Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

From the AA Mailbag

July 1st, 2010 · 2 Comments

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.


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2 Comments so far ↓

  • stephen mayes

    Jez man. It’s funny to read this. Science and AA have always been hand in hand. Dr. Silkworth gave a big chunk of his life to alcoholics- and why is that, because science was failing.In fact, the Big Book suggests that we try and be open to anything that helps from doctors or psychiatrists. But the danger lies in thinking that it’s the medication or the therapy that is the recovery and not the applications of the 12 steps. I have watched many many many people come in and get on some kind of medication or get involved in some new kind of therapy, only to go back out and drink or use drugs because they mistook those things for real recovery. The medical side of recovery is a compliment, and should never take the place of working the 12 steps. This is what I don’t think many doctors get. And the addiction has not been dominated by people from AA/NA. The addiction field has been a quagmire of physicians, therapists, healers, family members, snake oil salesman, churches, nuns, and social organizations all trying to help alcoholics stop drinking. The Journal of American Medical Association is the one who announced it as a disease back in the late sixties. The research has never stopped. In fact, AA as a group has no opinions on outside issues.
    The book also talks about the difference between the hard drinker and the real alcoholic. Not everyone in the rooms is a real alcoholic. Us real addicts and alcoholics have to be real careful what we listen to , because a number of well intentioned people come into the the meetings with all kinds of nifty other ways to do this, and they might not be the real deal, and the advice can kill. With recovery being so cool and hip nowadays, I see many people ( and this is my own personal opinion- I do not speak for AA or NA, I only speak from personal experience) that there is a number of people in the meetings who could find help elsewhere doing other things. And a higher power can be anything. The sun is a power greater than myself for example, but I won’t make it a doorknob- I need something bigger than me.