Addiction is a complicated beast, and if AA has helped you or someone you know, that's great; they definitely do help some people. But AA was founded in 1935 on decidedly non-scientific principles, and the program hasn't been updated with anything we've since learned about the human brain. It's obviously hard to study an anonymous organization like AA, no matter how many false mustaches you employ, but one estimate put their success rate at between 5 and 8 percent.
AA, meanwhile, claims a 75 percent success rate and argues that anyone who fails in their system doesn't have enough willpower. Which itself is a rather sinister statement. Imagine that you're an alcoholic and you know you need help, and you enter a famous and successful program, but you still can't kick your drinking habit, and they explicitly tell you that it was you who failed, not them. How do you think someone who already has a drinking problem will react to the revelation that they're a "failure"?
Go on, guess.
AA cornered the market by being first, and has been cruising on that initial success ever since. But their support groups are run by people with no professional training, their famous 12 Steps don't take into account mental health issues, and they inaccurately view alcoholism as something you either have or don't have, despite modern science treating it as a spectrum. We now know that some people need to quit completely, while other heavy drinkers might not be dependent on alcohol and can, with help, successfully change their habits to that of a light social drinker. But AA views drinking one Coors Light at your buddy's BBQ the same as drinking an entire bottle of scotch while playing Russian Roulette with the cat -- a comparison which can devastate members when they "relapse" with a glass of wine at dinner.
Modern data says that what works best is medication and cognitive behavior therapy provided by trained doctors, not the AA's spiritual approach based on ideas their founder had on a hospital bed in the '30s. AA is right when they call alcohol dependence an illness instead of a moral failing, but they've ignored every scientific discovery about how the brain reacts to booze in favor of a system of promises, lectures, and little trophies.
Mark is on Twitter and has a book with no known health benefits.
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