Monday, April 6, 2009

The Cult of Alcoholics Anonymous

Free Inquiry is a superb magazine which is published six times a year by the Council for Secular Humanism. Its' editors and columnists are comprised of the who's who of leading commentators in the field of secular humanism, applied ethics, skepticism, atheism and the general advancement of reason. The most recent edition contains great articles by Christopher Hitchens, Peter Singer and Canadian libertarian philosopher Jan Narveson. However, the article that I found most thought provoking is entitled Exposing the Myth of Alcoholics Anonymous by Steven Mohr.

Mohr exposes the AA movement for what it really is: "a religious cult masquerading as a self-help group". Like most people, I was generally aware of AA's 12 step program but I had never actually read what the 12 steps entailed. They are as follows:

1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable.

2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. [my emphasis]

Perhaps I am naive but I had no idea that a therapeutic program that has successfully intertwined itself with the North American insurance, medical and legal systems is fraught with so much religious bunk. Mohr goes on to explain how AA has managed to proliferate its religious conversion agenda despite the fact that the 12 step approach appears to be an abysmal failure at curing alcoholism. Apparently, AA reports a 5-7% success rate for a steady rate of sobriety in circumstances where "chronic alcoholics left to their own devices with no intervention still recover at a rate of about 5 percent a year." Of course, all of this begs the question as to why our Courts would direct thousands of admittedly ill people annually into a bible thumping program that is so ineffective. In any event, the article is a great read and I highly recommend checking it out.

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  1. as im sure your about to get - aa for some people is all about god.. but for a huge majority, it teaches a set of principles to live by that for alot of people allows them to not have to drink to cope with life on lifes terms.

    the concept of surrender, most 'normal sober people' practice. many addicts have a distorted perception of reality, and the principles of surrending yourself to the next moment as its largely unpredictable is what those spiritual (your bolded text) is about.

    there is a reason why people say this at the end of most meetings.

    God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. There is a difference between religion and spirituality. "God as you understand him" can be anything to you: nature, the universe, anything that, to you, holds a power greater than yourself. The fact that the majority of AA members choose God as their power does not mean that AA is promoting itself as a religious cult.

    To me, the power of AA is in the people of the group. The power of people helping people is greater than any one man can produce. But I don't call this a work of God or of any religion (though I suppose this would be my "God as I understand him"). It's just the spirituality that I feel, which is distinctly separate from religion.

  4. The commenters above me seem to think that AA, despite having "god" be very prevalent in the 12 steps, does not actually have anything to do with religion. Then why not take out the word "god" and replace it with "nature" or "the cosmos". The word "god" is filled with all sorts of religious connotations, so you may understand if I don't totally buy your story.
    To me, this seems like a very pessimistic way of dealing with addiction, I can see why so few are actually helped by this. This is basically hammering into addicts heads that they are not strong enough to deal with this, that they are weak and helpless themselves. Wouldn't it be better to stay positive, to tell these people that they DO have the power to stop, that they are capable of taking control of their own lives. That the only "higher power" they should seek is that of their families and friends for support in overcoming this obstacle. Has anybody ever tried it like that?

  5. 1. AA is completely self-supportive, that's said in the first five minutes of every meeting.
    2. There's no mention of the Bible that I've seen anywhere.
    3. You misused "begging the question" -- look it up -- you meant "raising the question".

  6. At first I was a little perplexed at your use of the word "cult" to describe AA, however, having considered the matter further, I agree. AA involves religious worship through ritual. The serenity prayer and the steps are rituals that pay homage to God. Nice touch, Mr. Missionary.

    Go Habs!

  7. Besides the religious nature of AA, why hasn't anyone noticed that it is ineffective? Why are we sending alcoholics to AA instead of investigating other option when it has such a low success rate?

    That is a serious disservice to people with a devastating, and potentially deadly, problem.

  8. AA alows you to chose what your God is. May it be a litteral bible god, or just what you perceive as the ability to stop something that you previously could not. in this case drinking. The word God is like saying kleenex for facial tissue even tho it may be puffs.

  9. listen to them. braying like sheep. it's tough to hear, i know, that you're part of a cult. but y'are. it was founded strictly on fundamentalist chrstian principles. by bill watson, if you want to read up about it. anyway, it's magical thinking. alcoholism is not a disease, it is an addiction, and either way, psuedo-scientific bullshit isn't going to help you regardless of which invisible thing you pretend to pray to; the only thing that helps you at AA is the people, and you could find support of people without this specific, fairly ineffective program. the small amount of people, it seems to me, who actually do ever stop drinking are the ones who get addicted to coffee, cigarettes, and bitching about how much they want to drink.

    if AA makes your life better, great, but seriously, the piousness of aa'ers always astounds me, as does their general unawareness that the twelve steps are mostly cult indocrination processes designed not to get you to stop drinking, but to get you addicted to AA.

    if words such as this are making you really, really angry, you should probably look into yourself and ask yourself "why?"

    1. haha yr too funny. people choose aa as an alternative to something worse. if yr alternatives aren't worse then great for you! it's so funny to get exercised about how pious and unawareness aa people are -- as if they represent a cross-section of the general population as opposed to a bunch of drunks! less pious is better than more pious, all else being equal. but pious, unaware, self-righteous and sober trumps drunk

  10. First of all, I hope everyone appreciates that the purpose of this post was to direct attention to Mohr's article instead of plagiarizing it verbatim. However, muffin7 has hit the nail on the head with respect to the unnecessary religiosity of AA and the fact that they prey on those who are most susceptible to indoctrination by a cult. PersonalFailure has keyed in on what I think is Mohr's most stinging critique: AA doesn't work!

    There is an interesting discussion thread on arising from this post. These are my two favorite comments:

    Sharpie182:"There's plenty of BS, but it's not all bad."

    The BS part can't just be ignored, as it can be harmful. They tell you to trust a sponsor blindly, make many assertions that aren't justified, and then the overall theist view. It teaches you not to think for yourself, and that can be very damaging.

    The basic idea's valuable, get people together with the same problem to provide emotional support. And as a result, there are people that benefit. But that doesn't make it a good program.

    It has plenty of qualities of a cult. And there's been plenty of people who have been hurt by it in some way, and lives are better off without it. That extending to all 12-step programs, not just AA.

    I'd like to see a program that provides the support AA does, but doesn't teach irrationality and dependency, but I'm not sure that it exist.

    mitchwells: Science, now this I like! Why wont AA do large statistical studies on their methods? Why don't they ever make improvements to the "treatment"? Like the way we improve all other medical treatments over time? You know, by using science.

    AA is a world reknowned therapeutic program that has been around for almost 80 years. It has over 100,000 groups and over 1.8 million members. One would think that if it was in any way effective at curing (or even managing) alcoholism that there would be studies and statistics to back up that assertion. The absence of such evidence is a damning indictment on the efficacy of AA. However, this does not mean that there is no hope for alcoholics. Mohr concludes his article by pointing out that there are real options for those who choose "reason over religion" (including several medications). He feels that addiction can be conquered by science and not superstition - I agree.

  11. Having been through all this my self, I can personally attest to AA being a cult. If you don't accept their ideas, they cast you out and shame you. Other group members will not interact with you.

    Like other religious groups they have no proof that what they do is effective. Contrary to what the author wrote here, AA does not publish a "success rate" or any other statistic. That 5-7% comes from outside sociological studies and most AA groups will deny that their success rates could possibly be so low.

    They are also the ones who CREATED the idea that Alcoholism is a disease or that one can have an "addictive personality" when there is no evidence to support such ideas. Note that in the 12 steps there is not one single mention of a substance. The whole idea is that it is not the substance that is the problem, it is that you don't have faith in a higher power. Once you have that faith, all your problems will magically disappear! That, my friends, is a cult! For more information find a copy of "The Small Book (Rational Recovery Systems)" by Jack Trimpey.

  12. AA is very effective. I have people in my family and friends of mine who are sober primarily because of AA.

    @Tom - it probably didn't work out for you, but please let us not make your story everyone else's story. Thank you.

  13. "direct thousands of admittedly ill people annually into a bible thumping program that is so ineffective."

    There are exactly 0 references to the bible or organized religion in the program.

    In fact, there is an entire chapter in the "big book" (not a religious text, a collection of anecdotes) appealing to agnostics. It makes clear that this is not a religion-based group.

    A very common philosophy you'll find in A.A. is that God is an acronym for "good orderly direction" rather than some dude throwing lightning bolts out of the sky.

    1. Um, that chapter, "We Agnostics," essentially tells people to stop being agnostic, and that they'll die an alcoholic death if they don't believe in a spiritual power in one form or another.

  14. AA was originally founded by Christian people, therefore it's not surprising that God is involved in the 12 steps. The abysmal failure rate, in my opinion, is due to the absence of God under the pretext of belief in him. Although he's mentioned all over the twelve steps, he's not followed whole-heartedly. There is a watering down of belief that makes the mention of his name pointless and ineffective. If AA never left it's roots it wouldn't be in the state of failure it's in now.
    This wiki site may lend credence to my claim.

  15. First of all, I want to establish two things: One, I'm an atheist most days -- and an antitheist the rest of the time. Two, I've had a bad impression of AA for upwards of five years. At best I thought it was an awkward group of damaged but weirdly optimistic people. This has drastically changed since March of 2008. Since then, I have been quietly and distantly observing the AA culture, because someone I love began to invest themself in it. I was guarded at first, wary, paranoid that I would have to detoxify this person of the worst sort of stealthy conversion.

    My mother depends on AA for her sobriety. She is a reasonable, intelligent person and understands the ingrained nature of the religiosity of the program. However, despite being a woman who was raised with a devout Mennonite faith, she has actually steadily been moving towards a looser interpretation of God since she's been going to AA. She's now hovering between agnosticism and pantheism.

    She acknowledges that the 'God' of the 12 steps would have been the Judeo-Christian God at the time the program was written, but she theorizes that this is because the spiritual spectrum was very limited at that time. I find it quite gracious that despite the fact that the founders were plainly white-bread Christians, they allowed for a 'God of my understanding'. When it would have been so simple and so natural for a Christian in that era to end with 'God', they instead allowed for interpretation.

    I've gone to a meeting in her home group, and I see the extent of that mindset in the people there. Some insist on maintaining ambiguity when it comes to their personal God, and some explain how much they rely on the Christian faith. My mother is among the former, and it seems to me she makes it expressly clear when she speaks that whatever she believes in, it isn't Yahweh. The group doesn't ostracize her for this. On the contrary: after a years worth of sobriety, she's one of the most cherished members of the group.

    I'm not saying everybody's experience will be like this, not even a majority -- and I'm certainly not saying that AA gives you any better of a shot at sobriety than any other program or even self-reliance. I'm saying that sweeping generalizations and conspiracies have no place in such a personal arena. I have concluded that there are good groups and bad groups; good members and bad members. But the program itself can be interpreted to be absolutely helpful, and I think the assertion that it's cultist is a gross disrespect to the scores of sensible, intelligent, self-directed people who have been so profoundly affected in a positive way by the program. Pass judgment on the sort of people who would make it into a cult that ostracizes those who don't fit in; pass judgment on the bad groups. Not the program.

    Also, calling the program an 'abysmal failure' based on it being statistically equal to the rate of sobriety through self-discipline displays an erroneous understanding of both statistics and humanity. The only statistic that would evidence AA being an abysmal failure would be this: Among those who maintain sobriety through AA, what percentage could have done so on their own?

    That said, I don't believe it should be mandated for any reason, judicial or medical. It's one personal choice among many.

  16. keist, you have hit the nail on the head when you say: I'm certainly not saying that AA gives you any better of a shot at sobriety than any other program or even self-reliance. I couldn't sum it up any better than that. Listen, if AA has helped your mother (or even if she thinks it has helped her) that is great. My point, and I think Mohr would agree, is that Courts should not be forcing people into these programs and it may be dangerous to be telling addicts to surrender to a power greater than themselves in order to restore their sanity.

    1. Why do so many Steppist adherents think that the plural of "anecdote" is "data?"

    2. The only requirement for AA membership is "a sincere desire to stop drinking". Most court or rehab referrals to AA don't have any desire to stop drinking and this has watered down the success rate. However I don't mind helping someone stay out of jail. I went AA in'82 on a court card after which I returned to my drinking. I went back to AA on my own in '84 with that sincere desire and have been sober since. It works, it really does.

  17. I would like to clarify a few points, but first my bias: I am a member, and I am not an athiest.

    AA does not report statistics of any kind. My personal estimate is that about 10% of the people who come to a meeting eventually become long-term members. My understanding is that epidemiological studies suggest that is the highest success rate of any form of substance abuse treatment.

    AA as a whole does not "shame" anyone. Individual members will sometimes cajole their relapsing friends, but ultimately we let themm make their own decisions.

    AA recognizes that we are imperfect, sometimes grossly so.

    AA continues to use the word "God" because there is no better word in the western culture. It does have Judeo-Christian roots, because the dominant culture here does. AA attempts to have as broad an appeal as possible. For all it's negative connotations among intellectuals, "God" remains the most accessible.

    In AA, "God" most certainly does not mean the Judeo-Christian God. Some members consider it so. Many members have no definition. In fact, the AA program specifically does not define God--leaving it instead to the individual member to understand God themselves.

    There are no rules in AA. Everything is presented as a suggestion. Experience shows, however, that the more closely suggestions are followed, the higher success is achieved.

    AA is not for everyone. For those of us for whom it works, our _experience_ is that for us, it is the only thing that could relieve us of our alcoholism.

    AA does not recruit or seek out new members. At one time, members did actively go to "skid row." However, the program has always been one of "attraction, not promotion."

    AA has no leadership. All decisions are made at the group level, by a consensus of group members.

    I could go on, but I'm already getting too wordy for a response. AA doesn't really want any public controversy. I only respond because it's hard enough for alcoholics to get sober as it is, without unbalanced information.

    It's always fascinating to read outsider accounts of AA. I suspect that many people who write about AA were briefly around the program, but found that it wasn't for them. I still can't see why anyone would attack AA, though, because AA, unlike religious institutions, does not seek public recognition of its principles.

  18. Legal Addendum.

    Problems with courts sending people to AA are with the courts, not AA.

    First, it was the courts' decision, after observation of AA's success. AA never asked any court to send it members.

    Second, courts always offer options: treatment, AA, or jail. Courts never mandate only AA. AA tends to be a popular choice, because it only takes a few hours a week.

    1. Um, AA actually puts out a brochure that teaches its members how to convince judges to send people to mandated AA. "AA never asked any court to send it members" is an outright LIE.

  19. I think most atheists who read articles like this and bash AA would change their mind upon actually visiting a few meetings.

    Then again, maybe they wouldn't, because it's hard - probably impossible - to understand the real draw of the program unless you're a true recovering addict.

    I was a strongly believing Christian for much of my life, and then became an atheist / secular humanist thanks to learning about the Bible and becoming more honest with myself.

    I am also a recovering cocaine and alcohol abuser. So when I went to a 12-step based rehab and got my first glimpse at the steps and the program, I was like, "Oh great... this will never work for me."

    Lucky for me, I was stuck there for 30 days. Because it has saved my life, I am celebrating every new day clean of my addictions, and I did it all in the program without having to accept any religious or supernatural beliefs.

    The key here is that AA encourages you to come up with YOUR OWN definition of God or a Higher Power.. the only requirement being that IT WORKS FOR YOU. Promoting individual thought is hardly the benchmark of a religious cult.

    The word "God" has a generally understood meaning in the American zeitgeist, but it has another meaning to those in AA, at least while they are in an AA meeting. Ideally, it is understood when each person speaks up that they are referring to the God of their own personal understanding.

    I think of my God / higher power as "reason", "reality", "truth", or "the totality of the universe"... something along those lines. The group itself can be your higher power. In a sense, every human being has a "God" - the concept they revere in the highest respect - and all AA asks is for you to define that for yourself. The purpose of that concept is not to push religious dogma, but to help the individual addict recognize that they themselves are not the end-all be-all of existence.

    I don't believe in a supernatural God any more than I believe in Santa Claus, leprechauns, or the tooth fairy. But I was a totally hopeless cokehead, and now I'm living sober.

    Does the occasional zealot speak up in AA who thinks the program is staunchly religious? Sure.

    Is there a small amount of semantic wordplay to make the book of Alcoholics Anonymous apply to an atheist? Sure.

    Do most members of AA personally believe in some form of supernaturalism? Sure, just like most of the population.

    Has a single soul in the program tried to push any beliefs on me? No.

    Is AA a cult? Hell no.

    I believe in the simple formula of fellowship and honesty that AA embodies. It helps save many addicts' lives, and it is helping to save mine.

  20. Being sober for over 12 years, I have to say it was largly because of AA and the people in it. If you are not an alcohalic, yes these words and catch phrases might seen weird.

    "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable". One has to understand that alcoholics and drug addicts are control freak. What AA teaches people is to become humbel..... that it is alright to seek help.

    Take a moment to read the 12 steps again, without the mind set of the christian god.

    1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable.
    -This is a admittance that the person needs help, they have not and cannot do it alone.

    2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
    -Meaning that we cannot do it alone, we need to ask and seek help.

    3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
    - Read the last 5 words, "God as we understood Him"

    4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
    - It is the hard fact that we have hurt people and one cannot get better until we understand the damages we have caused.

    5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
    - In my mind the hardest thing because most members of AA have many hidden Daemons. People sobering up need to take ownership of their past.

    6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
    -Another hard one, it is human nature for a person to forgive someone. The problem with sobering up is forgiving yourself. Saying sorry to someone that you have hurt in the past does nothing to relieve the guilt and self torture that drunks do to themselves. If you cannot learn to forgive yourself then you will start drinking again to hide from the guilt.

    7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
    - Same with #6

    8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
    - Everyone has seen the Sinfeld episode where George's friend Jason did not apologize to him. That was funny, but it is true. You have to go and say sorry and hear the replies from the people you hurt...... you have to Man Up.

    9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
    - Read # 8

    10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
    - Look at your self all the time and see what you are doing and how it affects others around you. If more people did # 10, then the world would be a better place.

    11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
    - Alcoholics cannot rely on themselves, at times we need to put our faith in something else, if not just for a moment. In life we do that all the time, every say the phrase "Good Luck". You are putting your faith in luck, or something to give you luck. Same principle as # 11

    12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
    - Try and help others out. If AA helped you then it is your mission to help others.

    I am not condemning people for their views of AA, to most the whole aspect of surrender is obtuse. But to a alcoholic or junkie, who walks around alone in the world, we need to have faith in something, be it god, the group or a rock in your pocket.

    I have not been to an AA meeting in over a year. When the wife is out of town I might go to one to try and help others. If you have never been in the situation, having a member of your family, friend or yourself be an alcoholic, then you will not understand. There are no therapists, doctors or consulars in AA meetings, there are people just like you and me. AA does not seek people, hey if you don't want to go, then don't. It is fully self reliant and I can tell you when I sobered up, I never had more than 2 dollars to give.

    My last point will be the sobriety rate. Yes it is low, it is hard (I mean life changing hard) to sober up. It takes commitment, focus, and a certain amount of vulnerability to become sober. Event though I have been sober for 12 years, if I ever do drink again, I might not have the capabilities to sober up again. It is just that hard.

    Have a good one and thanks for reading my rant.

    -PS I am not an English major, you can flame me on my content but please not my writings.

  21. Due to some dumb decisions I made in college I am forced to go to AA. I haven't drank in years and have been refused my license for the sole reason of me not attending AA or counseling. Counseling is $100/hr and AA is a completely faith based initiative that is completely irrelevant for someone whom doesn't believe in a God. Most of the steps to me are patch work to a problem. All said and done it's up to the individual to make decisions regardless the motive behind those decisions. I find the program to be helpful to some, but should not be forced upon people by our legal system.

  22. It is God as you understand him/her - so while most revert to the teachings of youth there is no standard for God - most simply refer to their Higher Power - IN the case of my wife she says she thinks of John Lennon - who is not exactly Jesus.

    Seems this is more a case of no God allowed in any form than legit criticism - and lets say the rate is 5-7% over the average - how is that a bad thing? You would prefer 0%?

    I know almost a dozen people who owe their lives to 12 step programs - so cult or not I hope it continues for the good of my friends and family

  23. again, some people need a cult like thing to be addicted to outside of say bags of cocaine and bottles of booze. it is better to be addicted to meetings than killing oneself and people close to themselves.

    its really hard to understand the addict/alcoholic if you havnt experienced what its like yourself. its not something that you can just stop.

    the great majority uses it as a way to not feel alone in their plight, as well as helping new people find themselves before they kill themselves, thus keeping themselves sober for the service they are offering others.

  24. My masters thesis dealt with cultural influences on alcoholic drinking behaviors. I started it thinking the best of AA and the disease model of addiction. However half way through my research I was astounded to discover what is also being said here but even more profound. AA's success rate is just 2.5% - or less than 3 people per 100 who walk thru AA's doors are helped by "the program". If this were the cure rate for cancer or heart disease, we'd be horrified, however the BELIEF in AA's PR and lack of published research keeps AA's good name afloat.

    And the "disease model" of addiction is actually only ONE of FOUR different theories...but you never hear about the other three. The AMA endorses the disease model because its profitable. Institutional recovery centers, while employing inexpensive non-MD recovering alcoholics, charge health insurance policies tens-of-thousand$ for 28 day treatment programs. Many MDs are part owners in these treatment facilities and the profits are through the roof - all for non professional level care.

    Besides the treatment profits, why else is the disease model so popular? Alcohol manufacturers have a vested interest in keeping this model alive because it keeps all accountability away from manufacturers and instead focuses it all on the individual. So there's alcohol ads that appeal to underage drinkers...liquor websites that give away free mp3s and branded merchandise to kids--or alcohol companies that own and influence the media through scripts and songs that glorify drunkeness (Seagrams owned Universal Studios and Interscope Records until 2002) --SO WHAT? The disease model says that all the blame lies on the individual and NONE on ANY ENVIRONMENTAL or cultural influences.

    Look around -- its all a big sham and AA is just symptomatic of a much larger problem.

  25. Jay, if AA could show that their program showed ANY statistically significant improvement in helping addicts deal with their addiction (as compared to any other available treatment program or even doing nothing at all), I would tend to agree with you. The problem is that they can't. Personal testimonials cannot be extrapolated into proof of the efficacy of the treatment generally. The startling thing is just how pervasive AA has become when it appears to be nothing more than a snake oil solution.

  26. One other thing I forgot to mention: belief in AA's "success" by the medical, judicial, and public sectors has a very negative influence on new research geared towards discovering more effective treatment methods. Because the disease model (theory) states there is no cure - why do new research (except maybe for profitable pharma therapies)?

    Finally most of society's financial cost for alcohol addiction are hidden in other costs-- many accidents, arrests, incarcerations, murders, violent acts are committed by those under the influence of alcohol, however the costs of such behaviors are hidden in other spreadsheets besides alcohol addiction so it is nearly impossible to really figure out the true cost to society that alcoholic behavior impose.

  27. You MUST find the episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit where they take on AA. Aw hell, here it is:

    Devastating to AA's claims.

    Now, I have long had a bitch with AA precisely because:

    "Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character."

    "Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings."

    The usual religious no-win bullshit. Anything good that happens is due to God and anything that's bad is YOUR FAULT. I prefer to get people to have faith in themselves, since they actually, y'know, exist.

  28. A little follow up to Eric's point above that AA doesn't publish statistics of any kind. None. Penn and Teller did get a copy of an internal AA report from 1989 which said their 12 month success is 5%. Which is exactly the same as the success rate for people who just plain stop drinking on their own. Exactly the same. AA makes not one whit of difference.

  29. @Peter

    Assuming the report was truly created by an AA service office, it is of zero scientific validity.

    And even if it were, it adds nothing to the debate. Just because one method of treatment works for only a few people does not mean that it is invalid or not useful.

  30. @Missionary

    Actually, inductive inference is a valid form of scientific inquiry. AA has produced tangible results for millions of individuals. We can generalize that AA will be successful for people like them.

    Who is like them? People for whom nothing else has worked.

  31. Actually, Eric, inductive inference is a mathematical construct which has nothing to do with inductive reasoning. Moreover, inductive reasoning is not a valid form of scientific inquiry becuase it's not scientific. I'll take Popper's lead over yours on this. I'm not a philosopher, by the way, but I am a mathematician.

    Now, if you run an experiment and the control group produces precisely the same results as your variable group, then your null-hypothesis is not contrdicted. In other words, you can make no claim for the action of the experiment. In other, other words, you haven't got a frigging clue.

  32. Not really commenting on AA, but does anyone know the success rate of secular rehab programs? Just curious...

    I don't consider AA particularly Christian, by the I have no dog in this fight.

  33. Alcoholics can get sober without god, since there is none. Bill was wrong about self-will; but we must direct our will toward what keeps us sober. A higher power must necessarily be something that exists, or it is no power at all. This is a support group for atheists in Alcoholics Anonymous.

  34. That's nice Curtis, that group has ONE member (you).

  35. To Tirian:

    That's the problem...there are no "secular" recovery groups; everything is 12-step based. This goes back to the whole lack of research issue I mentioned earlier. AA has a monopoly on recovery which has caused incredible stagnation for research in this area.

  36. I am a sober non believer who has been associated with A.A. for 27 years. This is due mainly to the nature of my home group that is made up mainly of agnostics and free thinkers.
    No bumper sticker slogans, no prayers, no taking a door knob for a higher power. I have found that listening to other intelligent human beings dealing with day to day problems may allow me to see a side of myself that otherwise is not possible. We don't go to confront others, just ourselves. The issues of higher power and superstition don't concern us.
    When traveling, I have (in the Bangkok Group) heard serious Buddhists told that they could not get clean and sober unless they accepted Jesus Christ as their lord and savior. I have been asked to leave other meetings when I suggested that possibly we should take responsibility for our actions, or that happiness is too important to entrust to a supernatural power.
    There is little long term sobriety in A.A. due to the fact they as it is currently practiced, they don't want anyone to really get well, but live in fear. Bill Wilson never got over the urge to drink. Currently, AA does not go beyond the "big book" and take up Wilson's later writings which indicate that he wanted it to be an evolving organization and that new ways would be adopted when they came along. Healthful Trial And Error----in A.A. comes of age, or who is an alcoholic in Letter From the Heart. Our group has to remain AA if we are to serve the needs of those who have been sent by the state as S.O.S. is not recognized where I live. I suggest reading the bio. Bill W., who was a promoter and wanted to make a million off the deal. The original plan was to price the "big book" at what would be well over $100 in todays money and that wealthy would buy them to give to the poor. I have talked with real old timers who speak of women being not allowed as if they were bad enough to be in AA, their moral character was too low to be a part of the spiritual program. I could add much to the great article and have been a long term subscriber.

  37. "Of course, all of this begs the question as to why our Courts would direct thousands of admittedly ill people annually into a bible thumping program that is so ineffective."

  38. The courts usually support property,industries and big business. This is big business. One more myth is that courts dispense justice, but don't get me started on the courts!

  39. please read free inquiry's may issue- there is an article "exposing the myths of alcoholics anonymous". and my page: and harry, where is this freethough-atheist-agnostic-bright-etc. AA meeting? i'm definitely looking for one.

  40. AA has worked for me for more than 28 years .... F**k the references to G*d .... In AA there are no musts .... Just some suggested steps .... If a person comes to AA and doesn't like it they are free to go out and continue to do whatever they chose ... The writer of this article has a pretty limited intellect and certainly does a disservice to thos edrunks for whom AA may have helped.

    But then again I'm a tough love old Alky and if you can't see through the egotism rampant in the denial crew here well tough for you .... There are no dues, fees or obligations (Including any obeisance to a God of any nature in AA) and anyone who tells you otherwise is full of it.

    Proud sober Atheist .... and I got here through the graces of the AA program ... so shove it Mac!

  41. @ the canadian geezer:

    "Proud sober Atheist .... and I got here through the graces of the AA program ... so shove it Mac!"

    i suppose the "shove it" is a loving, tolerant suggestion, yes?

    28 years of humble AA practice & you're still an insulting, dull-witted, rhetoric parroting imbecile. perhaps you took the cotton out of your mouth a little prematurely.

  42. Why isn't it, "God as you understand it", where does the "him" come in? Higher power, but still called god.

    While AA explains itself to be "spiritual" not religious, it fails to explain why religion itself is not adequate to solve the problems of addiction and substitutes "recovery fellowship" in place of a church connection AA simple has too many questionable ideas: claims that alcoholism is a "spiritual disease", something no religion recognizes. What is there etiology of the disease? And "90 meeting in 90 days". (Pass the kool-aid)

    That said, I add that AA can and will help, but so does placebo. I expect the reasons for this have more to do with the body's ability to heal itself that with 12 steps. It may be about "believing" but not in god.

  43. Hi Ada

    I go to AA meetings once in a while and there are good things about the program and about many of the members.

    I feel that any program that still uses Literature/Teaching Material where every statement about Secular People is extremely derogatory is about more than sobriety. Any group of people who use study material that that uses such negative stereotypes against another group and then condems them to a alcoholic death because of their religious belifs is not a mentally healthy group.


  44. 18 years of trying to pray my addiction away was enough to convince me that AA was a religious cult. AA is one of the biggest scams ever perpetrated on the american people.

  45. I don't speak for AA as no one should do so. Yet I'm an atheist and a AA member.This has made for many contradictions and frustrations. But I personally attempted to stop on my own, with professional help (non AA), and could not do it. But AA did work. Most of the time, I am very grateful to be a member. But sometimes I seriously want to vomit when folks pontificate on their relationship with "God" and suggest that is the only way. But when it comes to it I do a simple calculation. For myself being sober is good. AA helps me stay sober. Thus AA is good. I can only speak for myself-and in no way suggest that my way is "the right way". I live in a large and extremely progressive city. Because of that there are a handful of 12 step meetings that are Atheist/Agnostic themed. And most folks have no problem with this! But all that said I strongly disagree with the courts requiring people to attend 12 step meetings.I don't see 12 meetings to be religious in nature. But nonetheless religious "language" is used and because of that no one should be legally compelled to attend 12 Step meetings.If you think AA is a bullshit dogmatic sham, more power to you.It's no skin off my back. I am all for assumptions being challenged!

  46. I was introduced to AA by my friend who has suffered addictions for 20 years and has been in and out of the program throughout those years. Given the lack of success for her and after attending meetings now for about 10 months; I am torn.

    While the statistics for long term sobriety are not good, there is no doubt that the program has made many people's lives better (albiet not complete sobriety). As many others have said, its probably the sense of fellowship and sharing that works, less so the "Higher Power" concept.

    I am personally struggling with the concept of God in AA. While I have read the chapter to the agnositic and heard many times about how the "God of My Understanding" can be anything I want it to be, it seems absurd to pray to some inanimate concept like nature, the group conscience etc. To me if one is going to pray it implies that you are speaking to someone who can hear and understand your words and this in turn suggests someone who genuinly cares. This is where I run into problems, I personally cannot accept that a supreme power is someone who is watching out for my well being and has a personal interest in me. I have travelled to 10 different countries and have seen some horrible poverty and sadness. So why would the supreme power be interested in my little (fairly reasonably secure)life while apparently showing no interest in the poor and underprivledged? I know some of them pray and are very religious (thinking of Nigeria), yet they have no hope of ever making their lives stable or securing hope for the children. Reality would suggest to me that life is a random event, and if you happen to win the genetic lottery and are born in a developed country where there is opportunity so be it; and if not you lose. Talking to a "Supreme Being" may make one feel better inside, but I'm at a loss as to why we would expect someone to be actually listening.

    I do think we need to let everyone decide who they want to associate with and what belief system they feel comfortable with. I have never sensed any sort of cult tendancies in the short time I have been going to AA, and I have learned a great deal from a wide variety of people from all walks of life.

    Its a great program, but I'm not 100% sure it is for me. But I'm going to keep going until I know for sure, one way or the other. I certainly know I don't have a monopoly on grey matter and need to think broadly.

  47. speedy said... "i suppose the "shove it" is a loving, tolerant suggestion, yes? 28 years of humble AA practice & you're still an insulting, dull-witted, rhetoric parroting imbecile. perhaps you took the cotton out of your mouth a little prematurely."

    You have a mirror right?

  48. I love the drink so much I cannot imagine living my life without ever again pouring vast quantities of the fermented bounty of nature down my gullet- sipping the nectar of the gods to the point of sweet oblivion and further enhancing the beauty of it all with other seemingly complimentary substances. Still, I know well enough that it's in my best interests to really give it a good college try before irreparable damage is done.

    I for one am entirely grateful for AA's existence as it provides me with a focal point to aid in my quest for a sober life; a life that doesn't involve the cycle of getting smashed, screaming maniacally at the people who care about me, wandering the streets in the early morning thinking my very person is inhabited by the Angel Gabriel, and thereby further distancing myself from my friends and family.

    For me, the lure of the drink is cunning indeed, and baffling all the same - there has been the rare instance where I stop at one or two measures and call it a night, but more often than not are the times where I find myself alone and with no one to talk to besides the empty cans and bottles cluttering my apartment at five in morning. I'm sick of cringing at the thought of opening my facebook account without knowing what I might have written to someone in an alcoholic stupor.

    So far, it's working for me. There may come a time in my life in which I'm ready to drink myself to death, but I'm far too young to waste my life in a cycle of insanity spurred on by a dangerous vice that has robbed me of so much respect and has, over time, succinctly disparaged the trust of the only two people who are there for me in the absence of all others - me Mum and me Dad.

  49. Romance, good luck with the sobriety. My complaints against AA are its reliance on a supposed higher power (god, doorknob, etc.) and abysmal success record. If AA has helped you, great. However, if I believe in anything, it's that you don't need to believe in fairies to stay off the booze.

  50. I have been court ordered to AA, not happy about it, walked into my first meeting tonight, and there is a cross on the wall.
    The lords prayer was said, everyone talked about God, I was born an Athiest, been one all my life, I guess the courts decided I need to believe in God.
    So, I got to spend 3 months being indoctrinated, or get convicted of a crime I did not commit.
    I got no beef with the people, or even the program, I know AA does good for people, I just resent the state of Texas forcing me to go to a church twice a week.
    I got no beef with AA, or any religion, I just hate it that my country is forcing me to worship.

  51. I am atheist and have been sober in AA for 24 years. AA saved my life and I don't believe in God. Yes many people in AA believe in God, but I don't really hear much about religion at all. I'd say that the believer to non-believer ratio is about the same as it is outside AA and that there are probably fewer religious people in AA than in the population at large. It's a spiritual program not a religious program. The steps are designed to help one have an internal personality shift that helps them become a better person. The goal is to become a person who seeks to give rather than receive, to love than to be loved, to understand than to be understood, to forgive rather than be forgiven. We stay sober by helping others stay sober. This is the "spritiual awakening" and from my perspective it has everything to do with an inside shift and nothing to do with belief in a "guy in the sky."

    The AA Big Book was written in 1939. It was written primarily by Bill Wilson who was a chronic alcoholic who got sober at first in something called the Oxford Group. The Oxford Group was explicitly religious protestant group and the God stuff was very heavy and there was also a heavy reliance on the Bible. Although they were protestant, they did take a step back from most religions in that they left it open as to what kind of protestant you wanted to be. That doesn't seem like much but they noticed that it did not seem to matter whether you were a baptist or an anglican - it worked just the same.

    Bill W noticed that it was helping other alcoholics that kept him sober. Belief in a higher power was in there somewhere, but it was working with others that enlarged his spiritual life and helped him stay sober for the rest of his life. AA started when Bill got Dr. Bob Smith sober on June 10, 1935. They started out in the Oxford Group but in the late 30s they separated and formed AA. Like Bill, Dr. Bob was not able to stay sober by just believing in god or praying to god (some surprise!). It was when he went out and helped others that he then had the strength to stay sober himself. It was the giving of himself that was the key.

    continued in next post

  52. By the time Bill W and others wrote the steps and the Big Book they realized that Catholics and other non-protestants were also staying sober by doing the steps and especially by helping others. So they broadened the definition of a higher power significantly from the Oxford Group and simply made it "God as I understand Him." Now admittedly that does sound very Christian and I think that they had a hard time completely shaking off the Oxford Group's influence at the time that they wrote the book. In a later edition of the Big Book, Bill wrote in Appendix II on spiritual experience that the people who had stayed sober had "tapped an unsuspected inner resource that they presently identified with a power greater than themselves." It goes on to say that "our more religious members call it God-consciousness." The implication there is that there are non-religious members who don't call it god-consciousness. And there are many of us! I think Bill relaized later on that the God stuff wasn't as necessary as he thought. It was the internal shift that mattered and that can happen with or without a belief in god.

    There is no link between AA and insurance, doctors or hospitals. Some doctors do suggest that their alcoholic patients try AA in an effort to save their lives. Rehabs so require or strongly suggest that their patients attend AA meetings for a simple reason - people who go to AA stay sober at a much higher rate than those who don't! AA is free so I don't know why insurance would be involved. Courts do give people with multiple DWI violations the option of going to AA or going to jail here in NY. As an AA member I kind of wish they did not do that as we end up with a bunch of people who don't really want to be sober in the meetings. AA did not request that the courts do this - the courts did it on their own. AA is free and a non-profit so I don't see how getting these people coming would help us in any way.

    You qoute Mohr as saying that AA does not work - that chronic alcoholics recover at the same rate with or without AA. Well that just shows how statistics can lie. Prior to AA alcoholics didn't get sober. they died drunk. There are about 2 million people sober in AA today that would be out drunk terrorizing your neighborhood in their cars that are now sober and productive members of society. I'd imagine several million have been sober in AA over the years before they died of causes unrelated to alcoholism.

    Get the facts man. Know what you are talking about before you post on something like this. Your messing with people's lives here.

  53. The above post (Langhorne) is wrong. Courts decided to send people to AA because- guess what- AA people have jobs outside of meetings. Many work in the justice system- or are judges themselves! They influence where they can, and as AA members they believe in AA and would take that oath on the bench in a court of law, "I do solemnly swear AA worked for me, so... it must work for everyone!"... Bill Wilson was a misogynistic LSD experimenter who got his "spiritual experience" high in the current rehab hospital available in the 1930s. The God stuff was not flexible, that's why bumper stickers read "Came to Believe"... it is not a play on words it is very true that once you enter AA the non-God people are very much criticized/ostracized/ even openly laughed at...

    Then again, if the God people are praying every day their God must be telling them to laugh and criticize and mock the others who do not believe. That is the real problem-- the arrogance of the people taking everything in the book literally and scaring away people who probably go to AA and really need to stay sober!!!

    AA's statistics cannot be proven, that's why their members are "anonymous", a person saying they're sober "anonymously" in a survey yesterday might very well be out drinking today. Can AA prove or disprove that??? Mohr said that AA and those not in AA have the same recovery odds??? YES IT IS TRUE!!! But AA-- I repeat--- AA and only AA and what AA says-- AA claims that is not true, of course, according to AA.

    So I guess if you only believe what AA tells you to believe than fine, if that is what keeps you happy and sober than AA works. But a program that says "practice rigorous honesty" and then lies and lies again and lies some more kinda-- you know--- bugs a lot of people who are just, well, you know... BEING HONEST... like AA tells them too.

    AA just does not practice what it preaches, that is the saddest part of all. ("To Wives" was not even written by wives, unless you believe Bill Wilson who wrote it and AA who tells you it was really written by get the idea.) If you want to take the book literally, few women are in AA so it might as well be an all male program. Just like the Big Book from 1939 and still from 1939 tells us....

    Now who's messing with people's lives? Women who stick up for the whole thing just gotta change AA or walk away.

  54. Have you ever been to an AA meeting Juliet? You seem to know some things about AA that are true and completely unaware of others.

    I don't think "AA" has ever said that wives wrote "To Wives". I think everyone knows that Bill W wrote it.

    Please explain to me how AA benefits from having the courts send people to the meetings - most of whom don't want to be there. They don't put money in the basket usually. AA isn't out to make a profit - who benefits exactly?

    What has AA ever lied about? Who speaks for AA? I am not sure where you are coming from there. Why would they lie about anything? You've got me baffled there.

    I will agree that the To Wives chapter is deeply offensive by today's standards. It really is. I agree with that. At the time the book was written, there were about 100 people sober, almost all of whom were white protestant men, many of whom had at least some money. It was not a diverse group. Bill wrote from his experience with those men. Many of them were married and their wives played an important role in the early days of AA.

    It does sound like Bill was a bit of a chauvinist. I think most men were in those days. Its just how it was.

    I can get annoyed with the way the book is written for that and the overly religious sounding language but it is usually on days when I am not feeling too good about myself. When I have my head on straight I can cut the book a break as being written in a different time. It was progressive in some ways for that time but clearly not by today's standards. There is an amazing amount of truth in the book if you can stop being offended by that stuff and look for it. The whole thing about ego reduction and focusing on being of service to others is exactly what this world needs.

    Most people

  55. The co-founders name was Bill Wilson, not Watson. These posts would be much more interesting if the authors were more informed and not as passion filled as a preacher with the opportunity to save a sinner. Really, as an atheist there is nothing more upsetting than people acting like atheism is a faith and feeling the need to ridicule believers.

    I have been a member of AA since 1984. I know scores of people who have been happily sober in AA for decades. These same people were hopeless drunks and had tried all kinds of cures. They credit AA with getting their lives back.

    Why would an atheist be upset with a program that actually helps many people and does not rely on outside support? What threat does AA pose that there is the need to present it as a cult and a scourge on society?

    Bill Wilson, that crazy religious founder had more of an open and inquiring mind than many of the people that posted here. He tried all kinds of things to stay sober and happy and help other alcoholics. He experimented with LSD, read, meditated, struggled with depression, and would not become the “leader” of AA even though many wanted him to. Anyone with an open mind who interviewed AA members and read some of the many histories of Alcoholics Anonymous would come to very different conclusions from the majority here.

  56. It's important to look at AA in it's totality. There are now meetings that provide space for atheists. They are not trying to convert members to believe in God, but just trying to stay sober. The list of these meeting is on the website:

    I've recently written a book about my experiences there called: My Name is Lillian and I'm an Alcoholic (and an Atheist): How I got and stayed sober in AA without all the God stuff.

    It's avaliable in the Kindle at Amazon.

  57. "Having been through all this my self, I can personally attest to AA being a cult. If you don't accept their ideas, they cast you out and shame you. Other group members will not interact with you."

    Right with you.

    1) These freaks carry around their own version of a bible, referred to as "The Big Book". Most meetings involve reading this thing out loud, just like at a bible study.

    2) Be prepared to pray, a lot.

    3) Raise the slightest question and you will be shunned by the local group.

    4) It is a core statement in AA that if you do no agree with them, you are a psychopath. This word is used frequently in AA literature to define their version of an "infidel".

    5) You are no longer allowed to associate with former friends who use alcohol, at all.

    6) It is perfectly OK to rip off, lie to and abuse these former friends as long as they aren't a part of the cult.

    7) You must admit you have no control over your own life and submit to AA. In other words, you cease to be a human being.

  58. Another sober atheist here...these comments are cracking me up.

    AA is not a religious program. It claims to be a spiritual program. The steps are suggestions. The writing in the literature is dated and certainly leans to Christian ideology. But dismissing a book or work because it was of its time and place is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    Do the constant HP references irritate me? Absolutely. Does the word "God" make me uncomfortable. Yes. Can I stay sober using AA as a foundation but maintaining a philosophy of humanism. Apparently. The real balm (for me) is spending time and growing with people who are similar with similar histories - there IS a genetic predisposition to addiction.

    I do understand how the concept of powerlessness can be an affront to a gang of self-reliant atheists. But again it is (for me) a philosophical stance - I am unable to control my addiction in a way that is similar to my inability to control the tides or the color of the sky.

    Comparing AA to a cult is simply misguided. Take a look at Scientology and then look at the tenets and practices of AA. AA isn't trying to strong-arm anyone into anything...certainly not money nor indoctrination.

    And anyone who's been court-ordered to attend meetings and is bitching about it? ProTip: Don't get wasted and break the law.

  59. A link for the conversation.

    And thanks for the topic, A.M.

  60. AA has taken my family member. I use to have a down to earth, humble, accepting sibling. After many yrs of this program, I can honestly say this person is someone I no longer recognize. Pias, self serving, one addiction for another. It's no longer alcohol, it's the meetings even to the point of spending more time there then with their children. These kids had little real time guidance and are now following down the same path of substance use as young adults and teens. It's ridiculous and sad.
    In my personal opinion, I think this program is a religion, it doesn't lend itself to critical or free thinking. I believe that the only true way to freedom is complete independence of thought and belief in oneself. Not reliance on anything outside of yourself. Then it is nothing more than a crutch.

  61. There are many AA members who don't believe in any god. We are creating the fellowship we crave:

  62. The argument for belief in God in We Agnostics is primarily utilitarian. But it is important to realize that it isn’t an argument for the existence of God. It is an argument that belief in God is helpful.

    Nonbelievers can agree with Bill Wilson about all that. Here’s what I sometimes say at our agnostic AA meeting:

    Whether gods exist or not, it is a plain fact that many people find believing in them useful. It is equally clear that many people don’t.

    AA came to be in a religious culture, so most of its members are religious. We can expect AA’s religiosity to track with the local demographic, so of course there will be a mix of religious and atheist members. This has been true from the beginning, when Ed the atheist, in AA’s second group, ‘distressingly stayed sober’.

    So, perhaps belief in a god, like physical exercise, getting a job or being nice to your wife, is simply something that many people find helpful for sobriety. It is on the AA buffet of suggestions, but no one eats everything on the buffet. It is a fact of our experience that nonbelievers live happy, sober lives. It must be the case that belief in god is not a required ingredient in AA recovery.

  63. Cults are characterized by centralized control, coercion and penalties for leaving. AA has these traits in some cases, but doesn't enforce them. They are voluntary! You can tell which kind of meeting you are in: do they use only conference-approved literature? Here is a cult-like passage: Daily Reflections, December 1, says:

    “I remember my sponsor’s answer when I told him that the Steps were “suggested”. He replied that they are “suggested” in the same way that, if you were to jump out of an airplane with a parachute, it is “suggested” that you pull the ripcord to save your life.”

    This is a false choice. The choice is not between swallowing AA whole and an alcoholic death. More people have sobered up outside AA than in it. It is precisely at such points that AA moves from being a supportive fellowship to a coercive, centralized cult. There is nothing wrong with members sharing that prayer or other activities have been helpful to them; but to say a particular activity is required is more than they can justify. And to frame it as a life-or-death choice is going too far.

    To the extent that we avoid centralized control, dogma and coercion, AA is just a grass-roots self-help movement. When we adhere to dogma and threaten heretics, we become a cult.

  64. 12 Step Programs, including Alcoholics Anonymous, are most definitely religious. They are not distinctly Christian, Mulslim, Buddhist or Scientologist - they are their own religion, "12-Step-ism".

    Unlike the major religions of the world, they do not promote a single conception of a deity. But they do promote a number of doctrines, rituals, and sacred people, places and things. 12 step Programs have their own distnct way of eiwing the world and the conditions of their members - views which are not subjected to scientific inquiry, but are based on faith.

    Comments onthe nature of religion, which specifically apply to 12-Step-ism include:

    Religion can be defined as a system of beliefs and practices by means of which a group of people struggles with the ultimate problems of human life. It expresses their refusal to capitulate to death, to give up in the face of frustration, to allow hostility to tear apart their human aspirations.
    - J. Milton Yinger

    Religion is the serious and social attitude of individuals or communities toward the power or powers which they conceive as having ultimate control over their interests and destinies.
    - J.B. Pratt

    Religion is a unified set of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community... all those who adhere to them.
    - Emile Durkheim

    Religion is...the attempt to express the complete reality of goodness through every aspect of our being.
    - F.H. Bradley

    Religion is a set of symbolic forms and acts which relate man to the ultimate condition of his existence.
    - Robert Bellah

    Furthermore, 12-Steppers, the followers of 12-Step-ism clearly distinguish themselves as being different to "normies", commonly stating how grateful they are for their afflictions, given that it has provided them the opportunity to be given a second chance at life (re-born).

  65. I myself have a lot of difficulty with all of the clichés for which there has never been any evidence, but if you repeat it enough, people get to believe it. Like Joseph Gobbles, the minister of propaganda for the German Nazi Party was quite aware. Here are some of the clichés (they sucked me in too) I read here, and my response:
    "But for a huge majority, it teaches a set of principles to live by that for a lot of people allows them to not have to drink to cope with life on life’s terms.

    the concept of surrender, most 'normal sober people' practice. Many addicts have a distorted perception of reality, and the principles of surrounding yourself to the next moment as its largely unpredictable is what those spiritual (your bolded text) is about."

    Where is the evidence that there is a correlation between the 12 Steps and the persons stop them from drinking? The numbers are so small, that they are not an outcome, but a coincidence. Here is how it mechanism, "I was drinking, I wanted to stop drinking, I jointed AA, I stop drinking therefore AA works". For this person it looked like the steps of AA was what made him stop drinking. Correlating with AA. When in reality it could have been numerous variables, including coincidence. The rate is so small that it can be consider a placebo effect.

    Oh yes "surrender", what most treatment staff mean is not surrender, but "subjugate to what I say". They can surrender to the fact that I do not believe a word of it. But they want to forcefully show you that it works if you work it.
    "There is a difference between religion and spirituality."
    You can bullshit yourself, but you can not bullshit me. But you can not fool all of the people all of the time. You start a meeting with a prayer, finish with a prayer and then keep repeating to yourself like a mantra "the God of my understanding keeps me clean, not me" Baba, it may not be denominational, but it is religious and you should examine every thing that you keep hearing over and over again. Once you gone to one meeting you keep hearing the same stories going around.
    It is most definitely religious and in every Federal Court case, the conclusion has been that it is religious and violates the 1St Amendment of the constitution. It is not even treatment, it is indoctrination. It meets must characteristics of pseudoscience I am familiar with. Beside all of the explanations they came about after its religiosity was a question does not seem to have any solid logic to it. It is nothing more than self convincing. It begs for "please believe me, understand me, I fallen for this bull shit and I can't get up"
    "So, perhaps belief in a god, like physical exercise, getting a job or being nice to your wife, is simply something that many people find helpful for sobriety. It is on the AA buffet of suggestions, but no one eats everything on the buffet. It is a fact of our experience that nonbelievers live happy, sober lives. It must be the case that belief in god is not a required ingredient in AA recovery."

    Listen, I do not mind you doing all of those things for you. I am sure one gets a lot of miles. But imply that they only way to get sober is to remove all of defect of character, is not only deceiving, but is saying that a criminal or a drunk can not get sober because they are not nice.

  66. Hey there - I'm not an atheist, nor an alcoholic - yet I have been affected by this insidious cult, so am compelled to comment

    Due to my father's alcoholism, my mother became involved in "Al-anon", and encouraged my sister and I to go to meetings. One was more than enough. I never went back.

    While I LOVE my mother and know she was doing her best to cope with an unhealthy situation, her involvement in this cult was very damaging to our family (on top of the damage my father's drinking was already doing). I learned through her that anger is bad, and something I need to learn not to feel - that my dad had a disease he had no control over. In retrospect I've learnt this is total bunk. Alcoholism is a combination of a physical addiction and an unhealthy coping mechanism - it's a symptom, not a disease - and we're NOT powerless over it. We have a choice - and we can choice to improve ourselves and get professional help to deal with things instead of inflicting ourselves on those around us. It was a choice he never made.

    Had my mother realized this, she probably would have not allowed our family to be subjected to my fathers BEHAVIOR (stealing, lying, drinking, vomiting, loud belligerent rants...all in front of his children) for so many years - And I wouldn't have to work to overcome the ingrained sense of powerlessness and hopelessness that came from living in that household.

    Being angry at our "diseased" father was not an's basically a sin in AA doctrine - so we were left to COPE as best we could in this dysfunctional household with the silent, but understood rule that "anger only hurts yourself" (r.e. Anger is wrong, thus expecting your father to be accountable for his behavior is unreasonable) . My sister and both have dealt with anxiety, depression and self-injury - the latter being our own unhealthy coping mechanisms from living like that for so many years.

    So for all you people who think AA is fantastic and has helped you or someone you know overcome their addiction - remember, that the people who pay the price for your cult-think, pseudo-scientific solution are kids who have NO SAY, and will absorb this doctrine of powerlessness before they even realize what that is.

    Please, please - stay away from AA, Al-anon, and these 12-step cults. If their lack of results isn't enough, then think about the subtle and insidious ways cult-think harms those around you.

  67. Hey, here's an idea: If you don't like or agree with AA-Dont Go! Its that simple. Im neither Norman, nor Muslim, I DON'T GO! I certainly wont pass judgement on those who are. I will agree that courts nor any other institution should force AA on anyone. This forced involvement also violates a very basic principle of AA. AA has no monopoly on sobriety, nor does "IT" claim too. There are bound to be members who make such claims, but those are individual opinions, not positions that the program endorses. Yes, it is A way to sobriety and peace for many, but certainly not for all.

  68. I was sentenced to this nightmare cult called AA for 2 years after my first (and only) DUI. Why a state was sending to me this thing was beyond me. 2 years at 2X/Week sitting with a bunch of wackos who would become vehemently angry when I refused to say "..and I'm an alcoholic". There is little doubt AA is a cult.

  69. I think that we all can admit that there is a lot of great people who are members of AA and do a lot to compensate for the terrible Doctrine of AA.

    Until AA gets some new and improved Literature to be used in Meetings, nothing the good people in AA do will improve AA and its Doctrine.

  70. AA has actually been shown to be quite effective. It is actually more effective and cheaper than outpatient professional treatments. Try putting an alcoholic on benzodiazepines...that gets expensive and is not that effective. With the advent of Obamacare, be expecting the government and insurance companies to send people to anything that saves them money and resources...and in this case, the evidence points to AA as a means for alcohol abuse and dependence.

    I recommend reading chapters 34-36 of "The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment". You can find it on psychiatry online and possibly any library. It contains scientific and economic studies and research that shows the benefits of AA and other 12-step type programs for substance abuse disorders. When you look at the facts it's hard to refute the many positives of AA. The fact is, it's cheaper and more effective than other programs for most people. However, there are other programs for people who do not find AA helpful and who many not accept the "higher power" part of 12 steps. They are called "Secular Organizations for Sobriety/Save Ourselves" and "Rational Recovery," however these programs' effectiveness have yet to be substantially proven more effective than AA or other medical outpatient treatment options from what I've read.

    On top of that, the only thing AA asks is that you recognize a higher power...many people see that as their grandparents who loved them unconditionally, or another family member who was a good example to live by. It doesn't have to be God or any other spiritual being. Plus, in terms of meditating and praying, yoga instructors tell people to do that but you don't see people getting upset over that.

  71. 1. AA is free. Many sufferers of alcohol addiction are unable to afford the expensive treatments.

    2. Because of the "anonymous" nature of AA it is completely impossible to determine the efficacy of the organization.

    I too am troubled by the religiosity that is expressed in many groups. However it does not seem to be belief or faith that works but the action of the step work. I have remained in the same group, sober for 27 years, and found that the people who are able to follow the 12 Step process and fully participate in the AA program have a very good success rate certainly above 70% by my count. On the other hand those who will not or are unable to do the steps and participate in the group have a very low recover rate but no lower that Mohr's estimation for those who do not participate at all in AA.

    I believe that de-emphasising the religious aspects of can make the AA program effective to all people.

  72. Another thing: it is true that all who attend meetings are encouraged to chose a Higher Power that works for them, this Higher Power must meet the following criteria in order for the rest of the steps to make sense:

    1. This Power must be able to provide you with a mental defense against the first drink. In other words, this Power must have the ability to somehow control your thinking. See Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
    2. This Power must be able to care for your will and your life. This implies that the Power you choose must be sentient, personally interested in you and able to protect you and give you daily guidance in a capricious, temptation-riddled world.
    3. This Power must be able to hear your confession of wrong-doings and prayers of repentance.
    4. This Power must have the magic ability to remove your shortcomings (forgive your sins, obviously. AA is rife with doublespeak. Another red flag)
    5. This Power must have a Will and the inclination and ability to communicate it to supplicants and also empower those supplicants to carry out said Will. (DOUBLE YEEKS!)
    6. This Power must have the ability to produce an "essential psychic change" that will enable an alcoholic to live sober in spite of being beyond human aid. This is a tall order for a "beam of light", "a baby's smile" or the "love that exist among recovering alcoholics".

    It is also taught in AA literature and in meetings that religion is not enough to produce the "essential psychic change" thought necessary for recovery. Religious adherents should have just as much a problem with the AA program as atheists and agnostics and frequently do once they learn of this teaching. This means that AA's founders wanted people to believe that having a relationship through faith with whichever god of whichever mainstream religion is not sufficient for sobriety. Thus the only option for an alcoholic is lifelong membership in AA (TRIPLE YEEKS! Even the grace of God is insufficient - AA is the true Higher Power).

    Good news though. More and more churches and community centers are demanding that the AA groups they host pay insurance in addition to the rent they already pay. Tee hee.

    I'm at last truly free: not in AA and not drinking or drugging myself to death. Writing about it is part of my deprogramming. If you don't know much about AA, INVESTIGATE. Much of the literature is available online for free now. Bill W. must be rolling in his grave.

    1. Never in my life have I read so much misinformation and obvious bias.
      Nobody is forced to go to meetings,It has nothing to do with religion,and it is said all the time,if religion works for you more power to you.
      AA does not care how you get sober,as long as you do. If AA or any other 12 step group,does not work,for you,it is for one reason and one alone. You did not want it to.
      The biggest insult is to convince an alcoholic or any addict that there is a 'cure' Once and addict always an addict. It is only a matter of degrees.