AA is founded upon a foundation of NO authority whatsoever.

It should be a no-brainer that anyone in AA trying to be an authority is going AGAINST AA.

The fact that AA doesn't control members to stop them from controlling others...  seems to me there'd be no other way.
Because what if AA did allow authority to stop these controlling people.  Well what happens when the controlling people take over the authority of AA?  Then the bad controlling would be institutionalized in the organization.

Clearly the only solution to these dangers is to have NO authority whatsoever.  Then there's no way shady people could take any institutional control of the organization.  They may gain what might seem like rank to them or some others, but they will have no real power.

But there is PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY & personal accountability.  This is a foundation in AA.

Black & white thinking indeed.  If you blame AA because someone in AA, just like yourself, vested with no authority, told you to go and have sex with someone, and you, of your own free will, decided to have sex with that person based on someone else telling you to.  How is that AA's fault?

Or was it a Borderline delusion that this even happened? 

Because yeah, I've had Borderline type members accuse me of saying things I never said, and never would say.  They can twist things around so it's indistinguishable from reality. 
I could say, "It helped me to get away from my family member who was actively drinking alcoholicly."  and a Borderline person will hear that as, and claim to others as: "She told me that my family members are all alcoholics, and threatened me to stay away from them."
Yeah, it's that severe.

I've seen people, particularly those apparently exhibiting signs of Borderline Personality Disorder, blame AA when they drink, or when someone else drinks, because members weren't nice enough to them!

Um, hello - these aren't paid therapists you're dealing with - they're people just like you. 

There's no such thing as a free lunch!

But the problem with people with Borderline disorder - they think everyone on earth was put there to take care of them, and be who they want them to be.
In a sense many alcoholics have this sense of entitlement, but usually we listen to reason regarding that once we sober up.  Borderlines continue that way of thinking, even stone cold sober.

I heard a joke years ago:
What's the difference between an alcoholic and a psychotic?
You ask the psychotic "What's 2 +2?" the Psychotic answers "5".
You ask the alcoholic, "What's 2+2?" and the alcoholic says, "4...  But I don't like it"

It should be a no brainer that healthy people are not going to want to take care of another adult person they meet in AA like a child. 
And the people who are unhealthy certainly are unable to take care of another adult.
And anyone offering to take care of you should be viewed with great skepticism!

So the problem I see with these "AA critics" is that their PREMISE was faulty in the first place.
No, AA will not take care of you!  There's nothing in the organization that claims itself as such.  Nobody sensible in AA will offer to take care of you like you're a child!

AA is simply, nothing more & nothing less, people sharing suggestions & experience, guidance & support, on how to stay away from the first drink, and basic survival in life without drinking alcohol.

If you're looking for some authority to take care of you, look after you, protect you, like a parent with a toddler - you're barking up the wrong tree in the first place.

And just like it's co-dependency to expect one person to be your EVERYTHING - it's co-dependent (and foolhardy) to expect AA to be your everything.
Nowhere in AA literature does it advise against a well-rounded lifestyle.  And it should be a no-brainer, like Frances K said, to seek help with other things from the proper sources.
There is PLENTY I get from other sources.
I read books on 'religion' by Buddhists.  I learned about boundaries from books on boundaries written by a psychologist.    My medical doctor treats me for a stomach problem.  I consulted a lawyer about a legal matter.  I have friends, some in AA some not.  Some I'm close with, some not.  Some I go to for support, some not.  Some I do fun activities with, some not.  As for having a spouse or a romantic partner - a partner is just that, a partner!  I can't expect an equal romantic partner to act as my doctor, to be my only friend, or to parent me or take care of me.  Partners are EQUALS.

And none of this is free.  There's no such thing as free.
I pay for books, the insurance I get with my job along with myself pay for my medical services.  My romantic partner will need me to bring as much to the relationship as I take, and so will my friends, and so will the people I associate with in AA.

When AA sponsorship works, which is never a guarantee, it's because the relationship develops into a mature and at least somewhat balanced alliance.  And if it doesn't develop into a mature & somewhat balancd alliance, then at least somebody has stayed sober.
And that describes the word "pigeon" - an old-time term word for "sponsor".  Because the pigeon craps all over you, and then flies away (for better or worse).  But if the sponsor has still stayed sober - that's still a success.

- Jill - Jul 1st 2007

Hi Frances

So let me get this straight.  If there is a predator or someone who commits abuse in your home group, you're comfortable with running him off to another meeting where he can use and abuse others?  So I guess at least he's out of your group and you don't have any responsibilites, is that correct?

This is the problem with AA.  They want to take all of the credit for any successes and no accountability for any of the failures or harm associated with their program. That is why it is not a credible organization.

I am happy for you that your life has been a success.  As I'm sure you're aware, many people quit drinking and move on to be successful members of society, with or without AA.  In fact, the majority of these people do not attend AA, they simply wisen up and move on. 

So I guess all is well that you're successful and you can keep predators and abusers out of your life and of those who happen to pick your group to attend.  Guess the rest of the people won't be so lucky.  But hey, "some must die so others can live", right?

It Works For me - Frances K - Jun 28th 2007

I'm a 60 year old woman who has been a member of AA in Houston, Texas since 1977. I have almost 30 years of sobriety. I don't think it would have been possible for me without AA. Along with AA, I needed every positive thing that I could get my hands on to stay sober during the ups and downs of all these past years. During 30 years, we all go through a lot of life's events and AA is not meant to be the total answer to everything. It is just the support that you can use to stay sober and have a fighting chance at solving your other problems, I think.

For the most part, AA members that I respected told me to seek outside help for some things if I needed it. They told me that they were not my doctors, my lawyers, my landlords,my social directors or my financial institutions . No one gave me advice about divorcing my husband when I was two years sober. When I did this, no one told me who to date or who to marry.

No one certainly ever told me that I couldn't have friends outside the program. I have monthly luncheons with co-workers that have remained friendly all these years. I always had my co-workers, neighbors, ect. that I was close to and they were not alcoholics so I don't remember any pressure to exclude them. I can tell you what does happen over time to a lot of us old timers in the program. It seems like that we don't really have to go to a lot of meetings to stay sober and we do grow past having much in common with the newcomers except their disease. But sometimes we go to meetings to meet our friends, but more importantly, we go to meet newcomers who we can support in their effort to be sober. No one can really understand why we do this until they have experienced it - just suffice it to say that it is truly the "icing on the cake" of sobriety!

However, I think that the main reason our social life frequently revolves around fellow AA's is just because of preference. My husband and I prefer AA friends to non AA friends because we have more fun with them. You know, social drinkers like to have a few drinks with their friends and they may even prefer friends that they can enjoy this activity with. Along the same line, it seems that we in AA enjoy our time more when we are with like- minded people. However, that doesn't mean that we don't visit with our neighbors while they drink their beer or don't go out with other friends who drink margaritas at lunch. It's just that our best times are with our AA friends......all the shared history, the memories over the years. It is a great bond and is a lot of fun. That's about all it is, really. No one ever says that this is who we HAVE to socialize with.

I am really sorry that some people were told in AA that they couldn't have a relationship with their family or others. That would be a very sick individual with a control problem to give that advice. As for my parents and family, I was told that the rest of my life would be a living amend to the people I had hurt the worst. Sure, my parents were toxic as hell. Mother was a raging co-depentent and dad drank until the day he died. and that did not come soon enough for him. he prayed to die for the last 15 years of his drinking. that is what my life was doomed to be were it not for AA. Just like him. i was dying but just not fast enough. After sobriety, my relationshp with them changed over time. They no longer had the power to influence me or get me embedded in thier stuff so I was able to be with them for short periods of time and be a good, loving daughter. by the time my father passed away - there were no recriminations and blame, only forgiveness and relief that he had, at last, found recovery.

I am sad to hear that some AA members have "pretended to be physicians" and advised members about their medications. Even as early as 1977 when I first came into AA, I was told that "we are not doctors" and that we should only give our own stories about medications and only then if asked. But to never, never, tell someone to go against their doctor's advice. If anyone wants to know what I have taken in sobriety, I am happy to tell them that I have been on SSRI type antidpressants at times for situational depression like a death on the family, etc. and that I have required pain meds for operations and for dental emergencies and I did not lose my sobriety.

As for sponsors, my home group views sponsorship as very important to help you get through the steps. We frequentlyl need assistance and accountability while getting through them. You can change sponsors anytime you want to for any reason. Sponsors are supposed to ony share their experience, strength and hope and if they do not have any experience with an issue - maybe they are supposed to SHUT UP!

The most controversial thing at the time that I ever did outside of AA was go into inner child therapy. It was very new then. A few old timers in AA were leery of that! One of them warned me that I might get drunk if I blamed my parents for my problems. They said "watch out and don't get on that "pity pot". At the time, I did not find that advice very helpful because I had some grief work to do and it may look like a "Pity party" to them but it was anything but that to me. The advice disturbed me a little but my therapist explained to me that these old timers meant well, they were just ill informed. That made sense to me and I continued. Today, most members of AA are very supportive of reputable therapists and counselors, - even inner child work!

Other things I have tried are going to church, careeer counseling, financial counseling, etc..... anything that I could do to help me string together a life worth living. And that is exactly what I have. I have more than that. I have a life that many people would change places with me in a heartbeat. I have a marriage that has lasted 26 years and we still want to be together. (after a track record of 2 divorces behind each of us) I have two adult children who are actually somewhat functional! I will tell you that they earn six figure salaries only to show you how our stable (but not perfect) marriage gave them a good place to heal from this family disease. I keep hesitating to use the word miracle because I know that is not a scientific term and may offend others who have a different opinion. But how do you describe this? As far as I know, my kid's marriages are intact and they are doing a great job of parenting my six grandchildren. My grandchildren run up to me and and their grandfather, screaming and hugging us when they see us. I wonder what they would be doing if i had not sobered up? It wouldn't be very pretty. We have a good relationship with our son-in-law and daughter-in-law. I am retired from a field where I made an executive level salary and I never graduated from high school. Do you think that something like that happens to a desperately ill, hopeless alcoholic woman who never drew a sober breath by age 31. Those two kids of mine were 8 and 11 years old. They were damaged enough that they should never be where they are today either. Sure, I've worked hard to turn my life around. It has not been easy. But I cannot imagine it without the love I found in the rooms of AA. It was my springboard for all that followed.

I live in a life that I would never have dreamed possible coming from where I came from. I do not know how many generations of alcoholic ancestors I have had behind me but among my current blood relatives - they are either an alcoholic or married to one. This, alone, is enough to convince me that we have a genetic disease of some sort or another. Do we have a spiritual disease, too. I don't know! But it has not hurt me one bit to use the spiritual principles that I have learned in AA. So what if medicine one day discovers that we do not need spiritual help to recover and that there is a wonderful success rate using a different method. I am sure that Dr. Bob and BIll W. would be very happy if they were alive. They just wanted alcoholics to be able to quit drinking and have useful, happy lives. They gave us all that they had at the time. That was a long time ago. But they always said "we know only a little. More will be revealed." And I believe it will. Only, in the meantime, let's don't throw out the baby with the bath water, so to speak. Until we can actually point to a method with a better 5, 10 - 15 year recovery rate for a high percentage of alcoholics.......let's do all we can to keep AA alive and healthy. If there were a perpetrator of any kind of abuse in my home group, he'd move on pretty quickly. Everyone would be warning every newcomer "See that out!" (if it is a male! ) also, other members would be having nice heart to heart talks with the offending person and they would not find that very comfortable either. They would either go to a new group or shape up eventually. I have noticed that people like that screen themselves out of good AA groups. You look up one day and they are gone. I've said enough. I hope some of it was helpful!

Very Disappointing - Rosa - Jun 19th 2007

I find your analysis of negative posters as potential Borderlines amusing but also worrying, and not overly subtle as its such a catch all diagnosis that many in the field of positive mental health provision refuse to use it anymore. 

Until i had read it I was genuinely impressed by your open and engaging manner in relation to the criticism your article  had received.                     I am familiar with the concept of 'splitting' and feel strongly that this is not whats being displayed, rather I would suggest that the odds are weighed so heavily in favour of silencing any criticism or open and honest debate that there is a level of desperation and despair at the fact that peoples concerns are not being taken seriously, that they are not being heard.       I am sure you are familiar with concepts of being seen, being heard and being believed in the psychotherapeutic process, particularly in the treatment of survivors of abuse. What you are sensing in these posts is, I believe, a kind of panic and indeed rage at people feeling unseen, not listened to and disbelieved. Invalidated and dismissed with the double edged sword of your response which offers apparent understanding followed swiftly by contradiction, correction and pathologising of them.   

The world is full of apparently benign and altrustic organisations which upon closer inspection have a terribly detructive shadow side, basically unwell, controlling fear and shame based modus operandi. You even went as far as to suggest a few individuals were posting under multiple user names.   

I have met many people over the years, myself included, whom feel actively harmed by their involvement in AA. It takes huge courage and strenght to leave and attempt the painful journey of rebuilding and deprogramming oneself. Many people seeking help there have core issues of shame, lack of self worth and a sense that their is something fundamentally wrong with them. Lacking a true knowledge of their own history and their own truth they have poorly developed ego strenth and a weakly integrated sense of self. What they need is empowerment, affirmation, nuture, and healing, not self flagellation, fear, shame and control.

I suggest you read Charlotte Davis Kasl's 'Many roads one journey' for an intelligent and compassionate exploration of these principles. Also Alice Miller's seminal work 'The drama of being a child'. And while were at it, and if you can stand it, a healty dose of Stanton Peele, Charles Bufe and our wise and esteemed friend Dr. Albert Ellis who debunk 12 step voodoo myths and AA boogeymen with intelligent argument and much compassion and humanity. 

I have a strong feeling that many in the medical and therapeutic community will look back in embarassment and with a sense of malaise that they were so blithe in their dismissal of criticism and long overdue questioning of Alcoholics Anonymous. The emperor is indeed naked.

Best Wishes Rosa.

- agrippa - Jun 7th 2007

It is virtually  axiomatic that it is difficult to talk someone into; or, out of anything.  That applies to a well established habit of substance abuse.  Putting an end -- drawing a line under it --  to substance abuse requires, on the part of the person afflicted:  self confidence, fighting spirit and determination.

Does AA further that?  The issue is in doubt.

The argument that other methods 'do not work either' is an evasion.  If what you doing is not good enough, you get good enough.  That applies to Dr. Dombeck; as well as the 'suffering alcoholic'.

Concern - - Jun 3rd 2007

Whenever you have self-governed groups of social misfits like many alcoholics, you are bound to have trouble now and then. Sponsorship is not about being self governed. The label, sponsorship, did not come from A.A. nor is the word mentioned in the BIG BOOK, Steps or Traditions. Sponsorship lacks altruism and is the downfall of the A.A. message. Sponsorship came from recovery places that that are out of business today that injected it into A.A as a whole thus creating a sect in A.A .not of A.A which is altruism and brotherhood. – The message of A.A. is clear “ God could and would if sought”– Sponsorship challenges another and discriminates against the faith in God that one has. The belief of God’s ability to intuitively handle situations that use to baffle them is again the message of A.A. but not sponsorship. You can count on if it doesn’t come from ones own heart (personal willingness) it is not A.A. its sponsorship and sponsor ship is not about being self governing. Hold the sponsor responsible not A.A. All English definitions of the label sponsorship goes against the A.A. program a label that is not even in the text Book Alcoholics Anonymous A.A’s Steps or Traditions!

I have no AA experience, but... - Christine H - Jun 2nd 2007
For the first comment, I have to question whether the study controlled for the possibility that the alcoholics referred to AA may have been the sickest ones.

With the issue as a seems to me that yes, addiction is biological to a greater extent than was understood when AA was formed. Hopefully, that can relieve some of the paralyzing guilt that some addicts may feel. I do believe medication and therapy are vitally important for those who need them, and I think it is a terrible mistake to reject them in the name of spiritual solutions.

However, even though addiction is heavily biological, it often happens for psychological/spiritual reasons, and we have limited tools for fighting it biologically. It seems to me that, at least for people without overly complicated psychiatric profiles, AA's twelve steps and social support may help reduce the psychological factors that got (and help keep) the person addicted, and also help people resist the powerful biological pull of their addictions. 

I suspect that addiction recovery is something where different things will work for everyone. Probably many of the people who initially come to AA are there out of curiousity and either are not ready to commit to sobriety, or find other ways to get sober. I think that the proportion of seriously involved people who stay sober would be a more useful measure of AA's efficacy than the proportion of people who come to one meeting and are still there a year later. 

AA obviously has problems that need to be dealt with, and needs to respect modern science and psychology, but it also obviously plays a very valuable role in recovery for many people.  

God vs. AA - Sandra Ruempel - May 31st 2007

     I am a struggling binge alcoholic.  I have been informed by the AA professionals that my behavior is the most difficult to heal from.  I truly believe that AA in it's roots was a God ordained blessing for struggling alcoholics.  Like anything God has had a hand in, people have managed to corrupt the pure essence of it's ministry.  We now have more denominations that we even number.  Divisions are everywhere, that is the power of human corruption.  I have found the same divisions in the AA recovery program.  I have been a member of AA for several years and have found different philosphies to be a hinderance instead of a God-send.  It is a sort of brain-washing that doesn't really get to the root of the problem.  It only helps the symptom temporarily.  To tell someone they need to keep coming back does help in the short term but when the real issues that cause the alcoholism rear their ugly head have to be dealt with, we are just supposed to follow the 12 steps and all will be well.  Unfortunately talking about your past alcoholic misbehaviors do not seem to get to the real root of the problem.  We find comfort in the fact that we are not alone, but there is so much more.  I have sat in endless rooms of opinionated,  prideful alcoholics who have so much conflicting advice it boggles the mind.  I, like many others have much more serious issues to deal with that just getting rid of the alcohol will not heal.  I pray God will set up another grass-roots  organization that will once again help the truly suffering.

                                             Most Sincerely,

                                              Sandra Ruempel


'splitting'- Mark Dombeck, Ph.D - michael walton - May 29th 2007
With reference to the above artice and the notion of 'splitting' as being prevelant in the writings of people who are critical of A.A., I would like to respond as follows:

I wonder if the author could consider that there is a considerable level of concern and yes, even anger present in many people due to not only to their experience of A.A..

It seems that there is another defense mechanism involved in many who attend AA, and that is denial....denial of the oppressive ideology of AA. and their own processes of neurotic self-blaming.

I suggest that whilst 'splitting' is a possible explanation of the strength of the negative opinions regarding AA, it could also be that people are quite concerned in driving home a message which sometimes seems to fall on deaf ears, especially by proffessionals working in the addiction community, (and especially so in the USA, I gather), the message being that AA, and its ideology can, for some people, be dangerous.

I work in London, as an integrative (psychodynamic/person centered)therapist, nearing the end of my training, and thankfully, here, there is a growing awareness of the conflict between the 12 steps and most counselling orientations.

I even know of some well established therapists who refuse to work with clients who are committed to a 12 step group, because it is often seen to encourage stagnation rather than self-actualisation.

Indeed, the self-actualisation model is obviously in conflict with the 12 step approach, in that the former regard the human being as essentially able to change and grow, that the organism, under correct circumstances is naturally inclined towards self-preservation and evolution. 

This is in stark contrast to the 12 step ideology which opines that the individual is forever diseased, spiritually , pyhsicaly and mentally. Lets not forget, the general opinion in AA is that the addict is never able to live life on their own terms... it must be the God-given 12 steps that runs the addicts life, and thoughts and words and actions..

The general view in AA is that the addict must get on their knees, daily and 'pray only for knowledge of Gods will and the power to carry that out- step 11)

It seems to me very understandable that people may not express much in the sense of the positive aspects of AA, since for many people,. there are, actually very few positive aspects... 

I could say that perhaps there is a neurotic -self- blame culture in AA,  The Bible of AA. the big book p, 62 opines as follows- 'Selfishness- self centeredness! That , we think is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hunderd forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seeminlgy without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.
So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making'

So there you go then... the person who has spent years trying to drown their pain of physical, sexual or emotional abuse is 'self-seeking', their troubles are of their own making...

You may think this is an over generalisation, but this view is prevelant and profoundly expressed in the AA literature...

Perhaps there are those who have suffered from this ideology, having placed themselves in the hands of a fellowship that they were told would help them

Small wonder then, that some people fail to express any positive aspects of AA. 

My Experience w AA - Philip O - May 23rd 2007
I read with interest the piece, and the posts that followed.  My experience with AA has been mostly positive.  The only negatives I experienced were some groups that I just didn't like, or seem to fit in with.

Here are some of the benefits I got when I first went to AA:

1. An immediate sense that I was no longer alone with the burden of alcoholism
2. Mostly unconditional acceptance by group members
3. Bona fide examples of people who had been sober for long periods of time
4. Eventual belief in a higher power
5. The ability to conduct a relatively honest examination of my personality flaws, and to prevent them from ruining my life.
6. Two sponsors who strongly encouraged me to work the steps, yet were kind and gentle.

I have stayed sober since my first meeting, which was in 1978, when I was 24 years old. I agree that AA may not work for everyone, and I also agree that there is variability in AA depending on the people involved. Learning what to listen to and what to ignore is important, and the two main books are quite helpful with this.

I stay sober using the tools I was given - self examination, prayer, re-reading the books, discussion with the group, or with a trusted member, depending on the circumstances.  I think one of the books says that we don't use AA to hide from the world, but to get us ready to go out in the world, although that may need to wait until recovery has taken hold.

In that regard, in the 29 years I came into AA as a wrecked and hopeless 24yr old, I have gotten married, (still married, 24 yrs) helped raise my four children, earned an Associate's degree, a Bachelors degree, and the degree of Juris Doctor.  I also have flown jet airliners, and served as a union official, and been licensed to practice law in my state.  

In brief, I couldn't deal with the world, or stop drinking until I got to AA, and since then, I have learned how to do both.  That is my experience.

Hmm... - June R. - May 19th 2007

I've read many well-argued posts by recovering alcoholics who are not in AA, are against AA altogether, and why.  Most of us AAs have stated why it works for us personally.  I wouldn't say that one side has had a more convincing writing style than the other.  And find myself in agreement with many points posed by the "opposing" side... it IS all do-it-yourself when it comes down to it.

But both the "positive"-people and the "negative"-people are alcoholics.  The differences are in the choices of recovery methods and the personal success achieved with the method.

I am a current AA who had a very bad experience with other AAs in the beginning of my recovery.  But I am no longer an alcoholic in the throes of those resentments (although still struggle with mental illness).  And I no longer feel the need to throw my throes at others (too much). 

That medical/professional treatment didn't help until I got sober (through AA) is my own experience.  That AA works for me - both to stay sober and to work toward a purposeful, contented life - puts me in a position to speak effectively for my viewpoint. 

It is my viewpoint; I am the expert. 

If there is an (online) argument for any recovery method, it could only be further substantiated by the evidence of sober, thoughtfully considered written expression.

I find it downright ironic that qualities of "measured, insightful comments", "a tone of calm consideration", having "achieved sobriety" and "worked through old hurts", are now being thrown on the table to discredit the case of successful AAs and the author (just for putting forth the discussion of both positives and negatives of AA.)


- agrippa - May 17th 2007

It is, clearly, necessary to lay out the pros and cons of AA.  That is commendable.  But, there are viable options to AA.  These options may found on line. It must be said -- with clarity -- that there is only one way to stop alcohol abuse.  And, that is to stop it.  Neither AA, nor any other group are able to stop for a person.  At the most, a group will give the person 'permission' to stop.

Many people do not need that 'permission'.  Do it yourself is commonplace.  That is, explicit do it yourself.   It is, in fact, always do it yourself -- recognized or not.

I stand by the specific caveats that I laid out earlier on.


The Burnt - - May 17th 2007

I'm bothered by the point-blank comparison of comments from individuals who have and have not had success with AA. First of all, the "positive" vs. "negative" divide seems to me the most artificial of divisions, or at least the most ill-defined. If a commentator is to be judged one or the other, the should be on some quantifiable basis. Which is shared with the reader.

The lion's share of AA participants with positive things to say for the program are naturally going to be those who have achieved sobriety or else success towards that goal. And the measured, insightful comments coming from that quarter seems fitting to people who have worked through old hurts.

A tone of calm consideration, which is exactly not what one anticipates from an angry, distraught alchoholic on the matter of a bad AA experience. AA may not succeed or fail 100% on any one person, and it certainly does not succeed 100% of the time. But whatever the success rate, or entirety of the success, ask - which group is in any position to speak efectively for their viewpoint?

So when the author points up the sputtering rage and lack of cogent expression offered up by the "negative" group, Im not inclined to wonder about their attitude problem. Im AM inclined to wonder what sort of prose the author was expecting to get from people in the throes of a mental illness.

Most of all, I am bewildered by the entire premise of the article: to assess the value of AA by comparing the writing style of recovered alchoholics (sober people), to the prose of alchoholics. The rationale being, as far as I understand, that the group with the more "positive" response is the group with the more measured attitude, and therefore posessed of a better attitude.

Perhaps. But the "negative" people are all alcoholics.

The bias inherent in the way that you chose to frame the whole enquiry, suggests that some serious reflection on what it is you are hoping to achieve in your work, and how you envision it advancing human knowledge, is called for. I would also be interested to know which discipline exactly, you recieved your Doctorate of Philosophy in.

Editor's Note: My bio page is available for those who want to understand my educational background. This essay is intended to be a plea to those individuals struggling with a drinking problem to recognize that there are both pros AND cons to AA. Some significant pros, including social support, that are difficult to replicate in other places. Some risks as well that may be possible to avoid to some extent if some innoculation is done beforehand and eyes are kept open. My concern is that with all the bad press AA has been getting (from the angry people who have written in here, and in Newsweek) that some people who might benefit from AA will see only the cons and avoid it instead. That's the main intention that I was aiming for.

faith healing - hank henry schafer - May 15th 2007
Hey doc , keep up the search. I was a member of aa for 21 years, and a fundamentalist christian church for some of that time. AA is pure and simple faith-healing. Many folks believe this is what works for alkies and others. Belief matters, and when I started questioning beliefs everything changed. I understand those ol'timer scientologists , the outspoken christians and mormons who have backslidden. Somehow i got over it all. Thanks,h

- agrippa - May 15th 2007

Very unfortunate

 that you take such a cavalier attitude toward AA.

The only reason to refer someone to AA is:  it is free; it is all over.

You need the following caveats: 1.  protect anonymity; no surnames; no addresses; no phone numbers.  2.  Do not get a sponsor; 3.  Do not do the steps; 4.  do not say anything that you do not want to make known to all and sundry; 5.  be careful of those are 'helpful' [ 'love bombing'].

These five caveats may keep someone from being ill used in AA.

You are operating under an unwarranted assumption:  wounded people can help another wounded person heal. Believing that, and acting upon it is very risThe good reputation of AA is based the inertia of unconsidered opinion.  Eventually, force of circumstance will compel the revisiting of that 'opinion'.  Somehow, I doubt that you will be doing the revisiting.

Inertia is a problem.

Whyever would I want to grow out of AA? - Laura C., Ph.D. - May 14th 2007

I am a bit concerned with your articles regarding AA. For the moment, I'll simply reference this statement: "A frequent criticism of AA groups is that members are not allowed to grow out of AA."

My credentials [personal and professional experiences] to support my opinions are as follows:

  • 35 years of sobriety
  • history of paraprofessional training in chemical dependency treatment
  • history of employment as a paraprofessional
  • College and graduate training in psychology with an emphasis upon chemical dependency treatment.
  • Professional EAP work in the field
  • Professional practice emphasizing PTSD until retirement
  • Experience with cult members who left real cults.
  • Professional study of cults

I was troubled by the obvious facts of Newsweek article you discussed. I support the comments made by June R., those are examples of people who are not working the AA program or living according to AA principles.

A dynamic individual with no morals can turn any group of vulnerable and broken individuals into a cult. However, to do so, there needs to be an autoritarian approach to life.

This is more difficult to do in AA than it is in many religious communities. AA, with the 12 steps, 12 traditions, and 12 service concepts is not designed in such an authoritarian manner. So, sociopathic individuals who wish to gain control over others for their own gain have to work harder at it if they are in an AA community. I have seen it done but that reflects upon those who pervert AA and those who follow them. It does not reflect upon AA as a group anymore than religious cults reflect upon religious communities.

I have lived a very full and rich life in my 35 years of recovery: Marriage, children, school, jobs, professional growth, friendships in and out of AA, and even tragedy such as the death of my husband and my own bout with cancer. I continue to attend meetings, read my spiritual literature, sponsor others, and work my program.

I do this because I am still alive and have further growth to achieve. Rather than restrict my life, AA has broadened it.

I do understand your resistance to AA and your preference for professional techniques. I'd ask, however, that you honestly question your own motives about this. Do you drink? How much? Has your drinking interfered with any area of your life? How about the drinking of those you see in your practice? After all, there is little money to be made off of a sober, growing alcoholic or the members of their family.

Instigating Change in an AA Fellowship - June R. - May 14th 2007

"A.A.’s Twelve Traditions apply to the life of the Fellowship itself.  They outline the means by which A.A maintains its unity and relates itself to the world about it, the way it lives and grows.”

-- From the Foreward to
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

The majority of my responses to REAL individual complaints about individuals within AA start with "Well, that's just not AA..." 

Many real issues in these articles and real complaints in the personal posts about AA are about behaviors of individuals in AA that have (at best) been unhelpful to another trying to recover from alcoholism.  Most are answerable by applying one of the 12 Traditions of AA. 

The one that comes to mind most is at the end of the 12th Tradition, "..., ever reminding us to place principles before personalities."  I'm a Big Book thumper... if it is an action not supported by the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, then it is not AA. It is someone's individual will or personality presiding over an AA principle.

Tradition Three says that anyone with a desire to stop drinking can say they're an AA member.  There are goods and bads to that.  No one has to know what AA is before they can say that they know what AA is.  But there are ways to know what AA is (the Big Book) and ways to find out what standards an individual group has adopted as guidelines.

Tradition Four states "Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole." 

There IS a forum for self-policing, based on the 12 Traditions.  In AA (or at least in the South US), a group may  hold a "business" meeting once a month.  We call ours a "Group Conscience" meeting (see Tradition Two).  Group "standards" are discussed in these meetings.  These meetings are the "self-governing body" of any individual group. 

Our group conscience meeting sets out guidelines for meetings, sponsorship, participation, service work, announcements... and so forth.  Many meetings I attend have specific recommendations for sponsorship (which is not detailed as such in the Big Book.)  Many GCs suggest limiting sponsor-qualifications to those with a minimum of 1 year sobriety, who is actively working with a sponsor (to check their own advice), having experience working all 12 steps.  

Anyone is free to move for a change in individual group "policy".  Changes have the best chance of ratification when  presented in an objective (non-venting, non-blaming) manner and can be generalized so as not to inhibit the primary purpose (carrying the AA message to the alcoholic who still suffers). These are refined and voted on by the group... or at least those who attend the GC meeting. 

If I have an issue with my fellowship not following AA principles, I have a responsibility to (first) KNOW the principles of AA and to bring it to the attention of the group at the next Group Conscience. 

However, there are no official AA principles police.  Those who are actively NOT following conventional AA principles are very often just left to their own devices.  I can not presume that their interpretation of AA principles don't work, just because they wouldn't work for me.  


quoted without context - speedy - May 12th 2007

as the author of the third comment quoted (and, presumably, the second ‘negative’ comment), i’d just like to say a few things:


  • direct and forceful critique of rhetorical callousness is not unmitigated hostility (“actively try to shame”, “unrelentingly negative”) nor its it evidence of neurosis (“slipping”).


  • further critique of AA “as a program and an organization” does not imply a personal experience with either.


  • inferring a personal experience so that you might construct an indirect and disingenuous argument for the above accusations is lazy, unprofessional, and insulting.


  • sidestepping the larger issues two times running speaks volumes about your own prejudice and professional blindspots.


even though my comments are quoted without context, i’m perfectly comfortable with objective readers determining whether or not they are “unrelentingly negative”. for the record, they were made in response to a cavalier dismissal to specific, falsifiable charges levelled by ray in a comment quite similar to the one made to this post. as a professional in the field you could have directly refuted those comments then, and you can still do so now. you can cite and chaper and verse of all the independent studies and clinical surveys that prove or even suggest that, “AA is a positive force for sobriety around the world”. but then as now, you choose not to. instead with this post you resort to anecdote coupled with a tepid “Caveat Emptor”, while in the past you simply settled for cheekiness and derision – “your milage [sic] may vary”.


if, as you say, “AA is a positive force for sobriety around the world” that force shouldn’t be all that difficult to quantify. why is it that such an objectively “positive force” resists all independent measure? why is it that, much like the vaunted ‘power of prayer’ in medicine, AA’s efficacy as a primary or secondary treatment for alcoholism seems to shrink whenever researchers show up to measure it?


again, if alcoholism is indeed a public health concern, than why is it that the most identifiable and widely applied approach to it is the prescription of a “spiritual solution”?


that’s not ‘unrelenting negativity’– it’s a legitimate medical question.

It's all true - June R. - May 10th 2007
It is ALL true... at least in my own experience. Sick people join AA... most trying to get better, but still sometimes causing chaos for themselves and others along the way. I found myself initially in an AA cultish situation with a "nazi-sponsor" - in practically all extremities described. I left that group (with my old sponsor hot on my heels "gunning" for me) and found another AA group which works for me and people who are good sounding-boards and support. I had to want it and go look for it -- and it was an "escape" scenario from the old group. But I knew there were plenty of groups to look through as well as reputable individuals within any fellowship who are actually working the principles of AA - and would assure others of the same thing. I learned that my negative experience was the exception, not the rule. There are people everywhere looking for others to exploit. But I encountered more of them in my drinking days than I ever did in AA.

Now with some sober time of my own, it is my responsibility to the unity of AA to be there whenever anyone else reaches out for help - it also is vital to my own recovery and self-esteem. I don't see much emphasis in these articles about how vital "service to other" is to recovery... It is one of the cornerstones of AA: Service, Unity, Recovery... usually listed in that order of priority.

Maybe I missed references to the AA literature and pamphlets somewhere too (as concerns medication, sponsorship, and most issues you name… by the way, these pamphlets are available online at ). Most of the pitfalls of the AA program as listed in the articles are directly in conflict with principles as stated in the texts and historical books about the founders Sister Ignatia, and Dr. Bob in the early beginnings of AA. By the way, group conflicts and domineering individuals were problems way back in the beginning of AA too.

If anyone wants to know what AA is and how it works, it's in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. The writing style and scenarios may seem a bit old-timey, but the concepts translate to today pretty straightforwardly. I don't think I'll ever "outgrow" AA or the advice of a sponsor. Members of my family drink occasionally and I don't feel out of place with them and AA is very helpful to me in that respect too. And I only have AA friends these days because I didn't have any before AA. None of our AA group have ever tried to cut another off from other friends -- even if the "outsider" was a drinker. We do categorized non-AAs as "one of us, but don't know it yet" or "normies" (those who can drink or not drink normally).To me, the "spirituality" of the program is a result, not a prerequisite, of sober living. I feel my spirituality most by becoming involved with other people - using the 12 steps as my guide. In the book "Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers", Dr. Bob was noted to be very interested in reading about other expressions of spirituality and philosophies (Confucius, voodoo, mysticism) although a professed Christian. And from personal experience, I have had free-reign to define “God, as I understand him” for myself.

I guess what I'm saying is if you look at the true principles, and not just the bad examples of peoples' behavior... mostly you've got a good thing, not something inherently harmful. But if you only look at the human fallibilities, you're definitely going to find sufficient fault to discredit the whole thing. I guess you can say that about most other organizations, or religions, or whenever any group of people come together to achieve a common purpose. It's not just limited to us alkies, but does predominate.


Stats, studies, and dual diagnosis - Ray Smith - May 9th 2007

I was more or less with you until I got to "AA is a positive force for sobriety around the world."

At least you're pointing out some of the pitfalls (finally). But does AA WORK? AA's Triennial Survey shows that only 5% of new members will be there at the end of one year. George Vaillant, Harvard professor, researcher, and member of AA's Board of Trustees, set out to prove that AA worked. He found that people in AA fared no better than those that attempted quitting on their own, but the folks in AA had a MORTALITY RATE that was SIX TIMES higher. The Brandsma study showed that "court-mandated offenders who had been sent to Alcoholics Anonymous for several months were engaging in FIVE TIMES as much binge drinking as another group of alcoholics who got no treatment at all, and the A.A. group was doing NINE TIMES as much binge drinking as another group of alcoholics who got rational behavior therapy." ( )

Kathleen Sciacca showed that people who are also struggling with mental health issues do not fare as well in 12step treatment and their success rate is too low to be accurately measured. In 1984, NAMI estimated that "half of all alcoholics, and up to 75% of all addicts" also suffered from mental illness. Dr. Kenneth Minkoff states, "Dual Diagnosis is an expectation, not an exception" and "When both Mental Illness and Substance Disorder coexist, both diagnoses should be considered primary."

AA has a very vocal anti-medication, anti-therapy faction, they also teach that ALL problems stem from alcoholism, stop drinking and all other problems will fade away. I believe these are dangerous beliefs for those with a dual diagnosis.

People with mental illnesses and people with addiction problems both lack coping skills and are likely to also be lacking social skills and be more easily swayed by the love-bombing that takes place in the rooms and ignore your warnings, picking up harmful ideas. Who are they going to listen to? The therapist that sees them once or twice a month for 40 minutes or their "friends" that they are encouraged to see every day? People in the mental health field see AA as some sort of benign babysitter without even a nanny cam in place.

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