Posts Tagged ‘AA’


Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front cover

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

There are direct connections between the beliefs underlying Alcoholic Anonymous and those underlying the “war on drugs.” The most fundamental is that alcohol and other drugs are “cunning, baffling, powerful!” (to quote AA’s  “Big Book”) This belief is reflected in the common “drug war” term “dangerous drugs” in reference to illegal drugs, which combined, until recently, to kill about 5% of the roughly half-million Americans killed annually by tobacco and alcohol; today, about 50,000 are killed annually by overdoses, the vast majority by opioid overdoses. In other words, alcohol (roughly 100,000 deaths) and tobacco (roughly 400,000 deaths) kill ten times as many Americans as all illegal (and misdirected pharmaceutical) drugs combined.

To put this in further perspective, “drug warriors” almost never refer to alcohol and tobacco as “dangerous drugs,” while they do routinely refer to marijuana, which has never killed a soul, as a “dangerous drug.” Some of them might actually believe that it is.

The concomitant belief, that human beings are “powerless” over “cunning, baffling, powerful!” drugs, is shared by both AA and drug prohibitionists. In AA and its clones (NA, CA, etc.) that belief is enshrined in the first of the 12 steps. It’s also part of the bedrock of the “drug war”: if people are powerless and drugs are powerful, the only way to stop the harm of drug addiction is to cut off the supply of drugs.

The other underlying “drug war” belief is based in punitive Christian morality: the belief that the only way to deal with prohibited (sinful) behavior is through punitive measures–in the case of drugs, that it’s necessary to lock people in cages for using drugs and for making drugs available to others.

Another aspect of this belief system, common to both AA and the “drug war,”  is the belief that drug use and abuse are an individual matter, that individual drug users and abusers are either victims of a “disease” (according to AA — never mind the absurdity of labeling behaviors as “diseases”) or are criminals (according to “drug warriors”). What ties these two seemingly disparate beliefs together is that they both divorce drug use and abuse from their social and economic contexts.

A moment’s reflection shows that this is an absurd approach. If drug use and abuse were entirely the result of individual immorality or individual powerlessness over drugs,  the rates of drug use and abuse would not vary drastically (if at all) from one nation to another, nor would the rates vary wildly within nations over the years. But they do. Neither “disease” advocates nor “drug warriors” can explain these variances. To explain them, you need to consider social and economic contexts.

A case in point is a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Princeton researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton on the increased mortality rate among middle-aged white, especially male, Americans aged 45 to 54 from 1998 to 2015, with the increase being .5% per year. During the previous two decades, 1978 to 1998, the mortality in that age range had been decreasing by about 2% per year–as indeed it’s continued to do so in all of the other developed countries since 1998. Why? The researchers posit that, while there’s no definitive proof, these increases are likely due to an increased suicide rate and increased drug and alcohol abuse triggered at least in part by increased financial stress.

If 12-step advocates and drug prohibitionists were correct that the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs is a result only of individual “disease” or inherent “criminal” (sinful) tendencies, this increase in drug and alcohol abuse would not have happened. But it did. The solution advanced by 12-step advocates is treatment, and by “drug warriors” is a combination of imprisonment and treatment. In both cases, the treatment offered is almost exclusively 12-step treatment, which does not consider social or economic contexts nor social or economic solutions, but rather focuses exclusively on individual “wrongs,” “shortcomings,” and “defects of character” (respectively, steps  5, 7, and 6), with the solution to alcohol/drug abuse being “prayer” (step 11), taking a “moral inventory” (step 4), and “turn[ing] our will and our lives over to the care of God” (step 3).

As one would expect, the 12-step religious program does not work very well. As covered in  a previous post, Alcoholics Anonymous is not effective, both AA’s own statistics (“Comments on AA’s Triennial Surveys”) and controlled studies report that the recovery rate in AA is no better than the rate of spontaneous remission, about 5% annually. Controlled studies of formal 12-step treatment have been even more dismal, with some components used in such treatment, e.g. confrontational “counseling,” having negative outcomes.

So, what do AA advocates and “drug warriors” lean on for scientific support?

One of the standard studies cited — quite possibly the most commonly cited — by 12-step advocates and prohibitionists was conducted in the 1960s. It involved placing rats in Skinner boxes (small boxes with no toys or other amenities–essentially solitary confinement for rats in an ultra-deprived environment) and then giving the rats the choice of either plain water to drink or water laced with morphine. Surprise, surprise — the rats chose the water with morphine. This study was widely cited by both drug prohibitionists and the mass media as “proof” that rats, and by extension people, are powerless over irresistible drugs.

In the 1970s, researchers at Simon Fraser University conducted a similar study, but with the rats in a much larger cage filled “with things that rats like, such as platforms for climbing, tin cans for hiding in, wood chips for strewing around, and running wheels for exercise. Naturally we included lots of rats of both sexes, and naturally the place soon was teeming with babies. The rats loved it and we loved it too, so we called it ‘Rat Park.'” The results? The Rat Park experiment showed that in this rich environment the rats ignored the morphine-laced water and drank plain water instead. The initial study was published in 1978 in the scientific  journal Psychophramacology. The mass media, government, and disease-concept advocates ignored it, and AA, 12-step treatment, and the “war on drugs” rolled on, leaving millions of ruined lives in their wake.

The lessons of all this are obvious: It’s time to stop blaming those who are self-medicating, and to stop looking at drug use, abuse, and addiction as the result of individual sinfulness or “disease.” It’s time to stop locking people in cages.

It is time to start looking at, and addressing, the environmental, economic, and social reasons why millions of people find life so intolerable that they — like rats in a deprived environment — feel the need to seek solace in drugs, alcohol, and illegal drugs. And it’s long past time to start doing something about the environmental, economic, and social reasons for drug use, abuse, and addiction.

* * *

For more information on Rat Park, see lead researcher Bruce K. Alexander’s 2010 book, The Globalization of Addiction: A study in poverty of the spirit. 

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I love writing these posts — they practically write themselves, and I chortle all the way through the writing process. I delight in the sick and grotesque, and, as you’ll see, religion really delivers the goods.

So, here it is, the best of religion since the beginning of the year.

(This post will be a bit shorter than our previous Joy of Religion post. We’ve omitted the items about religious parents killing or seriously harming their children by denying them medical care, because such items are so common and so depressing.)

Anyway, here goes. Enjoy!

  • There are a lot of good atheist videos on Youtube from ex-Muslims. One that we particularly like is Things Muslims Should Know About Apostasy. About 30 seconds in, check out the crybaby Islamic judge wailing about “insults” to the prophet. Like all too many PC leftists and Christian fundamentalists, Islamic religious extremists believe that they have a right not to be offended. They don’t. It’s a binary choice:  either you have the “right” not to be offended or you have the right to free speech. As is blindingly obvious, if everyone has the “right” not to be offended, no one will have the right to free speech. And if only some have the “right” not to be offended, you end up with tyranny.
  • A recent piece in The Guardian, The shelter that gives wine to alcoholics, provides yet more evidence that the religious approach to addictions enshrined in Alcoholics Anonymous is utterly useless, if not actively harmful, and that the secular harm reduction approach produces much better results. (The rate of recovery via AA is no better than the rate of spontaneous recovery.)
  • The always entertaining Rev. James David Manning of ATLAH Worldwide Missionary Church has proclaimed that “God is gonna put a cancer in the butthole of every sodomite,” and that “every sodomite will have a flame coming out of his butthole,” necessitating “special ass asbestos diapers.” Do check out the video — Manning’s words only hint at the power, at the magnificence of his performance.
  • If you’ve ever doubted how misogynistic Mormonism is, check out Rape victim could be punished under BYU’s ‘honor code.’
  • For yet another testimony to the salutary effects of religion upon individual judgment, see Woman says rapture was coming, God told her to crash car into Walmart.
  • And finally, via Florida Man, in an item which seems like it must have a religious connection, though the article doesn’t mention one, we find Florida man charged with soliciting sex with dogs on Craigslist.

Stay tuned. More to come.


Logo of Campaign against sex robotsWhen I saw  a news report about a campaign to ban sex robots, I laughed. I thought that the “campaign,” if it actually existed, was the result of:

  1. The entire Onion staff going on a PCP binge
  2. Denizens of the fetid, postmodernist swamps of academia unleashing a new mutant horror upon an unsuspecting public
  3. Some pranksters doing an excellent imitation of the entire Onion staff going on a PCP binge

Then I saw another article on the campaign, and followed the link to the campaign’s web site. I still wasn’t convinced it was real, despite persuasive evidence on the site–sex robots will, somehow, “objectify” women, and (as always) must be banned for the sake of the children. You’d think that would have been enough, but no. So, I looked up both members of the “organizing committee”–all two of ’em–and they’re real academics with real jobs in academia! I’ve gotta stop being so suspicious.

The Guardian has a good article, “I was fresh meat,” on a negative aspect of AA we haven’t covered here: sexual exploitation of newcomers. As long as we’re on the topic of Alcoholics Anonymous, I’ll mention again that the best online source of information on AA is Orange Papers.

If the entirely unwarranted worship of Ronald Reagan by Republicans makes you queasy (as any type of hero worship should), check out The Intercept’s “Seven things about Ronald Reagan you won’t hear at the Reagan Library GOP debate.” It’ll provide several handy facts you can cite the next time an acquaintance shows disturbing signs of Reagan worship.

The stupidity of the right’s rhetoric about a “war on police” is revealed by the figures reporting violence committed by police and violence committed against police. According to The Guardian‘s “Counted U.S. Police Killings,” “US police kill more in days than other countries do in years.” There’s no government registry of police killings, so The Guardian‘s count of 862 citizens killed by U.S. cops so far this year is very probably low. At the same time, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 96 cops have died in the line of duty this year. However, according to the same pro-police site, last year over half of the 117 police fatalities resulted from accidents or illness, with only 49 resulting from assault (primarily gunshots). Assuming the same holds true this year, that would mean that 39 cops have died from citizen assaults in 2015. Compare that with the 862 citizens killed by the police. That works out to a 22:1 ratio. There’s a war on all right, a war of the nation’s cops on its citizens.


Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front cover

by Chaz Bufe, author Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?

A friend mentioned the Orange Papers site to me tonight. I’d forgotten about it, as it’s been around forever, and I’m thoroughly sick of writing about AA–and reading about it, too, for that matter. (Twelve years ago, some kids torched my guest house, which was home to all of my research materials on AA and substance abuse treatment; it was almost a relief.)

Back to Orange Papers….. The site contains an amazing amount of well researched, well argued material. I’m familiar with almost all of the areas covered,, and everything I’ve seen on the site is accurate. (There’s also a lot of information on it of which I was unaware.)

It’s all there (topics in no particular order here):

  • AA’s actual (in)effectiveness as opposed to its claimed effectiveness
  • AA’s “spirituality” as very thinly disguised religiosity
  • AA’s origin as part of a wacko evangelical group
  • AA’s principles as codification of that evangelical group’s principles
  • The pro-Nazi statements and actions of that evangelical group’s head and other prominent members
  • The intellectual dishonesty of the AA program
  • AA’s pronounced anti-intellectualism
  • AA’s other cult-like aspects
  • Cults that have grown out of AA
  • And some good news: most people with alcohol problems overcome them on their own without any contact with AA; there’s some evidence that people exposed to AA do worse than those never exposed to it–in other words, AA is not necessary to overcoming alcohol problems, and could well be harmful

Don’t let the archaic appearance of the Orange Papers site put you off.  Its information is accurate, amazingly thorough, and up to date.

Years ago, I tried to talk the site’s author into writing a book on AA. Unfortunately, he declined. I still wish he’d do it.

For now, instead of a book, we have Orange Papers. If you’re at all interested in AA, it’s the best place on the ‘net for information.


Today’s guest post is by Ronn Spencer

There are better remedies for “substance abuse” than joining a cult hell-bent on convincing you to subordinate yourself and be dependent on them for the rest of your life–a perpetual victim whining about your deficiencies to other needy and gullible dupes who are now addicted to their specious and fatuous “cure.”

Here’s how I see it. First, one group of idiots creates the modern world and all its attendant miseries (your ruling class). Next, another group of con artists (the media, public schools the clergy, AA, etc). proclaim this lifestyle as splendid, rewarding, and, worse yet, beneficial to the human spirit. Then, the handful of us who understand that the whole thing is a soggy, decomposing wad of stinking, rotting half-truths and delusions are demonized and pilloried for trying to self-medicate our way through their nightmare.

“Hi, welcome to Bedlam, here’s your bunk. Don’t mind the rat crap and the petrified vomit on the walls–you’ll get used to it. What’s that? Didn’t apply for this? Too bad! Lay down and behave or the attendant brings the restraints. Leave? Are you kidding? You can’t leave! This is a club you never asked to join and that will never accept your resignation.”

So, we self-medicate. Booze, drugs, sex, which at least are participatory sports. Unlike America’s favorite panacea–sitting in front of the television and having your id, ego, superego, and unconscious slowly sucked out of your body by a cathode vampire.

If you’ve really decided to kick the booze, the dope, the smokes, so be it. When you cross that line where the stuff is corroding the plumbing you have no choice but to find some other coping mechanism. That’s why motivational speakers, televangelists, gurus, AA, and the rest of the charlatans are making big bucks nowadays.

My advice is to avoid these parasites with every fiber of your being and rely on stoicism, courage, resolve, and intellect. Otherwise, like the balloon-benders used to do on variety shows in the ’50s, the snake oil salesmen will twist your noodle into a cute doggie, pigeon or fat, stupid Rotarian.


Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front coverby Chaz Bufe, author of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? and co-author, with Stanton Peele and Archie Brodsky, of the now-out-of-print Resisting 12-Step Coercion

Last week, Barry Hazle, a victim of religious coercion received a $1.95 million settlement from the institutions which first coerced him and then imprisoned him:  the WestCare corporation, a contractor which delivers 12-step treatment, and the State of California.

In 2004, Hazle was convicted of possession of methamphetamine and was placed on probation. In 2006, he was imprisoned for violating his probation by using meth, and subsequently spent a year in jail. After his release, he was ordered to attend a WestCare treatment facility in Shasta County. When he told his parole officer he was an atheist and objected to 12-step treatment–and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation order mandating that inmates and parolees be given the choice of religious (12-step) or nonreligious treamtnet–his parole office ordered him to attend the WestCare facility anyway.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Hazle went, but was subsequently kicked out of the 12-step program for being  “disruptive, though in a congenial way, to the staff as well as other students.”  That almost certainly translates to  being polite but refusing to toe the 12-step line (turning one’s life and will over to God, and praying to God to remove one’s character defects). That was enough for the Westcare facility to kick Hazle out, sending him back to jail for another 100 days.

He subsequently sued, and following a jury trial (which found for him, but which awarded him no damages) and the appeals process, he reached a $1.95 million settlement with WestCare and the State of California. Revealingly, WestCare maintained during the trial and appeals process that it had never received the Department of Corrections order, which is very hard to believe, and that it didn’t understand the meaning of “alternative non-religious program,” which is astounding. WestCare is a national organization active in 17 states and worth, presumably, in the tens of millions of dollars; and it’s supposedly a professional organization.

And professionals providing addictions treatment of any kind in 2006 would certainly have been familiar with the most important academic/professional work on the topic, University of New Mexico researchers Reid Hester’s and William Miller’s encyclopedic Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches, 3rd edition (2003), which provides very detailed information on the practice and effectiveness of many types of “alternative non-religious program[s].” (It also provides detailed information on the practice and ineffectiveness of 12-step treatment.) As well, the Internet was around in 2006, and even the briefest search for “alternative non-religious addiction treatment program” would have resulted in at least several hundred thousand results. (I just googled that phrase and came up with 3,130,000 results.)

On the other hand, religious zealots masquerading as addictions professionals would feign ignorance, and maintain that they have no idea of the meaning of “alternative non-religious treatment.”

Today, coercion into 12-step groups and treatment is still routine in piecemeal form across the country, and many, many people are punished unjustly for resisting it. Despite three U.S. courts of appeal, four state supreme courts, and nine federal district courts ruling that 12-step groups and treatment are religious, and that mandates to such groups and treatment are unconstitutional because they violate the First Amendment’s “establishment clause,” there’s no national binding precedent forbidding such mandates: the Supreme Court has refused to hear any of the cases.

One can only hope that many other courageous victims of 12-step coercion will step forward and file lawsuits against their coercers.

 

 

 

 


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.

Why?

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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