An Increasing Number of Atheist and Agnostic Alcoholics Anonymous Groups Are Altering the Twelve Steps

As I alluded to yesterday, half of Alcoholics Anonymous’ famous Twelve Steps (PDF) include mentions of how you must look to a higher power in order to overcome your addiction.

One of the problems with that, especially in the past several years, is that atheists and agnostics who need a way to recover from alcoholism either don’t join or feel excluded from local AA groups that push religion on them. (They may be unaware of secular alternatives that are out there or simply don’t have any of those groups in their areas.)

G. Jeffrey MacDonald of Religion News Service points out that AA is going through a crisis right now, wondering how flexible they can be with the religion issue:

Has AA become too God-focused and rigid? Or have groups watered down beliefs and methods so much that they’re now ineffective?

“Some think AA is not strict enough,” said Lee Ann Kaskutas, senior scientist at the Public Health Institute’s Alcohol Research Group in Emeryville, Calif. “Others think it’s too strict, so they want to change AA and make it get with the times.”

With more than 100,000 local meetings and an estimated two million members worldwide, AA is grappling with how much diversity it can handle. Over the past two years, umbrella organizations in Indianapolis and Toronto have delisted groups that replaced AA’s 12 steps to recovery with secular alternatives. More than 90 unofficial, self-described “agnostic AA” groups now meet regularly in the United States.

Roger C. brings a different concern. Those who insist on doing the original 12 steps, he says, are apt to alienate nonbelievers, who might never get the help they need.

Some get turned off “when someone comes up to you as a new member of AA and tells you, ‘if you don’t find God, you’re going to die a drunk,’” Roger C says. “That rigidity is very religious, very intolerant and very hurtful to a number of recovering alcoholics who are looking for an avenue to get sober.”

The fact that Agnostic AA groups (sometimes called “We Agnostics“) exist was a surprise to me when I first heard about them only a few weeks ago.

I contacted Julio, a regional representative for Alcoholics Anonymous, to ask him about these groups a couple of weeks ago — how long they’ve existed, how they’re seen by AA, and whether the groups have AA’s “stamp of approval.”

In essence, he told me AA groups are autonomous so there’s really nothing stopping them from popping up and thriving:

A quick look at our A.A. directories indicate that we list atheist and agnostic groups, and some appear to have been listed for many years

The directories also note: “As embodied in the Fourth Tradition, the formation and operation of an A.A. Group resides within the group conscience of its members. While, hopefully, every A.A. Group adheres closely to the guiding principles of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, [Alcoholics Anonymous World Services] neither monitors nor oversees the activities or practice of any A.A. group. Groups listed in the directory are listed at their own request. A directory listing does not constitute or imply approval or endorsement of any group’s approach to or practice of the traditional A.A. program.”

Our shared experience indicates that for some members the subject of atheist or agnostic groups can sometimes be an emotional or controversial subject. Nevertheless, our accumulated sharing also reflects how atheist and agnostic groups have helped suffering alcoholics who would have otherwise found it difficult to stop drinking.

This is really the upside to AA and groups like it. While we would have a problem if, say, a court forced someone to attend an AA meeting and follow the (religious) Twelve Steps, there’s something great about the fact that non-religious people can alter the steps to suit their own needs, even if it’s not “officially sanctioned.” If it helps them, more power to ‘em.

In fact, it may even be helping them. In 2009, the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment published a paper showing that a controlled secular group abused fewer substances than a controlled spiritual group:

While both groups eventually benefited relatively equally from their treatment — abusing substances on fewer days — it took longer to see improvement among those in the spiritual group. What’s more, those who received spiritual guidance reported being significantly more anxious and depressed after four months than those who got secular help. Those problems abated at about the eight-month point, but because substance abusers are at high risk for suicide, some worry that it may not be a good idea to put them through demanding spiritual calisthenics in the early months of their recovery.

This isn’t to say AA’s method isn’t effective — it’s worked for a lot of people. But it would be beneficial for everybody if they were more explicit about the fact that God doesn’t need to be a part of everybody’s recovery plan.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Abram Larson

    With all the focus on AA for recovering addicts, I wasn’t even aware that groups like SMARTrecovery were out there. Groups like this are what recovery should be about. Self-empowerment, not the self-debasement of AA.

    • Joe

      The reason why AA emphasizes your lack of control over your addiction is because addicts lack control over their addictions. It’s not debasing. They’re being honest. Addicts who have tried to control themselves and failed need to first acknowledge that they cannot control their behaviors on their own. Then they can move on to managing their addiction and stopping the substance abuse.

      • Drinker McDuff

        BS. Nonsense and pure inculcated false fact.

        No study (that is peer reviewed) shows this to be the case. In fact, almost every study shows it to be the opposite, but the judicial system programs the public to believe in the efficacy (which is BS) of 12-step programs. They do not work, nor is the addict powerless over the substance. It is this type of thinking that creates a victimhood that is nonsense and not factually based.

        • MMal

          I think that all this hem hawing around about articles that are written by WHO, is a waste of time. I seriously suggest instead of you doing some Google research, you speak to some real men and women who are humble enough to admit their lack of self control when it comes to substance abuse.

          • Dr. Loeb

            I have. And the studies cited are not the result of the University of Google. I am an epidemiologist at the CDC and happen to specialize in addiction and substance abuse.

            All of those “humble men and women” are bunk. They are inculcated by a program that does not work, and I am betting that if I interviewed your “humble men and women” I would find that all of them had relapsed at some point during their so called 12-step recovery, which means 12-steps do not work.

            • MMal

              Using your logic then nothing in this world works. You can’t just look at the bad, you also have to look at the good. While there are people that have relapsed, there are also countless others who have not. If I have a cold, I’m still going to take cold medicine even though it’s not guaranteed to work 100% of the time. You also can’t guarantee me that next time I step outside I won’t be hit by a meteor, so does that mean I should never step outside again?

              • Dr. Loeb

                If you knew said risk of getting hit by a meteor was >85 percent, yet went outside and got hit by a meteor, would you consider any part of that a success?

                No, you fail to see real life fact versus made up “wanna believe”. If you can, keep up here….

                Study after study show that recidivism rates with addicts in 12-step programs such as AA have rates (confirmed) of relapse between 85-percent to as high as 100-percent. This means that the Rx is ineffective.

                And the notion of “humbled men and women” is part of the problem with this Rx. The idea someone is powerless against an inert substance or liquid is ridiculous in the extreme and gives two unwanted side effects:

                1) Victimhood mentalities

                2) Diminished self confidence and “spine”

                No, AA and the like are dangerous and actually work against the addict in recovery.

                And in case you wonder how I can speak as an authority, I did my Master’s in Clinical Psych (surrounding addiction issues) at Columbia, my PhD in Clinical Psych (again, specializing in substance abuse and associated issues) at McGill University, did my Post Doc at UNC as part of the LONGSCAN project, and have been working as an epidemiologist at the CDC since 2002.

                • MMal

                  I love the name change Dr. I wanted to know in the stats collected if those individuals were completely sober from all substances including say methadone, suboxone, xanax? Because in that sense if they were “prescribed” these drugs they I do not believe they were ever really sober. So relapse would be inevitable.

              • http://athmorality.blogspot.com/ Katie Graham

                Would you take a cold medicine shown to only work 3% of the time? Because that’s about how “successful” 12 step programs are. I’ve now been sober longer as an atheist outside of AA than I was in AA. I was told that not going to meetings and not believing in god would get me drunk.

                • MMal

                  I am very sorry to hear that someone had misinformed you regarding believing in god and getting drunk. I do not think that AA is for everyone one.

                  However when I was first introduced to a twelve step recovery program I did not question the principles they taught me nor did I find it necessary to try to understand every thing. When it came time to do something different I did just that.

                • http://athmorality.blogspot.com/ Katie Graham

                  That’s not really an answer. I went to thousands of meetings all over my area and the idea was the same. If you didn’t believe you’d end up drunk. It wasn’t “someone,” it’s right there in We Agnostics and the stories after the first 164 pages. There’s an entire booklet called “Came To Believe.” The unbeliever has a last blow out before they finally come to the conclusion that there’s a spiritual, supernatural being helping them out in every single story. Now answer the question: would you take a cold medicine that only works 3% of the time or would you look for one that works better?

                • Octavia Guerra

                  I’m sorry you had that experience, Katie. I’m in NA and I’ve never been told that my recovery depends on believing on a deity, or that if I didn’t go to meetings, I would relapse. I go to meeings because they help me stay clean – it helps to hear that I’m not alone in my struggles. For those who have relapsed, or who are struggling to stay clean, I’m reminded of how miserable I was when I was using. For those who have long bouts of uninterrupted clean time, I hear their methods, tricks, and experiences that might or might not apply to (or work for) me. I don’t see NA as a medicine, or an Rx, as someone else put it. The phrase “it works if you work it,” for me, communicates that if you’re willing to continually examine your behavior and reactions and situation, and are willing to make positive changes to remove temptations and actively replace bad habits with something else, then you can stay clean or sober. It’s not impossible, but it sure as fuck isn’t easy.

            • http://athmorality.blogspot.com/ Katie Graham

              I completely agree with what you’re saying except the part where relapse means the steps don’t work. It’s not relapse itself, but the lack of people staying sober for long periods of time. It’s beginning to look like relapse is a natural part of recovery, happening less and less frequently until the user finally can stay sober for long periods of time. What addiction specialists are concentrating on these days is harm reduction during relapse. AA’s bashing of relapsed individuals and the idea the user has to start over and the work they did means nothing after a slip is what is so harmful.

      • Jasper

        I don’t know that there’s a lot of difference between what you said, and what he said. Of course the first step is admitting that one has a problem… but the “managing their addiction” is the self-empowerment, with the point being that they manage it on their own eventually. It could be that the person in question merely doesn’t know how, at first.

        AA ends up replacing one addiction with another.

      • Noelle

        Believing one is powerless is a self-fulfilling prophesy and gives the addict an excuse to say the substance is in control of their lives. This is a very hopeless situation and not in line with what other research on behavior change teaches us. Somewhere along the line, the false belief that one is powerless against addiction and the belief that AA does anything, contrary to evidence otherwise, caught on in the culture and hasn’t let go. This is similar to believing there is a god who controls you and your life, right down to how god-worship affects one’s daily rituals and neuroreceptors. Most people who have shed their belief in god report feeling relief and personal empowerment. I don’t see how this is any different than understanding the physiologic basis of how a substance acts on the body’s receptors, what to expect when the substance is withdrawn, how to treat those symptoms, and knowing one has the personal control and power over it. Knowing one has this power gives more hope and chance of success than falsely believing one is powerless.

        • elistic

          Couldn’t agree more. That’s also the best way to quit smoking. Learn what’s going on in your body, understand what will happen when you stop using, plan for ways to make the symptoms more bearable, rejoice in withdrawal and cravings (signs that you’re no longer using), confront “trigger” situations early (don’t stop doing things that make you want to smoke, do them right away without smoking and learn that it’s possible) and know that the minute you take even one puff, you’re right back at square one. Never look back.

        • Octavia Guerra

          As an addict, I can tell you that admitting that I was powerless over my addiction was a form of self-forgiveness that allowed me to get clean. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but I will just note that believing that one is powerless over one’s disease is not the same as “believing one is powerless.”

          • TYRANNASAUR

            As long as one doesn’t turn their life over to another power one need to lean on ….exchanging alcohol for gods is not a good thing…understanding ones self and being responsible for oneself is what matters.

      • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

        I’ve known a few addicts in my time. The ones who buy into the idea that they are fundamentally flawed or diseased, and cannot control their own behavior, have relapsed repeatedly. Two of them are dead because of it. On the other hand, those who understood that they could change their behavior if they wished to, and took steps to control their impulses, have done so … successfully.

        As far as I’m concerned, the principle of the “powerless addict” is a one-way ticket to disaster. I quite literally have never seen it work. Maybe it did work for someone, somewhere, sometime … but I seriously doubt it. What I think it does, is to create a dependency in people that must be filled, by the 12-step group itself, by religion, etc. Propagating dependency in people who are already dependent on something, cannot ever be a viable solution to their problem.

      • Baby_Raptor

        Bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit. Occasionally failing and giving into said addiction is not being unable to control it on your own.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    I remember reading AA was less effective than doing nothing.

    • Joe

      Citation needed

      • Sot McDrinker

        http://www.orange-papers.org/orange-effectiveness.html

        http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=does-rehab-work

        http://reason.com/archives/2001/05/01/drunk-with-power

        AA and other 12 step programs are not just ineffective, they may actually work against the addict in recovery. Study after study after study show the recidivism rate of AA 12-step programs to be at BEST 85-percent, at worst near 100-percent. In no world is this successful. It is also shown, factually, that the recisidivism rate in addicts who undergo NO recovery program is actually slightly better than those who attend 12-steps (like AA).

        When we have courts ordering mandatory 12-step recourse as well as rehab rpograms based around the 12-step model, which is a for-profit entity, we have a sincere and serious problem.

        Simply put, 12-steps and AA are BULLSHIT.

      • Epinephrine

        Unfortunately there are very few good studies, but as linked, there are some. The Cochrane collaboration review (http://life.umt.edu/curry/DOcs-SOS/Current%20Peer%20Educators/Articles/Ferri_et_al.pdf) was pretty lukewarm:

        The available experimental studies did not demonstrate the effectiveness
        of AA or other 12-step approaches in reducing alcohol use and achieving
        abstinence compared with other treatments, but there were some
        limitations with these studies.

        And other sources point to poor outcomes too. Of course, then you have studies that do show it as helpful, but far too often with very poor controls and self selection.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1162328886 Diane Klug Peltier

    All we have around here is AA and NA – I haven’t been to a meeting in over 14 yrs because it was too god focused – still been sober over 21 yrs

    • TYRANNASAUR

      So why don’t you start a meeting for those that believe as you do rather then sitting on your azz? You could help a lot of people that way…I’m going to do it….it just takes a little love and time.

      • Wazzy

        I haven’t met an Atheist around here over the age of 17 – and an alcoholic atheist? People around here trade in their addiction to drugs for an addiction to religion . . .

  • http://www.facebook.com/RandyJReed Randy Reed

    Having once been a pretty heavy drinker, I picked up a book which was secular in nature called Rational Recovery and after reading it quit drinking and never looked back. They used to have a website that gave the basics which can work as well. You can and have to do it yourself. No one else will quit for you. No God will help. It is just understanding the physical process (mental) that is going on. AA is a scourge.

  • digitalatheist

    heh… I remember a very Theist friend of mine disparaging AA because they were too.. Theistic. In other words, they wanted to out-god a devout creationist believing god-der. :O

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    let me recommend a science based recovery:

    http://www.healthrecovery.com/recovery-resources/joan-mathews-larson

    Joan Mathews-Larson began her work over thirty years ago. The loss of her son, shortly after he completed a top-rated, 12-step treatment program, fueled a passionate search for more effective solutions to treat addictions. Convinced that alcoholism is not the result of emotional triggers, or willpower weaknesses, Joan delved into the scientific research, and uncovered scores of studies, including those by the groundbreaking biochemist Dr. Roger Williams, which clearly established a genetic and nutritional connection to addiction.
    Mathews-Larson holds a doctorate in human nutrition and is the author of the national bestseller Seven Weeks to Sobrietyand Depression Free, Naturally. Her books have led the field into new ways of understanding chemical addictions and mental health problems. They have both been translated into several languages. Her breakthrough, bestseller on alcoholism, Seven Weeks to Sobriety, has served as a textbook in upper level nursing classes, and continues as a manual for other treatment centers wishing to incorporate cause-based healing strategies into more progressive programs.

    Bio/Credentials

    Dr. Joan Mathews-Larson founded her unique psychobiological model for treating addictions and emotional disorders in 1981. The focus of her clinic, Health Recovery Center®, is to combine therapy with intervention at a molecular level to repair the biochemical damage that manifests as impaired mental functioning and behavior problems. Her research, published in the International Journal of Biosocial and Medical Research in 1987 and 1991, describes this work.

    Over the years Health Recovery Center has received national recognition due to its high recovery rates. Today, Dr. Mathews-Larson continues to work as the Executive Director of this internationally renowned program, having successfully treated thousands of people from around the world. After more than 30 years, the success rates of HRC is unparalleled by conventional approaches. Not only do clients no longer drink, they no longer crave alcohol, nor do they suffer from depression, anxiety, or the myriad symptoms that drive most alcoholics back to drink. Yet, few other programs have adapted Dr. Mathews-Larson’s psychobiological approach to therapy. Being a new, revolutionary approach, Dr. Larson has had to butt heads with the establishment, which seems to cling to the status quo despite failing recovery rates. As she continues to defend the logic of her innovations, slowly the treatment industry is coming to recognize and accept her ideas as true innovations to enhance to success of treatment.

  • A3Kr0n

    I said to myself “AA is a private club, there’s no point trying to change things”. After that I left after 15 years of being there.

  • A3Kr0n

    This is just the kind of bullshit that keeps me away from those people:
    AA delists secular group in Toronto
    http://canadianatheist.com/2011/06/06/aa-delists-secular-group-in-toronto/

  • Bernie, sober 21 years in AA

    The steps and all the god in them are all “suggestions” according to AA itself, each person is free to take what they can use and leave the rest. An old and true saying is “bad AA kills more drinkers than booze”. There’s plenty of recovered people in AA who are not religious, it takes a little effort but you can find them in most AA meetings.

    • Relationship with reality

      They aren’t merely “suggestions” according to their own literature. Their 12 Steps books that they treat as sacred scriptures state emphatically that without the “higher power” rubbish one cannot EVER stop drinking or using drugs. Their entire b.s. philosophy hinges on the “higher power” nonsense and the helpless “You can’t!” mentality.

      • WallofSleep

        Having been raised in a 12 step environment, I’d say that the “helplessness” part is more important to the message than the “higher power” part.

        Many times I’ve heard “counselors” tell non-believers that their higher power could be the group, or their dog, or whatever, but that they must admit to themselves that they are powerless, helpless.

        At any rate, these 12 step programs are very much a cult in their own way.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    I disagree with the idea that AA can be called “effective.” It’s not. Of course, in that regard it’s little different from any other kind of substance abuse treatment. They all have poor track records. Even drug rehab centers staffed with psychiatrists, psychologists, etc. have little success in dealing with addictions.

    I concede that AA, rehab, etc. have worked for some people. There’s no doubt that in a small number of cases it can, indeed, work. The problem is, the odds are not in any given addict’s favor. Success rates, while not zero, are quite low.

    What we need are treatment methods that work which are based on clinically-tested principles and sound models of the nature of addiction. Unfortunately I don’t see it being developed. While I’m definitely not an anti-psychiatry guy, one can’t avoid realizing that all forms of mental-illness treatment just are not that great. The efficacy of, say, depression treatment (whether anti-depressant drugs or psychotherapy) is anywhere between 60 & 70%. In what other field would that kind of success rate be acceptable … aside maybe from meteorology? In spite of its ability to do a lot of good, psychiatry has a very long way to go.

  • Relationship with reality

    Great article. AA not only falsely asserts that addicts cannot ever overcome an addiction without leaning on some “higher being”, but they also falsely insist that they will always–for the rest of their lives–be an addict in constant need of the assistance of a “higher power” to stay away from the drug of their addiction. The irony is that if a person buys into the AA philosophy, they probably will always be enslaved with the mindset of an addict, whereas if they stopped drinking excessively or doing drugs for purely rational reasons they could be permanently freed from the prison of addiction. I speak from knowledge obtained first hand, having tried both ways in my youth (from AA meetings, all the way to seminary and the pulpit). AA reinforced my feeling of being weak and hopelessly enslaved to drugs and religion only offered the exchanged mindset of being hopelessly addicted to “sin” in place of drugs. Both prisons of the mind tell you that you are weak and helpless; you are not good enough, nor strong enough; you can’t help yourself and you certainly cannot be cured. Being addicted to drugs and being afflicted with religion are very similar diseases which can both be easily cured with heavy doses of education and reason. That’s just my $0.02. Peace!

    • OZ

      Thats exactly what i’ve always thought. Brilliant sum up by yourself. Thanks

  • Mario Strada

    Many years ago I had a very tough addiction to Heroin. Fortunately, I was a “functional junkie” meaning that I didn’t steal, lie or cheat to afford my junk, but I held a regular job. Unfortunately, my job was not lucrative enough to afford me my habit and a “normal” life. Just about everything revolved around my addiction. I was somehow able to save enough money from my addiction to be able to afford transportation, shelter, food and clothing, but it was a struggle every day.

    I tried quitting many times. I tried the 12 step method, but the reliance on the higher power was a big obstacle for me. Especially the part where I had to relinquish my will.

    I eventually quit when I found a counselor that did two things for me:

    1) Gave me a prescription for an anti anxiety. Without it I don;t think I would have been able to overcome the weeks after I got rid of the physical pain.

    2) He told me that I was the one that had to quit and that no one was going to do it for me. He told me I was the only one with the power to give up Heroin.

    It didn’t happen right away, but inside of the next 3 months I quit for good. It was really hard but once I did, I was able to put it behind me for good.

    I think AA is right in saying that once an addict always an addict. I still dream about doing smack and I know that if I found myself in the wrong situation I would probably at least give it a try. But the way I quit was precisely by placing myself in a position where I could no longer procure my drug easily, or at all. I especially told myself that I wasn’t allowed to go look for it, buy it or frequent people that did it.

    It has been almost 30 years and I have not strayed. But while AA may be right that we remain addicts forever, they are wrong that we don;t have the power to change. Only we have that power. Not some divine entity.

    More recently, I quit smoking again. At first I stopped smoking a few months after kicking the junk. Then 10 years ago I picked it up again. Cigarettes are still everywhere and I went through a really bad period.

    The way I quit this time was by switching to what are commonly known as e-cigarettes, except that mine are not the brands you see around, but rather they are “Personal vaporizers” that don;t look remotely like a real cigarette.

    I actually enjoy vaping quite a lot and fulfills every “need” I use to satisfy with tobacco. So I am not planning to quit that anytime soon. I still vape with nicotine, but that’s not what does the damage. Actually, nicotine is not that far off from caffeine. It’s problem is that to get your dose of nicotine you have to burn a lot of organic material with the relative tar and carcinogenics.
    It sure beats the patch or the gums. In fact, I quit smoking the same day my kit arrived in the mail and now I spend no more than $20 a month between hardware and the “juice” I vape. Much less than even a moderate smoker.

  • Kate Donovan

    I want to really emphasize SMART Recovery (one of the links Hemant provides above) because it’s based on research and evidence, including parts of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

    Further, people who run meetings and provide the “sponsorship” equivalent must be certified (Which prevents a lot of the sponsor problems in AA, where sponsors can fall off the wagon and strand the people they’re supposed to be helping). Lastly, SMART doesn’t require people who fall off the wagon to start from square one–which means that those who do relapse tend to have smaller relapses, and to come back for help more quickly.

    • Dr. Loeb

      We have been conductin several long term studies on the efficacy of SMART Recovery (along with a few other non 12-step/dogmatic recovery programs) and we are finding the rates of recovery (permanent – no relapse) is much higher than AA or other 12-steps. Nothing concrete in the conclusions yet, but tremendous amounts of correlation. Final results and conclusions are expected around 2016.

  • rustygh

    I was forced to go to AA 26 years ago. Sorry to say it was a joke, people sold drugs there and signed each others cards three four days at a time. Most guys would use the coffee and donuts to pull out of a severe drunkenness.
    I can only hope it’s better now. I did my days and tried to talk some but had the feeling no one cared. The guys running it were all just there, yet were ready to tell you they quit.

  • Danielle

    I understand that in 12 step programs each group can do as it pleases according to tradition 4 – autonomy. However, I really wonder how atheist or agnostic groups can work around tradition 2:

    “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.”

    How can you let your group be governed by God if you don’t believe in one?

  • http://cynosure78981.tumblr.com/ dave78981

    The downside is that unfortunately, 12 step groups of all kinds have extremely low rates of success. See here for more information: http://www.behaviortherapy.com/whatworks.htm

    • Octavia Guerra

      Doesn’t that say more about the insidiousness of addiction than about the “effectiveness” of 12 Step programs?

      • http://cynosure78981.tumblr.com/ dave78981

        Uh,no. There are about twenty other forms of intervention that have higher success rates than 12 step programs do, so that says that rather than addiction being more “insidious” than other mental health issues, the intervention is simply ineffective.

        See here: http://www.behaviortherapy.com/ResearchDiv/whatworks.aspx

  • http://athmorality.blogspot.com/ Katie Graham

    AA’s method actually isn’t very effective. Their success rate is about the same as those who stop in their own. The “many” they have helped are anecdotal and rare. In my five years of AA, I met hundreds of newcomers. Maybe three a year stayed longer than 18 months.

  • http://www.randompiercings.com/blog Pierce

    I’m starting to think that a lot of things like AA’s powerlessness declaration are the equivalent of low-level sports psychology like “swing through the ball”: ways to get around the “helpful” things our brains will do otherwise. Demanding that one exercise the willpower necessary to not give in to an addiction despite everything is profoundly unrealistic in the long run; learning to live life in a way that one doesn’t have to will one’s way through is a far better idea. There are a lot of Dan Dennett’s “good tricks” sprinkled in religious and quasi-religious practices (and a lot of idiocy and evil, natch); good for We Agnostics and the like for trying to pry them from the mire of religiosity.

    AA groups becoming “go Jesus or go away” is unsurprising, as entirely too much of politics, law and society have already gone there, and seems antithetical to its mission.

  • http://twitter.com/Don_Gwinn Don_Gwinn

    In my anecdotal experience, the catch with things like Rational Recovery is that they’re basically telling you that you’re going to have to make the decision yourself, and they can’t make it happen for you, so just make the decision to stop the behavior that’s hurting you if you can, and if you don’t think you’re strong enough, look for a way to be stronger . . . for me, their biggest advantage over OA was that they didn’t hammer me with a constant message that relapses are inevitable, that you WILL relapse, that you have a disease that you can’t possibly hope to handle yourself . . .
    Anyway, I say that’s “the catch” because it seemed to me that often their message ends up being, “you don’t need us. You can do this without us. We’re not telling you anything new here.”

  • Larry

    I was struggling with an addiction to alcohol and tried to join the AA group in my area. When I spoke with the group contact person I mentioned that I had no belief in a higher power. He told me that I would have a problem with some of the members in the group so, I told him that I would keep it quiet and not tell anyone that I was not religious. He then said that the group would find out eventually and that I should find some other alternative to AA. The problem was that there really were no alternatives that I could find, at least not in my area and not in my budget. I did end up getting completely sober and have stayed that way for over three years now but, I still harbor a resentment towards AA

  • http://www.facebook.com/amandalukesgreatgranddaughter Amanda Luke

    I’m in Akron half a mile from Dr. Bob’s house and grave (the other direction). There is absolutely nothing in AA requiring a belief in anything except that you can’t do it alone. Lots of atheists and agnostics identify that other as the groups they meet with. Anyone who uses this as an excuse to keep drinking is using it as an excuse to keep drinking. There in nothing rational or honest about it. Just that simple.

  • Jack Shuman

    I have no clue why anyone would want to alter AA to make it fit atheism. if you want an effective, modern program that is based on evidence that it actually works instead of religious superstition, leave AA behind. First I was critical of AA dogma. Then I became suspicious of AA members–they simply were not who they said they were (spiritual growth, where?).

    12-step is dying. Let’s bury it.

  • TYRANNASAUR

    Great to see this….I’m sober over 27.6 years and an starting an Atheist Agnostic Alcoholism meeting in the next couple of months….I’ve seen too many people driven from meeting by these blue book waving fanatics that probably won’t stay sober in the long run anyway…any DOCTOR will tell you GODS don’t cure diseases doctors using medical science do….and I don’t believe HABITUALLY DRINKING ALCOHOL IS A DISEASE….insanity of thinking one can escape ones screwed up self-obsessed self by drink is the insane part…drinking then becomes an habitual addiction that one must change….and it’s easy if done truthfully.


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