A very interesting article in the Atlantic shines the spotlight on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous – and more importantly, on AA’s dubious claims of efficacy. At about 7,500 words, Gabrielle Glaser‘s piece is thorough and serious-minded, and while I recommend reading it in full, I’m happy to provide a summary here in five easy pieces.
1. The beginning:
In 1934, just after Prohibition’s repeal, a failed stockbroker named Bill Wilson staggered into a Manhattan hospital. Wilson was known to drink two quarts of whiskey a day, a habit he’d attempted to kick many times. He was given the hallucinogen belladonna, an experimental treatment for addictions, and from his hospital bed he called out to God to loosen alcohol’s grip. He reported seeing a flash of light and feeling a serenity he had never before experienced. He quit booze for good. The next year, he co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous. He based its principles on the beliefs of the evangelical Oxford Group, which taught that people were sinners who, through confession and God’s help, could right their paths.
2. It spreads: