Why is Alcoholics Anonymous sacrosanct?

Posted: July 30, 2014 in Addictions, Livin' in the USA
Tags: , , , , , ,

Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front coverby Chaz Bufe, author of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?

AA is arguably America’s most sacred cow, and has been almost since it first came to public notice prior to World War II. During the more than three-quarters of a century since then, while the country was inundated in pro-AA books and newspaper and magazine articles, entire decades went by without publication of a single book critical of AA, or a single critical article in a major periodical. This has changed a bit in recent years, but public criticism of AA is still relatively rare.


AA presents alcohol abuse as an entirely personal problem, and preaches that AA always “works if you work it.” If someone goes to AA and it doesn’t work for them, they tend not to talk about it, because of the stigma attached to alcohol abuse and because they probably do believe what they heard in AA–that their problems are entirely their fault. So, they don’t talk about AA.

And there are a lot of such people: well over a million Americans are either attracted to AA or are coerced into attendance annually, and then leave almost immediately. (According to its own figures, AA’s membership has been nearly static over the last two decades, with a growth rate considerably under 1% per year.)

But you don’t hear from those repelled by AA. Rather, you hear from and about the relatively few AA successes (roughly 5% according to AA’s triennial surveys). And because AA is a “program for life,” those few successes stick around to trumpet AA as “spiritual, not religious” (though it clearly is religious, as several federal courts of appeal have ruled), and as the only approach to alcohol abuse that works (though it clearly doesn’t work–its success rate is about that of spontaneous remission).

Those AA successes also tend to be the owners/operators of almost all alcohol abuse treatment facilities in the United States. They then use their position as “experts” to promote AA and its “program.” They also found “public health” 12-step front groups, notably the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), to lend a scientific sheen to their promotion of AA. (The NCADD is hostile to scientifically based treatment methods with good evidence of efficacy.)

Given all this, it’s not surprising that there’s so little critical examination of AA in the corporate media. Reporters are often overworked, and sometimes lazy, so they tend to take the easy way out and report as fact the claims of 12-stepping “experts,” while doing no investigation of those claims. Beyond that, there are many 12-steppers and relatives of 12-steppers in the media who openly promote AA and attack its critics while concealing their connections to AA. (One can’t “break anonymity,” of course.)

(Even some of those from whom you’d expect better fall into this category. About fifteen years ago Bill Moyers [who has a 12-stepping son] produced Close to Home: Moyers on Addiction about alcohol abuse and alcohol treatment. It was a love letter to AA and one of the most dishonest pieces of reporting I’ve ever seen.)

So, the next time you see a glowing article on AA, or an interview with a gushing “recovering” celebrity, don’t be surprised. Just be aware that the claims of AA’s promoters are just that–claims. AA is religious, not spiritual. And its success rate is no better than the rate of spontaneous recovery–that is, AA is utterly ineffective. Not that you’ll hear much about that in the media.

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  1. iceman18 says:

    We see when we can see and hear when we can hear. And then we begin to understand. It’s been my personal experience that it takes about 4 to 5 years before you get what this is about. How long were you in AA?

    Is AA a Cult? Unlike a cult, it’s very difficult to get into AA…few people make it in. And, unlike a cult, if you want to leave, you get up and freely walk out.


    • Thanks for the polite response, but you’re proving my points. You say it takes four or five years to “get” what AA is about. I very much doubt it. Read the 12 steps; read the Big Book; hear the prayers at the meetings, and you’ll get what it’s about immediately: religion and substituting one dependency for another (AA–a “program for life”–in place of booze).

      As for it being hard to get into AA, all I can ask is, “AA on what planet”? Over a million Americans a year are coerced into AA attendance, and then flee in horror as soon as they’re able to do so.

      And AA’s two most extreme cult-like features (there are many others) are its anti-intellectualism (“Keep it simple, stupid,” “Your best thinking got you here,” etc., etc.) and its deliberate attempts to make members dependent for life upon AA, by telling them that their only alternative to AA is “jails, institutions, or death.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Why Is Alcoholics Anonymous Sacrosanct? […]


  3. […] Why is Alcoholics Anonymous Sacroscanct? […]


  4. […] Why is Alcoholics Anonymous Sacroscanct? […]


  5. Bob H. says:

    For about 50 years Alcoholics Anonymous offered a reasonable solution for most alcoholics who
    wanted to stop drinking, Criticism of the fellowship was almost never heard. I believe that would
    still be true if AA members and groups had adhered to the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics
    Anonymous. Early members saw what was happening and predicted mistakes AA would make
    in the future. It seems that we have made all of them. We ignored the “Keep it Simple”
    advice from cofounder Dr. Bob. We have “loused it up”.
    Membership in AA increased continuously for the first 57 years, at the rate of doubling about
    every ten years. History records show that in 1992/1993 AA lost about 600,000 members. There
    are numerous “reasons/excuses” for that collapse. What really happened? There were
    numerous changes in AA from bottom to top. I saw the changes taking place, participated in
    the changes, sometimes reluctantly. Basically we morphed from a “fellowship of men and women”
    which was reasonably successful, to a Twelve Step Program, which appears to be successful.
    Admittedly, in rare cases, the 12 step program is successful.
    We started chanting, which gave us the cult label. We started holding hands and praying.
    This made us appear to be a religion. AA has always been religious from the beginning. Bill
    W. warned us about becoming a religion. (There are AA meetings today where members
    kneel to close with The Lords Prayer). Looks like religion to me.
    AA worked for me. I don’t think it was “because I worked it”. I wanted to be sober. To do
    that I had to stop drinking. I could stop “on my on”, but could not stay stopped. That was
    my dilemma. The AA fellowship of the 1970’s offered me what I needed. I doubt that
    I, personally, would ever have gotten sober in today’s AA.
    Thanks to anyone who ever reads this. Bob H.


  6. Great breath of fresh air on A.A. I went for about 3 months.Like Alan Watts said about psychedelics-“You get the message and hang up the phone” I’ve been clean now for 39 years. Don’t like the word sober. Are orgasms sober? Is the transcendant experience of art and music sober? Over the years I’ve helped fellow addicts who were brainwashed into thinking they couldn’t remain clean if they stopped going toA.A.


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