Posts Tagged ‘Alternatives to AA’

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

Here are a few time-tested ways with which people have moderated their drinking. As with almost everything else in life, there are no guarantees that these will help. But if you’re concerned about your drinking and don’t want to quit, here are a few things that might work for you. Emphasis on might. (The AA dogma that you’re powerless is simply wrong — there’s a good chance that if you work at it you can learn to control your drinking, or at least moderate the harm it causes. You are not powerless.)

For now, we’ll address only the day-to-day techniques. And please note that this is not a comprehensive list of moderate-drinking techniques. These are only a few things that I know of that have helped people who want to keep drinking but want to moderate, and who don’t want to give up their drinking friends and usual haunts:

  • Alternate alcoholic drinks and nonalcoholic drinks. For example, if you’re drinking beer, have a glass of water between every beer. The water will help you avoid getting drunk, and you’ll have the reward of a beer after every glass of water.
  • Keep track of how much you’re drinking — write it down. Keep a “drink diary.” In years past, this was done with a pen and  pad. Nowadays, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t an app for it.
  • If you’re out drinking, keep track of how much you’re drinking and over how much time. If you do this and have any doubts at all as to whether you’re close to or over the legal limit, look up your estimated blood alcohol content (BAC). Moderation Management has BAC charts on line. Here’s the BAC chart for men, and here’s the BAC chart for women.
  • To take things a step further, carry a breathalyzer with you. Key fob, battery-powered breathalyzers are available on eBay for under two dollars, shipping included, and presumably better ones are available for about ten bucks. Before relying on one of these cheap Chinese products, though, it’d probably be a good idea to have a couple of drinks at home and check the breathalyzer reading against the BAC chart.
  • Allow yourself a certain number of days per week to drink. Keep track of them. Even taking one day off per week is better than drinking every day (though three or four days off per week is better than that). After having a no-alcohol day or two, you can look forward to your next drinking day.
  • Avoid hard booze, wine, and medium- to high-octane beer, and stick religiously to low alcohol beer. Stick to beer with 3.5% alcohol by volume or under. Some of these beers actually taste pretty good, and will get you buzzed but (probably) not drunk. (You’d have to work at it to get drunk on 3.3% beer.)  Sticking only with the ones commonly available nationally, the best are probably Kirin Light (3.3%), Heineken Light (3.3%), and Amstel Light (3.5%); the Miller (MGD 64) and Budweiser (Bud Select 55) low-alcohol brews are considerably worse than their full-alcohol (5%) counterparts. (Bud Light, at 4.2%, is not a low alcohol beer.) If you’re drinking craft beers, stick to the blondes, which tend to be under 4.0%. And even when drinking low-alcohol beers, do alternate them with nonalcoholic drinks.

There are no guarantees that these techniques will help you moderate your drinking. But they might.

If they don’t work, you can always try an abstinence program such as AA or SMART Recovery, and more likely succeed at it because you’ve given moderation a shot.

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

We’ve seen previously that Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t work, that both AA’s own figures and controlled studies show that the rate of recovery via AA is no higher than the rate of spontaneous recovery (that is, recovery with no outside help). But that begs the question, “Are the people who recover via AA the same people who would recover on their own?”

There’s no way to prove it, yet, but one suspects that the answer is “in part.” It seems likely that AA, with its overtly religious (dishonestly labeled “spiritual”) program is more fitted to the already religious than to the irreligious, that AA might be helpful to the religious but harmful to nonbelievers. Why? Religious believers are already comfortable with prayers to God, attendance at religious meetings, dogmatism, and a moralistic approach to personal problems. So, it seems probable that AA’s religious “program” is well suited to them, and that they’ll benefit from the social aspects of AA meetings and the mutual support of fellow believers.

It’s a very different story for the irreligious. At AA meetings they’ll hear that they’re “powerless” (step 1), that their problems with alcohol are entirely the result of their “shortcomings” and “defects of character” (steps 7 & 6), that they’re insane (step 2), that they need to make a “moral inventory” (step 4), that they need to pray (step 11), and that they need to turn their “will and [their] lives” over to God (step 3). They’re also told that blind acceptance is good, in fact absolutely necessary to recovery, and that critical thinking is bad, a “disease” symptom. This attitude  is encapsulated in the very common AA slogans, “Utilize, don’t analyze” and “Your best thinking got you here.”

Needless to say, all this is a very bitter pill for the irreligious. What makes it far worse is that at virtually every AA meeting they’ll be exposed to harmful 12-step dogma, asserted as fact. The most harmful AA dogmas are that once an “alcoholic” takes a single drink he or she will inevitably get drunk, that “alcoholism” is invariably progressive, and that AA is the only route to overcoming alcohol problems. Again, very common AA epigrams encapsulate these dogmas: “One drink, one drunk” and the only alternative to AA is “jails, institutions, or death.” You’ll even hear these slogans at the rare meetings for AA’s second-class citizens, at “atheists and agnostics” meetings.

All too many people hear these demonstrably false assertions at AA meetings and believe them. This is tremendously discouraging for those who can’t stomach AA’s religioisity, anti-intellectualism, and dogmatism. Unfortunately, it seems that AA’s false assertions in all too many cases become self-fulfilling prophecies.

So, AA is probably helpful to at least some religious people, and is probably harmful to irreligious people who are exposed to to it. Ninety-five percent of people who walk through AA’s “revolving door” (as AA members themselves put it) are gone within a year, so huge numbers of people are exposed to AA’s harmful dogmas.

Clearly, there’s a need for alternatives to AA. Fortunately, there are several; the most widespread are listed here in alphabetical order. All are abstinence programs except Moderation Management, which is for those who want to moderate their drinking rather than quit entirely.

Finally, self-recovery without formal treatment or participation in any self-help group is quite common. In fact, most people who have alcohol problems eventually overcome them without participation in AA or nonreligious self-help groups.

If you come away with nothing else from this post, please realize that you are not powerless, that alcohol abuse is not a “progressive disease,” that a single drink does not trigger an inevitable drunk, and that you can overcome your alcohol problems–with or without help–if you work at it.