The Popularity of Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous is credited with helping many individuals escape the misery of addiction. The program has also received praise for its effectiveness in teaching people how to build a good life in recovery. Since the 1940s the movement has received a lot of media attention. It has become the most well known of all the treatments for alcoholism. It has also inspired other twelve step programs that claim to be able to help almost every problem imaginable. Despite its success there is a growing acceptance that Alcoholics Anonymous is not a good treatment option for everyone. There are also a number of criticisms that further bring into questions its favored position as a treatment for alcoholism.

The Evangelical Origins of AA

The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous were members of a Christian Evangelical movement known as the Oxford Group. The Twelve Step program adopted many of the elements of this group including:

* Trust in a higher power
* Self-Examination
* Admitting character defects to another person
* Make restitution for past mistakes

Alcoholics Anonymous distanced itself from the Oxford Group in order to appeal to people of all beliefs. Spiritual practice and belief in a higher power continue to be key elements of the 12 Step program.

Criticisms of AA Spirituality

Alcoholics Anonymous is open to people of all beliefs, but it is undoubtedly a spiritual program that asks people to have faith in certain principles. One of the most basic requirements of the program is that people believe in a higher power. The second step talks about how members came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. While the third step describes how they made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. There is also the expectation that members will have had a spiritual experience by the time they have completed the 12 Steps.

This expectation that members believe in a higher power in order to beat their alcoholism makes it hard for the non-believer to accept. While there is a lot of latitude in how the individual can define their higher power it can still be an obstacle. There are many people who feel discomfort at the mere mention of anything spiritual, and this makes them poor candidates for the AA program. Many individuals have found that it is possible to build a successful life in recovery without the need of AA or belief in anything supernatural.

While officially AA is non-denominational this is not always the case at group level. There are meetings where the focus is on a Christian message, and some will even have a reading of the Lord’s Prayer at every meeting. There are also groups where the focus is on other religious teachings. Non-believers can feel alienated if the meeting is overly religious. This is not such a problem in large cities because there will usually be many meetings to choose from. In a small town there will be less choice and the non-believer will either have to put up with the preaching or not go at all to meetings.

AA as a Cult

Probably the harshest criticism of AA is the claim that it is a cult. There is even a group called Recovery from 12 Steps. It is claimed that AA uses brainwashing techniques and bullies members into behaving in a certain way. It can appear to outsiders that members of the group seem to have replaced one addiction with another.

While some of the arguments for AA’s cult-like similarities may sound convincing it is hard to make such an accusation stick. This is because it is difficult to define what is meant by a cult, and to prove that they are always a bad thing. It is debatable that any group of people who come together for a common purpose will have cult-like similarities. AA does not try to prevent people leaving – a characteristic of all the most famous cults.

The Success Rate of Alcoholics Anonymous

Another criticism of AA is its poor success rate. It is claimed that the percentage of people who manage to escape their addiction using this program may be as low as 5%. If this is true then it certainly does cast doubt on the effectiveness of the program. It appears that the AA program is no more effective than any other type of treatment for addiction. One reason to explain why AA continues to enjoy its privileged status among alcohol addiction treatment options is that it is undoubtedly a cost-effective solution.

It is difficult to fairly judge the success rate of Alcoholic Anonymous. This is because of the emphasis on anonymity. There are no attendance records kept for the meetings. Much of the information available is anecdotal in nature. AA’s own statistics suggest that only 26% of people who attend their first meeting will still be going aback after a year.

Other Criticisms of Alcoholics Anonymous

There have also been a number of other criticisms of AA including:

* AA is closely aligned with the disease model of addiction. Here alcoholism is viewed as a chronic condition. The individual in recovery is not viewed as cured but instead in remission. This model of addiction has been criticized because it disempowers people.
* Members of Alcoholics Anonymous can be over zealous and this tarnishes the reputation of the organization as a whole. The claim that AA is the only solution to alcoholism is not only viewed by some as an arrogant assertion but easily proved wrong. The AA literature does not make such bold claims for the program.
* The individual AA groups have a lot of autonomy. This lack of rigidity is believed to be one of the key ingredients of the success of the organization. It has also meant that dysfunctional groups can spring up and cause a lot of damage to members.
* Some senior members of AA will exploit their position. A good example of this would be thirteenth stepping where more experienced members try to get sexual favors from newcomers.
* There can be a tendency for AA members to accuse those who are struggling in recovery of not working the program. There are many reasons why an individual may be finding things difficult, and not all of these problems can be solved by the 12 Steps. There are many people in recovery who have undiagnosed mental health problems such as depression. It is important that they get proper medical advice for this.
* Many people have been given a mandatory sentence to attend the meetings as part of legal proceedings. While this may have helped some people get sober it is also highly questionable. In a supreme court case in 1999 it was decided that a judge had acted wrongly by forcing a atheist to attend AA meetings.