As noted in the post below, I’ve been absolutely deluged with e-mail responses to the Alcoholics Anonymous piece. I’ve been doing my best to read each and every one, and to respond when appropriate. Apologies to those who don’t receive replies—I’ve only got one brain and two hands.
Though the vast majority of the feedback has been positive, there’s been some hate mixed in amidst the love. Most of it has come from AA members who feel that the article denigrated their beloved organization. But I’ve also received a few critiques from scientific skeptics, who believe that the Twelve Step approach to treatment has done more harm than good. A prime example:
It is a pity that you overlooked the damage done by AA to the addiction medicine field by the institutionalization of the disease concept of alcoholism (something that is no longer given credence by the vast majority of addiction specialists who are not already involved in a 12-step program, which brings me to the point).
The fact that the addiction field, for most of the 20th century, was dominated by those who came from AA/NA and refused to allow or conduct research that could or did contradict the belief of the AA/NA model. This resulted in a terrible miscarriage of justice to both those who suffered from substance abuse problems and in the policies that have come out of government dealing with these issues.
Then, there is the religious aspect of AA. I know plenty of “atheists” who claim that AA works without a belief in “God” yet they all seem inclined to label it a Higher Power, which they call God. I suggest that you have a look at some of the work of Marc Galanter in how this dynamic can become incredibly dysfunctional.
Lastly, are the numbers that AA itself gives for those who are likely to “succeed” without AA, or return to “normal”. If their numbers are correct, then I am personally acquainted with every former alcoholic or drug addict on earth who has returned to “normal use” of their drug of choice.
To put it simply, I found your article to be overly flattering to an institution that has probably done more to hurt the cause of real research into addiction medicine than any other on the planet.
Next up: A reply from a devoted AA member.