There is no denying that AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) does have benefits and that it has helped many people. It offers emotional support and people you can relate to. It provides a place to go to fill your time. It helps you reconnect with your morals and values, break down denial, educates its members and provides structure and hope.

There is also no denying it is a largely outdated program with questionable success and religious affiliations rooted in prayer and spirituality as a cure. Despite AA’s claim that 31 percent of members become and remain sober, the reality is very different. Those numbers only take into account those who make it through their first year of meetings and complete the program – the definition of success by AA’s standards. A report published by Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly analyzed AA membership surveys taken from 1968 through 1996 and found that 81 percent of newcomers stopped attending within the first month, almost 90 percent stopped attending within 90 days and only about 5 percent after a full year. Assuming Alcoholics Anonymous’ success claim is accurate, then only 31 percent of the 5 percent who remained for a full year – again, AA’s definition of success – were able to become and remain sober. That breaks down to a roughly 1.5 percent success rate for newcomers just walking through the door.

Spirituality Alone is Not a Cure

Creating a rich spiritual life can be an important component of maintaining long-term sobriety, but it is not the only component and does not have to include a higher power. Those who don’t believe in God or follow a particular religion can still find sobriety by addressing the mental and physical aspects of their addiction.

Spirituality is all about your relationship with yourself and the world around you. It is finding meaning and purpose in your life. Spirituality is a very personal and individualized experience. Being spiritual does not necessarily have anything to do with religion or God. Religion is about beliefs and practices that involve God or a higher power. Living a spiritual life does not have to include a relationship with God or a higher power.

You do not have to believe or accept the concept that you are powerless over your addiction and the only way to heal is to turn yourself over to “the God of your understanding.” By addressing the mental and physical aspects of addiction, learning coping techniques and avoiding situations that can lead to relapse, you are empowered to take control of your own recovery. Even those with strong religious or spiritual beliefs often do no succeed in long-term sobriety using AA alone.

Replacing Dependence with Dependence

Another problem with Alcoholics Anonymous is that it promotes dependence on the program. You are encouraged to keep coming back. It replaces one addiction with another instead of teaching people how to take the skills they learn and apply them to their life outside the program. The brainwash you into believing you must attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for the rest of your life or you’ll relapse. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. By addressing the mental and physical aspects that lead to addiction, cravings diminish and staying sober becomes easier. It is possible to become sober without programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.

History of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous)

AA began in Akron, Ohio in 1935 from a series of meetings between Bill W. and Dr. Bob S – both of whom were alcoholics previously working with the Oxford Group. Through a reliance on spiritual values in daily living, Bill was able to gain sobriety and maintained his recovery by working with other alcoholics. Bill emphasized that alcoholism was a disease of the mind and emotions. Responding to Bill’s convincing ideas, Dr. Bob achieved sobriety and, over the course of the next few year, formed Alcoholics Anonymous.

Rise in AA Popularity

According to Dr. Lance Dodes, author of The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry, when the Big Book was first published in 1939, it was met with wide skepticism in the medical community. The American Medical Association called it “a curious combination of organizing propaganda and religious exhortation.” Dodes explains that perception has changed radically in recent years because the pioneers of AArealized early on that to establish true legitimacy, they would eventually need to earn the imprimatur of the scientific community.” They were able to create a space for AA to dictate the conversation largely by manufacturing an establishment for addiction education and advocacy that had not previously existed.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, one of the foremost American advocacy-agencies for recovering addicts, was founded in 1944 by Marty Mann, the first female member of AA. The Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University, an international leader in alcoholism-related research, was founded at Yale in 1943 under the direction of E. Morton Jellinek. Jellinek, the author of several seminal texts on alcoholism, placed AA-founder and Big Book author Bill Wilson on the faculty – a man who claimed to have been cured of his own alcoholism by divine intervention.

In 1951, AA received a Lasker Award, which is “given by the American Public Health Association of outstanding achievement in medical research or public health administration” based on what Dodes calls “the strength of self-reported success and popular articles” despite “no mention of any scientific study that might prove or disprove the organization’s efficacy.”

The Need for Mental and Physical Healing

Alcoholics Anonymous was formally developed in 1935. Since that time, we have learned an astounding amount of information and have a much better understanding of the addiction process. Scientific evidence now tells us that alcoholism, or any addiction, has its roots in imbalanced or depleted neurotransmitters in the brain, nutritional deficiencies, and allergy. Yet AA and 12-step programs have not grown or expanded their treatment approach in any way. With all other physical diseases, we consistently update and change our treatment approaches as we learn more information about the terrain; but that is not the case with alcoholism or addiction, it remains stubbornly stuck in the past.

One of the most destructive problems with Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step treatment programs is that they refuse to even look at new scientific evidence, listen to new insights or hear anything that contradicts the original AA principles, and continue to treat addiction with an outdated model that besides being sexist, shaming, abusive, cult-like and patriarchal isn’t and never has been very successful. What’s even worse is that they rationalize and justify their failure by blaming the victim.

Most people do not succeed in a 12-step program because it is an ineffective program that does not address the true root of alcoholism, but AA does not consider that as a failure of the program. Instead, they blame the alcoholic with statements like “they haven’t hit their bottom yet,” “they’re in denial,” or “they didn’t work the program.”

People do not succeed with AA and the 12-step program because it does not address the true root of alcoholism. For successful recovery from alcoholism and long-term sobriety without intense cravings and discomfort, there must be mental, physical and spiritual healing.

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