Thumbs Up, not Bottoms Up
August 25, 2009 10:05 AM   Subscribe

My Name is Roger, and I'm an alcoholic. Roger Ebert talks about AA.
posted by kmz (133 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
A salient paragraph:

I know from the comments on an earlier blog that there are some who have problems with Alcoholics Anonymous. They don't like the spiritual side, or they think it's a "cult," or they'll do fine on their own, thank you very much. The last thing I want to do is start an argument about A.A.. Don't go if you don't want to. It's there if you need it. In most cities, there's a meeting starting in an hour fairly close to you. It works for me. That's all I know. I don't want to argue with you about it.

As someone who stopped drinking without AA or any other program, I have absolutely zero problem with people who use a program to get to where they need to be.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:13 AM on August 25, 2009 [15 favorites]


Based on 70+ years of experience, AA suggests that members maintain their anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films. Even though I greatly admire Roger Ebert, this was not a good move on his part. There is the potential here to do more damage than good to AA.
posted by marxchivist at 10:17 AM on August 25, 2009 [7 favorites]


A.A. is anonymous not because of shame but because of prudence; people who go public with their newly-found sobriety have an alarming tendency to relapse. Case studies: those pathetic celebrities who check into rehab and hold a press conference.

I hadn't not heard of this, but it rings completely true. Not just for AA and rehab, but for other things. When I went on a diet, I didn't tell anyone. When I have an idea for a project, I don't tell anyone. When I'm planning to build something, I don't tell anyone.

You'd think that telling someone would create expectations, which you then feel like you have to meet. But the opposite seems to be the case. If I tell someone, it's like the internal pressure to actually do it drops.

I don't necessarily have to finish before I tell anyone, but I have to get far enough that it's self-sustaining.
posted by DU at 10:17 AM on August 25, 2009 [19 favorites]


Yes, I'm a little surprised he did this. It goes directly and explicitly against the traditions.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:24 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


i wasn't aware of all the resentment towards aa. the only thing i heard was an episode of the skeptics guide podcast where they "debunked" aa because it had no "scientific backing".

atta boy roger
posted by Think_Long at 10:28 AM on August 25, 2009


You may be wondering, in fact, why I'm violating the A.A. policy of anonymity and outing myself. A.A. is anonymous not because of shame but because of prudence; people who go public with their newly-found sobriety have an alarming tendency to relapse. Case studies: those pathetic celebrities who check into rehab and hold a press conference.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:28 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is the potential here to do more damage than good to AA.

I don't think AA is the thing that needs protecting. It's the people who need AA that need the help. Knowing that is available, common and probably right around the corner and not all unreasonable might help someone.
posted by srboisvert at 10:30 AM on August 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


"Besides Closed Meetings for alcoholics only, Alcoholics Anonymous in Boston , Massachusetts also has Open Meetings, where pretty much anybody who's interested can come and listen, take notes, pester people with questions etc. A lot of people at these Open Meetings spoke with me and were extremely patient and garrulous and generous and helpful. The best way I can think of to show my appreciation to these men and women is to decline to thank them by name"

Page (ii), Infinite Jest
posted by Flashman at 10:31 AM on August 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


I've gotten into skeptic fights about AA before. I understand the concern but I also know it helps lots of people. It's not much different from talk and group therapy when you get right down to it.
posted by muddgirl at 10:34 AM on August 25, 2009


Even though I greatly admire Roger Ebert, this was not a good move on his part. There is the potential here to do more damage than good to AA.

he's hardly the first person to ever publicly declare he was a member
posted by pyramid termite at 10:37 AM on August 25, 2009


It's not much different from talk and group therapy when you get right down to it.

Except that it's basically free.
posted by muddgirl at 10:37 AM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Purely guessing here, but I would imagine another possible reason for AA anonymity is that if Joe announces he is a member of AA and now sober, then falls off the wagon, it undermines public confidence in the efficacy of AA.
posted by unSane at 10:38 AM on August 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


i wasn't aware of all the resentment towards aa. the only thing i heard was an episode of the skeptics guide podcast where they "debunked" aa because it had no "scientific backing".

Honestly, if it works -- and it certainly seems to do that -- why would anyone care? Is it the "higher power" thing? I'm an atheist in good standing, but I can't imagine taking seriously any argument that posits that believing in a deliberately hazily-defined higher power is anywhere near as bad as remaining an addict.
posted by hifiparasol at 10:40 AM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I only personally know one person who uses AA; they were a flighty bird before the program and now they are a flighty bird who talks about God a whole bunch. I had no idea they had a drinking problem having never once seen them drink socially; but I had been aware they were a drug abuser (having met while they were in treatment). They had left treatment and moved on, I thought, but announced a few years back they were in AA and found God there. I don't know how well it continues to work, but they seem to be very happy (well, I'd have to say deliriously so, but that is my colored perception of the matter)

As for Roger, I think I had heard something about this years ago and put it down to "The Seventies" and walked on. He's done a great service by sharing, I always appreciate his personal style of writing.
posted by NiteMayr at 10:40 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


A.A. Tradition #11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.

I came to A.A in 1979 and remember that tradition being pounded into my supple little brain. I think times have changed and A.A. shouldn't be the exception. At it's core, I don't think it has which is fine. Hell, I remember when I found out that Bill W. experimented with LSD. You would have thought that would send A.A.ers into a tizzy (it did me, at the time) but nope, A.A. survived.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:44 AM on August 25, 2009


i wasn't aware of all the resentment towards aa. the only thing i heard was an episode of the skeptics guide podcast where they "debunked" aa because it had no "scientific backing".

There's some rather unscientific thoughts in the process, and occassionally, I've seen AA proponents say that following the rules of AA is the only way to "true" sobriety.

Echoes of that here:

Sober. A.A. believes there is an enormous difference between bring dry and being sober. It is not enough to simply abstain. You need to heal and repair the damage to yourself and others. We talk about "white-knuckle sobriety," which might mean, "I'm sober as long as I hold onto the arms of this chair." People who are dry but not sober are on a "dry drunk."

Basically saying people not in the program are "dry drunks", wavering on the edge. Combine that with the fallback to anecdotal evidence constantly ("It works for me. That's all I know. I don't want to argue with you about it.") when people try to get actual data for recidivism rates.

The arguments that "it works" is only anecdotal, and studies have show less than attractive rates.

I'm all for people doing what works, but I'm not for disparaging other peoples' methodologies in the process.
posted by zabuni at 10:44 AM on August 25, 2009 [13 favorites]


From the section on a Toronto meeting: When I mention Humble Howard, you are possibly thinking you wouldn't be caught dead at a meeting where someone read from his driver's license.

When you mention Humble Howard, I think you are outing a celebrated Canadian radio personality as an alcoholic. What does that second A stand for again?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:45 AM on August 25, 2009


blah blah Tommy Gavin blah blah blah
posted by stevil at 10:47 AM on August 25, 2009


Actually reading the article, I thought this was a powerful sentiment:
The important thing is not how you define a Higher Power. The important thing is that you don't consider yourself to be your own Higher Power, because your own best thinking found your bottom for you. One sweet lady said her higher power was a radiator in the Mustard Seed, "because when I see it, I know I'm sober."
Ricochet - what makes you think he's referring to Howard Glassman? Because he gave Anonymous a similar nickname? I assumed it was a pseudonym.
posted by muddgirl at 10:49 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


zabuni: I think you're entirely misreading his statements there. There is nowhere in his writing which states that he believes or is promoting the idea that anyone trying to get sober without AA is a "dry drunk". Please share the specific passage wherein you find this. Otherwise, all I see him saying is, there is a difference between not drinking and being healthy about it, and not drinking and wanting to drink all the time and causing the same damage to the world around you as a result.
posted by hippybear at 10:52 AM on August 25, 2009


Humble Howard was a member at the Mustard Seed. He was not around when I was attending there in 87-89'. It's not the DJ.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:53 AM on August 25, 2009


@richet: no, you outed him, with your post.
@zabuni: What disparagement? I saw none in Roger's piece.
@muddgirl: Unlike talk therapy and group therapy, AA has two distinct and interactive components: 1) the program, and 2) the fellowship. Inextricably linked.
posted by charris5005 at 10:54 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a teenager, I saw a lot of my friends get pushed into AA who were likewise in their teens, and I had a problem with it back them. I mean, yes, they drank a lot, but binge drinking is pretty typical behavior for teens in America, and these kids then went on to define themselves as alcoholics for decades. I always wonder if, given a chance, they would have grown up to be responsible drinkers.

I still wonder about it, but, then, I don't have a share in the alcohol industry, so it's really know skin off my nose if somebody can drink but chooses not to.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:54 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm with marxchivist. He should have stuck with the traditions. Not because of any of us, in or out of the program, but for the sake of his sobriety. Guess that is between him and his sponsor, though.
posted by QIbHom at 10:54 AM on August 25, 2009


marxchivist: that anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films was my first thought, as well. but the thought dissipated with the first sentence In August 1979, I took my last drink. after 30 years, the man has not only a right, but in my opinion an obligation to speak out. there's partial truth that anonymity is maintained *not* out of shame, but there's equal truth that anonymity IS, many times, maintained out of shame. people are probably more apt to talk openly about their recovery in the 21st century, but as one of those people, i can tell you that it's pretty much guaranteed to put a damper on any social or business situation.

there's a huge stigma that goes along with alcoholism. i think that until people start talking openly about it, the stigma will remain. and that's a damn shame when people are dying from it.
posted by msconduct at 10:58 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


marxchivist: Even though I greatly admire Roger Ebert, this was not a good move on his part. There is the potential here to do more damage than good to AA.

I understand the suggestion that participants should remain anonymous, but how might Ebert's piece damage AA as a whole? I'm genuinely curious.
posted by Adam_S at 11:04 AM on August 25, 2009


I've had recent trainings with Dr. Charles O'Brien (UPenn) and Doug Marlowe (Treatment Research Institute), two of the biggest brains in addiction research, both of whom support 12 Step recovery groups, just not as the only treatment option available to medical professionals, which, Dr. O'Brien noted in the talk I heard, was the case for the bulk of his early career as a doctor. Obviously the support groups aren't medical treatment, nor are their methods scientifically based, but as far as sources of peer support in the community they are valuable for many and medical professionals will likely continue to recommend people to them as an adjunct to other forms of treatment as medical treatment options continue to evolve and improve.
posted by The Straightener at 11:04 AM on August 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


*Pours himself a glass, drinks to Ebert's sobriety..*
posted by markkraft at 11:08 AM on August 25, 2009


...I would imagine another possible reason for AA anonymity is that if Joe announces he is a member of AA and now sober, then falls off the wagon, it undermines public confidence in the efficacy of AA.

An excellent example of this was the wife of a former US presidential candidate. She entered a treatment center and was introduced to AA. She appeared on The Tonight Show extolling the virtues of Alcoholics Anonymous just months after her recovery began. Unfortunately, she had a very public crash and burn relapse shortly afterward. Did not make AA look good. I am delighted that she has since has found long-term sobriety, and is working with other alcoholics at her center.
posted by netbros at 11:09 AM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


I really appreciate Roger's willingness to write stuff life this. And I do not believe he has violated the spirit of the eleventh tradition, although the letter of it, clearly.
posted by phaedon at 11:10 AM on August 25, 2009


In those days I was on a 10 p.m. newscast on one of the local stations. The anchor was an A.A. member. So was one of the reporters. After we got off work, we went to the 11 p.m. meeting at the Mustard Seed. There were maybe a dozen others. The chairperson asked if anyone was attending their first meeting. A guy said, "I am. But I should be in a psych ward. I was just watching the news, and right now I'm hallucinating that three of those people are in this room."

Wonderful piece, thanks for posting it! I've had several friends go into AA; most successfully stopped drinking, one has so far failed but it sure ain't AA's fault. AA doesn't work for everyone, but it's doing a lot of good in the world.

It's a good thing I knew going into the thread that there would be people going "waah, waah, he shouldn't have written it," apparently not having read to the part where he writes:

In my case, I haven't taken a drink for 30 years, and this is God's truth: Since the first A.A. meeting I attended, I have never wanted to. Since surgery in July of 2006 I have literally not been able to drink at all. Unless I go insane and start pouring booze into my g-tube, I believe I'm reasonably safe. So consider this blog entry what A.A. calls a "12th step," which means sharing the program with others. There's a chance somebody will read this and take the steps toward sobriety
.

But hey, at least there's not the usual reflex Ebert-bashing that comes up in Ebert threads. Give 'em hell, Roger, and ignore the asshats!
posted by languagehat at 11:11 AM on August 25, 2009 [13 favorites]


I second that emotion.
posted by blucevalo at 11:14 AM on August 25, 2009


Astro Zombie: "As a teenager, I saw a lot of my friends get pushed into AA who were likewise in their teens, and I had a problem with it back them. I mean, yes, they drank a lot, but binge drinking is pretty typical behavior for teens in America, and these kids then went on to define themselves as alcoholics for decades. I always wonder if, given a chance, they would have grown up to be responsible drinkers.

I still wonder about it, but, then, I don't have a share in the alcohol industry, so it's really know skin off my nose if somebody can drink but chooses not to.
"

Astrozombie, I was 16 when I was tossed into a hospital for addiction. My addiction went from zero to 120 in the course of three years. I think it's pretty much a crap shoot. The courts just sort of play the averages and figure if someone isn't an alcoholic, they'll still benefit from A.A. and if they are, well there you go.

One of my first old-timer meetings I went to after getting out, a 60 year-old guy said "I've spilled more on my tie than you've drank in your entire life!" My sponsor (a great, great guy) had prepared me beforehand and I said back to the man: "Sorry to hear you were so sloppy." Ah, good times. The chasm between younger A.A. members and older ones is a whole other conversation.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:15 AM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ricochet - what makes you think he's referring to Howard Glassman? Because he gave Anonymous a similar nickname? I assumed it was a pseudonym.

I didn't say it was Howard Glassman, but rather that it was the same (nick)name Glassman has gone by professionally for decades. Many Torontonians -- of which I was one for many years -- when hearing the name, would think of the DJ at once. It is odd that Ebert, who is professionally kind of aware of pop culture, would use a nickname widely attached to a figure well-known in Toronto when talking about a meeting there, especially when Glassman has joked in interviews about his fondness for booze. It is either misleading or clueless or both.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:18 AM on August 25, 2009


Bah.
posted by grubi at 11:20 AM on August 25, 2009


I'm the "Alan" in the comments of Ebert's blog post. When he reviews a movie about alcoholics, he would always include a sentence about whether the disease was portrayed acurrately, so I guess I'm not too surprised to learn he's recovering. Thirty years is quite impressive.
posted by alzi at 11:20 AM on August 25, 2009


As a teenager, I saw a lot of my friends get pushed into AA who were likewise in their teens

Yeah, this isn't a good thing. AA is supposed to be voluntary. It's become too easy for counselors of all stripes to push people at it, I guess because it's easier than treating people themselves, the only real problem being that AA doesn't usually, you know, help people who don't want to be there. In fact, the presence of people who don't want to be there probably only makes life more difficult for the people who DO want to be there. Essentially sentencing active alcoholics to attend AA meetings shows both a deep incomprehension of what AA actually is and a deep disrespect for the entire program.

Re: People being able to quit on their own...I want to stress that I mean no disrespect to Bookhouse at all when I say this, but for the most part, it's pretty tough. Our old friend Mr. Bush was such a reformed drinker, and is basically the textbook definition of "dry drunk."

Re: the professional skeptics giving AA shit...I had no idea that was happening at all, but it's like I find a new reason to be disgusted with that whole movement every day. Stick to debunking Jenny McCarthy, if you please.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:29 AM on August 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


I've heard from AAs that the danger of opening up publicly like that is that a person may begin to believe that he/she will take more credit for remaining sober than is healthy, detracting from the higher power of their understanding. It's the same reason, other than the founders, folks don't get a lot of credit for being an AA superstar, like named AA halls or whathaveyou. To be anonymous and portable and mutable is supposedly better and more powerful for persons of an alcoholic bent. (inb4 "just like 4chan!")

And with that, got a chuckle from: I went to a few meetings of "4A" ("Alcoholics and Agnostics in A.A."), but they spent too much time talking about God.
posted by drowsy at 11:35 AM on August 25, 2009


he's hardly the first person to ever publicly declare he was a member

That doesn't mean it is a good thing to do.

There is the problem as Mr. Ebert mentioned, if someone famous declares they are in AA and then gets drunk, it gives the potential member one more reason to say "Why should I got to AA, it obviously doesn't work." Although I do think with his 30+ years of sobriety, Ebert is a little different than a some celeb giving a press conference the day they get out of rehab. But where do you draw the line? 5 years? 20 years? I've know people to with over 20 years of sobriety to go get drunk again.

I think a bigger potential problem with famous people admitting their AA affiliation is instead of getting drunk, they may act like an asshole. Again, I'm not saying Ebert is prone to do this. But then again, I mostly agree with his movie reviews and his politics. But you can have someone say, "What, that SOB gave a thumbs down to X Games 3D: The Movie, I'm not joining any club he's in." A friend of mine put it well when he said "I'm not a good enough driver to put an AA bumper sticker on my car."

I don't think Ebert's outing himself here will destroy AA, I just don't think it is a good precedent.

AA actually has a publicity arm where they try to inform the media and professionals what AA does and does not do. Some of Bill W's writings on the development of the anonymity traditions: 11 and 12.
posted by marxchivist at 11:35 AM on August 25, 2009


ricochet biscuit: It is odd that Ebert, who is professionally kind of aware of pop culture, would use a nickname widely attached to a figure well-known in Toronto when talking about a meeting there

While I also immediately thought of the DJ, the article says that Ebert met him at a meeting back in Chicago:

The Mustard Seed, the lower floor of a two-flat near Rush Street, had meetings from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and all-nighters on Christmas and New Years' eves. There I met people from every walk of life, and we all talked easily with one another because we were all there for the same reason, and that cut through the bullshit. One was Humble Howard...
posted by Adam_S at 11:36 AM on August 25, 2009


AA is supposed to be voluntary. It's become too easy for counselors of all stripes to push people at it, I guess because it's easier than treating people themselves, the only real problem being that AA doesn't usually, you know, help people who don't want to be there.

Not that I'm disagreeing with you. But does anybody really want to be at his or her first AA meeting?
posted by blucevalo at 11:44 AM on August 25, 2009


ricochet biscuit: It is odd that Ebert, who is professionally kind of aware of pop culture, would use a nickname widely attached to a figure well-known in Toronto when talking about a meeting there

Well, this is the same guy who reviewed the movie "The Village" by saying, "the movie takes place in what seems to be an 18th century village." I don't think he's exactly spoiler-adverse.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:45 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Alternatives include: Rational Recovery

See: Quick Start on Rational Recovery

"There is enough information at this website for you to totally recover from any addiction, e.g., alcohol, crank, crack, heroin, opiates, sex and porn addiction, overeating, computer addiction, gambling, or other personal behavior that goes against your own better judgment. "
posted by mikelieman at 11:47 AM on August 25, 2009


I think A.A. is cool if it helps people fix their lives.

However I have only ever hung out with one person who was in it and she was pretty shitty to me. After the fact, it struck me kind of funny: they make you apologize to everyone you hurt when you were drunk, and then you kind of get free reign to be a dick to whoever you want the rest of your life, as long as you're sober when doing it.

I'm sure that's not the real intent of the program, but it struck me as ironic.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:48 AM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


The courts just sort of play the averages and figure if someone isn't an alcoholic, they'll still benefit from A.A. and if they are, well there you go.

Many courts have stopped mandating attendance at 12 Step meetings. Doug Marlowe, the criminal justice research expert I mentioned earlier, explained in his talk that somewhere along the way they figured out that 12 Step meetings are unsupervised settings and sending groups of felons to congregate unsupervised settings is not advisable, unless you are in the business of facilitating networking sessions between felons. Therefore, many court programs now tend to keep the bulk of their recovery programming restricted to the community addiction and mental health facilities where intensive outpatient group sessions are monitored. You often see people getting sheets signed at meetings, but this is usually more to prove they attended the meeting to the person running the structured living facility where they reside than to fulfill requirements set by a judge. These things vary by municipality, though.
posted by The Straightener at 11:50 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


That 12-part quiz is lifted, although not word for word, from the Jellinek Chart, which was our Holy Grail when treating alcoholics in Minnesota. When I worked in the field in NY and Colorado, this chart was always used and it always struck me as odd that we had no other means for diagnosing addiction. I left the addictions field in the mid 90s so I haven't kept up on the advances but it still strikes me as funny that this 50 year old chart is still the go-to tool.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:54 AM on August 25, 2009


However I have only ever hung out with one person who was in it and she was pretty shitty to me. After the fact, it struck me kind of funny: they make you apologize to everyone you hurt when you were drunk, and then you kind of get free reign to be a dick to whoever you want the rest of your life, as long as you're sober when doing it.

I'm sure that's not the real intent of the program, but it struck me as ironic.
posted by drjimmy11


As you surmised, that is not the real intent of the program. Another example of the "don't be an asshole" part of keeping your anonymity. AA has a 10th step where you are supposed to set right any wrongs you continue to make along the way.
posted by marxchivist at 11:56 AM on August 25, 2009


The Straightener: "The courts just sort of play the averages and figure if someone isn't an alcoholic, they'll still benefit from A.A. and if they are, well there you go.

Many courts have stopped mandating attendance at 12 Step meetings.
"

Unfortunately that hasn't stopped in Chicago. There is a meeting down on the south side that actually puts these men/woman in a separate "newcomer" meeting. I've seen a few successes come out of there but not many.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:57 AM on August 25, 2009


"I only personally know one person who uses AA"

Oh, I pretty well guarantee you know more than that. It's just, well, they're anonymous.
posted by klangklangston at 11:57 AM on August 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


Re: the professional skeptics giving AA shit...I had no idea that was happening at all, but it's like I find a new reason to be disgusted with that whole movement every day. Stick to debunking Jenny McCarthy, if you please.

Certainly it's possible to be over-skeptical, but if studies don't show AA to be more effective then quitting by yourself then I don't really see the problem with being skeptical of it, especially when it's pushed or forced on people.
posted by delmoi at 12:02 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


While I also immediately thought of the DJ, the article says that Ebert met him at a meeting back in Chicago:

Ah, I misread it then. Thanks, Adam!
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:07 PM on August 25, 2009


Certainly it's possible to be over-skeptical, but if studies don't show AA to be more effective then quitting by yourself then I don't really see the problem with being skeptical of it, especially when it's pushed or forced on people.

AA does not force itself on people. Courts force people on AA. There's a huge difference. And it obviously does help people, so trash-talking it is really not useful to anyone except the skeptic, who should probably find a more constructive outlet for his/her anger.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:07 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


AA saved my dad's life. He's 35 years sober this year and still goes to meetings, mostly as a sponsor/speaker. Just wanted to say that.
posted by tristeza at 12:12 PM on August 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


Some of the criticism I have read suggests that a flaw with some AA groups is that they apply the disease model of alcoholism to people who have drinking problems but are not full-blown alcoholics, forcing complete abstinence on them, rather than retraining their drinking habits. Additionally, a study has suggested that, for whatever reason, the disease model might lead drinkers to be more likely to experience a full-blown relapse after falling off the wagon, I suppose thinking, well, that's it, I had one drink and now the disease takes over.

AA does have a commendable success rate, but certainly, if there are elements of the program that might benefit from being revisited, it might be worth doing so.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:13 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


The main thrust of the second A in AA concerns respecting the anonymity of others. There's nothing to prevent me from telling the world I was at the AA meeting last night. But I don't--ever--say I saw you there.
posted by jfuller at 12:13 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


AA does not force itself on people. Courts force people on AA. There's a huge difference.

Worth repeating.
posted by marxchivist at 12:13 PM on August 25, 2009


http://www.orange-papers.org/orange-effectiveness.html
posted by ktrain at 12:16 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


http://www.geocities.com/sanegallery/bwspiritualexp.html
posted by ktrain at 12:21 PM on August 25, 2009


Some of the criticism I have read suggests that a flaw with some AA groups is that they apply the disease model of alcoholism to people who have drinking problems but are not full-blown alcoholics, forcing complete abstinence on them, rather than retraining their drinking habits.

Well, the problem is that there's no way to count the number of alcoholism midochlorians in a person's body. Generally speaking, though, if you think you have a problem with alcohol, and it's bad enough that you're seeking help for it, it's maybe not the worst idea to just not drink alcohol anymore. We aren't talking about something anybody needs, and if we are talking about something that someone thinks they need...well...
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:22 PM on August 25, 2009


Well, the problem is that there's no way to count the number of alcoholism midochlorians in a person's body.

My point was that is this approach leads to more severe relapses, it might be worth retuning, but I am not an expert in the subject. I guess, ultimately, I feel no system should be above honest criticism, or reevaulating itself, based on scientific inquiry as to where it succeeds and where it doesn't.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:27 PM on August 25, 2009


if this approach, rather.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:27 PM on August 25, 2009


Guys, you need to stop deluding yourself that AA is effective. The entire institution has just been dismantled by a GeoCities page.
posted by martens at 12:29 PM on August 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


Some of the criticism I have read suggests that a flaw with some AA groups is that they apply the disease model of alcoholism to people who have drinking problems but are not full-blown alcoholics, forcing complete abstinence on them, rather than retraining their drinking habits.

aa is a program to help people with a drinking problem stop drinking. it's not about drinking in moderation, it's not about sorting out your childhood until you can get a grip on the binge drinking, it's not about holding someone's hand through the court process until they can present a page of signatures from meetings attended to a sympathetic judge; it's not about anything but stopping drinking. they don't force abstinence on anyone; it's a free program that works best when people attend on their own free will. the idea is that you attend open meetings to determine *if* you have a problem. if you decide you do have a problem, you can attend closed meetings. where they TALK ABOUT NOT DRINKING. and ways you can do that without going crazy.

other programs exist for people who want to 'retrain' themselves when it comes to drinking. rational recovery is probably the best known, but there are others as well.
posted by msconduct at 12:32 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


My point was that is this approach leads to more severe relapses, it might be worth retuning, but I am not an expert in the subject. I guess, ultimately, I feel no system should be above honest criticism, or reevaulating itself, based on scientific inquiry as to where it succeeds and where it doesn't.

I'm just not really sure that moving the goalposts of alcoholism recovery to "have fun...and be safe with it!" is going to solve any problems, is the thing. Most drunks think they've got a handle on it, know how to pace themselves, etc., until of course they can't. And good luck limiting your intake if you are an alcoholic -- the potato chip syndrome is in full effect. Generally speaking, I think that the guys who pitch this whole use-my-program-to-drink...in-moderation! are just bullshitting others and likely themselves.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:32 PM on August 25, 2009


AA does not force itself on people. Courts force people on AA. There's a huge difference.

AA is a private organization and does not have to accept court mandates of its membership. It is not powerless, but chooses to take these people in, and doesnt even seem to object to forced new membership.


And it obviously does help people, so trash-talking it is really not useful to anyone except the skeptic, who should probably find a more constructive outlet for his/her anger.


You can troll these boards all you want and put motivations in skeptics that arent there, but frankly AA is not scientific and "works" the same way the psychic my mom used to visit "works." Her worries would stop after being told lies from the psychic. Instead of addressing her real anxiety issue, she had psychics help her.

While I consider AA many steps above streetfront psychics and tolerate them I firmly believe that they are not above criticism and some of the things the skeptic community has to say has real bearing.

I also had a teenage friend who was getting into binge drinking, usually no less than many teenagers, and is now a Jesus Freak who tells everyone he's a recovering alcoholic since age 16. Its pretty obviosu he got the Jesus-bug at his lowest point and from members of AA, so lets not pretend they are this enlightened secular organization. They require people to admit they are powerless and to give up their fate to a higher power.

Its important people know this as and understand that there are better alternatives to AA. AA works for you. Fine. Psychics work for my mom's anxiety, but its not the best solution and that solution is not above criticism. If anyting the skeptics are just exposing what AA really is and I see nothing wrong with people more informed about organizations they are planning to join, especially ones that will make or break their success with a horrible addiction. If a little criticism and disclosure gets you so angry to the point of name calling then you should consider that you may be the problem here, not the skeptics.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:32 PM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


You can troll these boards all you want and put motivations in skeptics that arent there, but frankly AA is not scientific and "works" the same way the psychic my mom used to visit "works."

Your definition of trolling seems to be "disagree with me." As such, then yeah, I guess I will.

AA isn't any more or less scientific than any other form of group therapy. I'm not sure what kind of science you're really looking for here. If science could magically zap out the part of the brain that fosters addiction, that'd be pretty awesome. Maybe you should get to work on it.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:39 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I left the addictions field in the mid 90s so I haven't kept up on the advances but it still strikes me as funny that this 50 year old chart is still the go-to tool.

There's a lot about addiction treatment that is totally retrograde, but this isn't AA's fault. Ask a recently graduated doctor how many days they spent studying addiction in med school. My couple doctor friends tell me it's two. That's completely out of proportion to the health costs of addiction in our society. Also, for decades the popular concept of alcoholism was limited to the skidrow hobo who needs to dry out and get a job. Later, drug addiction was something limited to poor blacks who don't like to work. So of course the science is totally behind the curve, addiction was for a long time and in some ways still is considered to be an area of health practice that will never be profitable, that impacts a population whose primary issue is not a mental health disorder, but a moral weakness and lack of work ethic. The most widely used addiction treatment drugs we do have are not particularly sophisticated; methadone is an old drug and though there are clear benefits to using it appropriately it has a lot of side effects not to mention conditions on its dispensation. Many of the clients I work with who are on methadone do not like taking it nor abiding by the rules that come with being on it. The other treatment options for the average addict on the street similarly tend to range from imperfect to totally unobtainable not only because of a lack of treatment options but because of insurance restrictions on who can receive what services and for how long.

So, doctors continue to recommend AA despite the fact that it's not exactly a perfect solution or cutting edge, like basically everything else in addiction treatment. It's free and you don't need to get an insurance or managed care company's approval to attend. You can at least discuss what you're going through at a meeting and get some guidance from peers who have been through the same process, both of which do have some therapeutic value, though it's hard to measure exactly what that value it.

If people self-report that they get something out of going to AA, that is actually quite valuable information from a treatment perspective. If someone feels a support group -- any support group -- is working for them, and they enjoy participating in that group's therapeutic process, and continue to engage in that support group for years at a stretch to the betterment of their life quality, that's huge.

They require people to admit they are powerless and to give up their fate to a higher power.

I am quite happily non-higher powered at 5 1/2 years clean and sober.
posted by The Straightener at 12:44 PM on August 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


AA saved my dad's life. He's 35 years sober this year and still goes to meetings, mostly as a sponsor/speaker. Just wanted to say that.

Similar story for my mother.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:44 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


They require people to admit they are powerless and to give up their fate to a higher power.

Yeah, but that higher power can be "the ocean" I think the same things that drive certain people into addictions can often send people into aggressive jesus-loving or whatever, they're seekers filling some sort of hole. So I think seeing people go into AA as addicted to drink and come out of it [sometimes] as addicted to jesus is not all that surprising given the nature of people and the way they connect with things.

i have to say after a half decade of reading AskMe threads about drinkers, former drinkers, AA advocates and other people, I've been impressed by the number of MeFites AA has worked for, and worked well and continues to work. Obviously it's easier to see these people thriving than see the people who perhaps have not gotten some decent benefits from it [there have definitely been people I have known who have been pushed into it and who pushed back] but I think of it as, generally, similar to public libraries. Free to all, beneficial to many, ignorable by you if you don't like it. Thanks for the link, this was inteersting.
posted by jessamyn at 12:44 PM on August 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


If a little criticism and disclosure gets you so angry to the point of name calling then you should consider that you may be the problem here, not the skeptics.

Also, dude, who the fuck is namecalling? If you want me to start calling you names, we can do that, but that hasn't happened thus far. Also:

I also had a teenage friend who was getting into binge drinking, usually no less than many teenagers, and is now a Jesus Freak who tells everyone he's a recovering alcoholic since age 16. Its pretty obviosu he got the Jesus-bug at his lowest point and from members of AA, so lets not pretend they are this enlightened secular organization.

Know any Jews in AA? Because I sure do, and I assure you that no one has ever attempted to convert them to Christianity. I'm not sure what the deal was with your friend, but it wasn't anything to do with AA as an organization. This is misinformation.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:45 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


The ocean is definately a higher power. Man, that thing is terrifying.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:46 PM on August 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


If the ocean told me to stop drinking, I'd definitely stop dropping acid.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:54 PM on August 25, 2009 [22 favorites]


AA isn't any more or less scientific than any other form of group therapy.

I don't know what that means. However, I do know that the National Institute for Clinical Excellence reviewed the evidence for psychosocial treatments for drug dependency and found that the evidence strongly suggested that attendance at self-help groups like NA and AA were an invaluable adjunct to treatment and that people who attended those groups did better in terms of their long term outcomes.

people who go public with their newly-found sobriety have an alarming tendency to relapse

All addicts and alcoholics have an alarming tendency to relapse. Chronic and relapsing are two of the major defining symptoms of the condition.

That said, I'm pretty sure that there's no evidence that publicly announcing your sobriety or membership in a fellowship group has no impact on that process one way or another.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:54 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


If Atlantis couldn't beat the ocean, I sure as hell can't.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:55 PM on August 25, 2009


AA in no way resembles a cult by any stretch of the imagination. A spirituality based support group, yes. There are no secret rituals, secret meetings, or secret / revealed doctrines or texts. There is no heirarchy or charismatic leader. There are no dues or fees. Each group operates autonomously from any central authority. You may come and go whenever you wish. In fact, the only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking. No one is ever coerced into admitting they are an alcoholic. That is the first step and each individual must come to that conclusion on their own. If you think you can learn how to moderate your drinking then go for it! A.A. is for people who tried over and over to drink normally, but failed.

There is a spiritual component, but all that requires is the acceptance of a higher power, which can be the group if you wish. There is even a chapter in the Big Book addressed specifically to nonbelievers and makes it clear that atheists and agnostics are welcome to join. I was an atheist in AA for years and I never felt unwelcome.

The Bill W. also writes that many people have been able to recover through means other than A.A. and this is fine, too. A.A. works for many people, and I have a hard time finding anything sinister or disingenuous about some alcoholics getting together in a meeting to talk about how to stay sober.
posted by Acromion at 12:55 PM on August 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


Although I do think with his 30+ years of sobriety, Ebert is a little different than a some celeb giving a press conference the day they get out of rehab. But where do you draw the line? 5 years? 20 years?

30 years, plus inability to ingest fluids by mouth?
posted by anazgnos at 12:59 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


If science could magically zap out the part of the brain that fosters addiction, that'd be pretty awesome.

Isn't there some kind of psychedelic tea concoction which does exactly that?
posted by hippybear at 12:59 PM on August 25, 2009


damn dirty ape, higher powers can be anything. Lots of people use the experience and wisdom of the people who got sober before them, or the AA itself.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:00 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


AA in no way resembles a cult by any stretch of the imagination.

There are definitely meetings that have become cultish though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:02 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not to quibble, DDA but there are quite a few Atheist and Agnostic A.A. meetings. Ironic, I know but I always find them much more fruitful than the more traditional ones. I don't think the underlying religious dogma will ever leave A.A. It's just a holdover from the old Oxford groups that predated A.A.

I agree wholeheartedly with you on healthy skepticism. I was one of those who felt that A.A. was the One True Way to sobriety. Even as a CDC I tended to preach the company line to my patients. There was a written and not-so-written rule that your aftercare plan included A.A. and A.A. only. Even when I prescribed N.A. meetings to my patients for aftercare, it was subliminally scoffed at. Imagine me trying to fly SOS meetings up the flag pole! I am pretty much 50-50 on this whole thing. Personally, A.A. doesn't do it for me any more so I use other supports but I think as far as early sobriety goes, A.A. can be a lifesaver (it's free, the people are very caring toward newcomers and foster a supportive environment for the most part). It saved my life so I'm biased in that respect.

I think A.A. has evolved quite nicely and tends to be a lot more inclusive than it would appear from the outside. Back in my hitch-hiking days I used to attend a meeting in whatever town I was in. It was amazing to me to be able to call the A.A. Central Office or the local number for a given area and have someone drive to where I was, pick me up and take me to the meeting. I guess you could says it's cultish but I think the motivation is altruistic. The people that picked me up always seemed dead sincere in their belief that what they were doing was helping them more than it was helping me.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:03 PM on August 25, 2009


Well, let me begin by saying I know nothing beyond the generalities about A.A. or alcoholism, but wondered if anyone here knew of and would care to comment on the work of Herbert Fingarette.
I'm aware of him as he made a notable contribution to Sinology, which intrigued me to look at his other work, and I found he wrote a book denying alcoholism is a disease that was cited in a Supreme Court ruling denying VA benefits to two alcoholic veterans and was the subject of much controversy in the late 70s/early 80s - next caveat being that the article I read this in appears on what seems to be the site of a prominent sceptic of the A.A. method. But anyway, having found Fingarette impressive on Confucius, is he talking rubbish about alcoholism:
There is no reason to see heavy drinking as a symptom of illness, a sign of persistent evil, or the mark of a conscienceless will. Rarely do people choose a destructive or self-destructive way of life. On the contrary, we shape our lives day to day, crisis by crisis.... We each share the propensity to choose opportunistically when under stress. So, on a series of occasions, a drinker chooses what seems the lesser evil, the temporarily easier compromise, without a clear appreciation of the long-run implications.

If our righteous condemnation is not in order, neither is our cooperation in excusing heavy drinkers or helping them evade responsibility for change. Compassion, constructive aid, and the respect manifest in expecting a person to act responsibly—these are usually the reasonable basic attitudes to take when confronting a particular heavy drinker who is in trouble . . . .
posted by Abiezer at 1:07 PM on August 25, 2009


Yes, I'm a little surprised he did this. It goes directly and explicitly against the traditions.

I hate to be the spectre of doom, but Roger Ebert is dying slowly. Why do you think he's writing so powerfully at this point in his life? The guy eats and drinks through a tube and has already surpassed the average life expectancy of somebody who does so from the point of his last operation; he's on borrowed time and knows it, and is using it accordingly. Bully for him.
posted by mightygodking at 1:08 PM on August 25, 2009 [10 favorites]


The "AA is a cult" arguments have just made me realize something: Scientology is AA with a goatee, Alcoholics Anonymous from the Mirror Universe. Think about it:

One prizes anonymity; the other seeks out the wealthy to promote itself. One has an absurd heirarchical bullshit mythology crouched in faux-scientific babble; the other has a very simple spiritual component that it freely acknowledges as such. One demands money; the other will take it when it needs it but only ever when offered. One requires blind obedience to authority; the other refuses to even have a hierarchy. One seeks to confuse and disorient; the other aims to restore clarity and certainty. One destroys lives; the other saves them.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:08 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Scientology is AA with a goatee, Alcoholics Anonymous from the Mirror Universe.

Not to mention, Scientology runs Narcanon.
posted by hippybear at 1:12 PM on August 25, 2009


There are definitely meetings that have become cultish though.

It's true, Peter, there are groups centered around self-styled AA charismatics and street corner messiahs. Those meetings are totally wacky and I avoid them. Additionally, there has been something of a culture war in the rooms similar to the one going on outside the rooms that has sort of pitted what could be considered fundamentalists against more progressive types. I have had these fundamentalist types shake the Big Book at me (some from the exact group the article you linked mentions -- they tend to travel up and down I-95 to better spread their message) and tell me I'm doing it all wrong and that I'm killing people because of my deviations from the 12 Step orthodoxy. Etc. It's tiring, but my sponsor assures me there is an ebb and flow to these things. Just like the inner child was apparently all the rage in the rooms in the 80s before eventually fading out, he thinks this virulent AA fundamentalism will also wane as the Biblical literalist fundamentalism trend wanes in the larger culture. However, I have no authority to speak for AA and none of this should be construed as any kind of official statement about AA.
posted by The Straightener at 1:16 PM on August 25, 2009


hippybear: "Scientology is AA with a goatee, Alcoholics Anonymous from the Mirror Universe.

Not to mention, Scientology runs Narcanon.
"

For clarity, not to be confused with Narcotics Anonymous.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:19 PM on August 25, 2009


Narcanon also has a suprisingly good success rate with addicts, from what I recall. As it was explained to me, once you're ready to quit, pretty much any program will help to some extent.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:24 PM on August 25, 2009


Abiezer: there is a difference between heavy drinking and alcoholism. alcoholism is heavy drinking on steroids.
posted by msconduct at 1:26 PM on August 25, 2009


30 years, plus inability to ingest fluids by mouth?

Okay, I'll concede that.

AA is a private organization and does not have to accept court mandates of its membership.

So...do you want AA to start saying who can and can't be a member? I kind of like their requirement of "having a desire to stop drinking." If you don't want to stop drinking and have to get a sheet signed for the court, go to an open meeting or down to the neighborhood bar, they'll sign the sheet for you.

Like The Straightener said above, I'm sure as hell not a spokesperson for AA, I haven't even said I'm a member.
posted by marxchivist at 1:30 PM on August 25, 2009


It is not powerless, but chooses to take these people in, and doesnt even seem to object to forced new membership.

That's because A.A. meetings MUST take anyone who comes through the door. If you are forced to go by a judge, you can sit in the corner listening to your I-Pod the whole time if you wish. Everyone in AA knows that you can't force sobriety on anyone. Most of the people who come to meetings because of a judge aren't going to stay sober unless they really want to. But at some point in their life when they get their 3rd DUI or wake up in a strange place after a blackout, they might say "Hey I remember I went to those meetings awhile back and they worked for some people. Maybe I'll give it a try."

You can troll these boards all you want and put motivations in skeptics that arent there, but frankly AA is not scientific and "works" the same way the psychic my mom used to visit "works." Her worries would stop after being told lies from the psychic. Instead of addressing her real anxiety issue, she had psychics help her.

There are a number of studies that show 12-step programs work. I'm sure you can find some that show they don't. Statistics are tricky like that and you have to pay attention to exactly what they are measuring. Are you testing for length of continuous sobriety? Are you testing for number of days sober out of one year? What is your sample size and is your sample representative of the population?

I know this is anecdotal, but I have met many many people who were intractable alcoholics for years and years who have remained sober only after seriously working the steps and going to meetings.

While I consider AA many steps above streetfront psychics and tolerate them I firmly believe that they are not above criticism and some of the things the skeptic community has to say has real bearing.

OK no one says you can't criticize A.A., but my question for you is why are you so interested in criticizing it? It is a program that has saved many people's lives. Not only that, it stresses the importance of living a rigorously honest life (something you skeptics should appreciate)

Its pretty obviosu he got the Jesus-bug at his lowest point and from members of AA, so lets not pretend they are this enlightened secular organization. They require people to admit they are powerless and to give up their fate to a higher power.

For a skeptic, you do make an awful lot of assumptions. It is clear you have never even read the A.A. book or even done some basic research on the topic you are so skeptical about. Do this. Get a copy of the A.A. book and underline every time the word "Jesus" appears. Wait, I'll make it easy for you: its zero. If you had done some basic research into the topic you are attempting to criticize, Mr. Skeptic, you will find that it is explicitly against A.A. principles to align itself with any religion. Also, you are making the assumption that your friend was some kind of blank slate incapable of choosing his own beliefs. How do you know that your friend wasn't the one who "came to Jesus" on his own and then started pushing his beliefs on others?

Its important people know this as and understand that there are better alternatives to AA. AA works for you. Fine. Psychics work for my mom's anxiety, but its not the best solution and that solution is not above criticism. If anyting the skeptics are just exposing what AA really is and I see nothing wrong with people more informed about organizations they are planning to join, especially ones that will make or break their success with a horrible addiction. If a little criticism and disclosure gets you so angry to the point of name calling then you should consider that you may be the problem here, not the skeptics.

The A.A. book is available in any library or bookstore. You can walk into any A.A. meeting and find out what its all about if you wish to be informed about your treatment options. You are welcome to join and leave A.A. for alternatives at your leisure.

So, really, what are you criticizing and exposing?
posted by Acromion at 1:33 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


msconduct - from what I've read (not much) that seems to be explicitly what he was denying, and he's calling it 'heavy drinking' deliberately. You could take the Supreme Court citation as obviously serving a certain interest, but wondered if he had much impact, was rubbished/refuted thoroughly, or just got ignored then forgotten? Do the latter with this if it's a derail, too; just something been on my mind since I discovered it and seemed an opportunity to ask.
posted by Abiezer at 1:35 PM on August 25, 2009


AA saved my dad's life. He's 35 years sober this year and still goes to meetings, mostly as a sponsor/speaker. Just wanted to say that.

Similar story for my mother.


Same story for me. 10 years next month.

I was one of those people pushed into treatment at a very young age. The question of whether or not I was really an alcoholic troubled me for years. In fact, it bothered me so much that in my early twenties, after many years sober, I drank again. I did it because the program says that if you don't think you're an alcoholic, give "social drinking" a try. If it works and you have no problems, good for you and best of luck in the future. If it doesn't, well now you know. It took less than two months for me to know and one year for me to come back to AA. By the time I came back, I was desparate. I was depressed, bloated and sleeping upwards of 15 hours a day, rarely leaving my house. I actually didn't care anymore if I was an alcoholic or not - AA was the only place where I had ever found real happiness and acceptance. And as the AA Traditions state - the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Nothing more, nothing less. Just as the Big Book says about young alcoholics:

They saw that they had become actual or potential alcoholics, even though no serious harm had yet been done. They realized that repeated lack of drinking control, when they really wanted control, was the fatal symptom that spelled problem drinking. This, plus mounting emotional disturbances, convinced them that compulsive alcoholism already had them; that complete ruin would be only a question of time.

Seeing this danger, they came to A.A. They realized that in the end alcoholism could be as mortal as cancer; certainly no sane man would wait for a malignant growth to become fatal before seeking help.


That was all I needed. Given my extensive family history of depression and alcoholism, it wasn't difficult to see where I might end up. And knowing the true happiness and contentment that I had found in AA, I have no desire to go any farther down that road than I need to.

Plus, AA states pretty explicitly that "we have no monopoly...we only know what worked for us". AA (and its members!) is not perfect, to be sure, but I think it's probably one of the better solutions we have right now. I cannot adequately explain how AA has changed my life for the better and lead me down paths I never would have taken to make me a better and more fulfilled person today. The great thing is, I am not unique - the same story holds true for tens of thousands of people. I hope this program works for everyone the way it has for me and if it doesn't, I can understand and respect that completely. I will always wish any person who is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse good luck in whatever way they can find that helps them to make their way out of their own personal hell.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:02 PM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's funny that the internet - the bastion of anonymity in the world today, permitting people to stealthily reach out and tickle the world - is actually slowly (quickly?) eroding some of the (glass?) walls of anonymity previously propped up as vital to the functioning of the AA fellowship. Today, social networking sites and the electronic bully pulpit of self-publishing not only permit people to announce their recovery to a wide audience, but they facilitate the news leaking out in a million different ways.

A guy from a dating site added me on Facebook a couple months ago and we both had that "ooooooh" moment of recognition when we realized that the "friends in common" section happened to all be people in recovery. Announcements about anniversaries, sober parties, a group called Friends of Bill W., invitations to conferences and retreats - there are myriad ways that the issue of recovery comes up in what is essentially the new public square.

But since attending my first AA meeting, I've been of two minds about anonymity in general. I consider it Optional-Mandatory. It's optional for me, and it is mandatory that I protect the anonymity of others. It's about respect, really. An exercise in humility, actively becoming less self-centered, by forcing me to think about the needs and wishes of someone else.

Then again, the only time in my life that I was anonymous about my drinking problem was when I was a drunk. That was when it was a secret. And, while clumsily guarded, it was guarded none the less. I'm still me. And I know how I'll behave. I know that my own strength of will alone is not enough to keep me from drinking. I also know that as helpful as it may be, a room full of kind strangers with their own experiences will not keep me sober forever. I am an organism that responds to external stimuli - real or perceived.

The fellowship of AA does provide that stimulus in some ways. They'll notice if I fall off the wagon. But the fellowship doesn't follow me home, it doesn't work with me, it doesn't take me out on dates, and it doesn't invite itself along to social events that are happening in my life. Sure, I take it there in my mind. But trusting my own mind to keep me out of trouble where alcohol is concerned seems like a recipe for disaster. I need to be around people who know I don't drink, even if they ultimately don't understand why or haven't had the experience of wrestling with a drinking problem. I need to not be anonymous, because if I'm anonymous, I'm drunk.

There are only a handful of places that I have gone where nobody knew I was an alcoholic. My first MeFi meetup was one of those places. I went there immediately after an AA meeting. And afterward, I called my sponsor to talk through the fact that I had just gone to a social event at a bar for the first time in my life and didn't have a drink. Philly's MeFites have turned out to be my first group of Chosen Friends, and I'm thrilled that I went. But going out to The Belgian Cafe on a snowy winter evening with a group of people who didn't know I was a drunk was the closest I've come in over a year to being anonymous - and it's also the closest I came to taking a drink. That's not something I plan to replicate any time soon.
posted by greekphilosophy at 2:08 PM on August 25, 2009 [11 favorites]


Abiezer -- the whole issue of trying to come up with a definitive answer as to whether alcoholism is a disease or not is a bit like asking how many angels dance on the head of a pin. Basically, the concept of disease is a model, and it fits alcoholism and addiction well in parts, and not so well in other parts. More important, I think, is to ask does it have utility, and that's a question everyone has to ask and answer for themselves.

As others have alluded to earlier, there are large chunks of what AA claims about addiction that are at odds with what science knows about the condition, but if you find it helpful or a good fit (I never have, but I know a lot of people who credit it with saving their lives) then it's probably not worth enquiring too deeply in that direction.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:12 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would just like to agree with those who have said that the problem with AA isn't an "AA problem", but a problem of forcing people to attend who don't want to be there. And since we all know the plural of anecdote is evidence, here's my story:

I was admitted to a dual-diagnosis unit for treatment of suicidal depression. I did not have a dual diagnosis, but this was the bed that could be found for me, so this is where I went. I received excellent psychiatric treatment, but also got recovery shoved down my throat. The morning on the unit focused on groups helping us deal with mental illness; the afternoon was focused on dealing with addiction. I was chided by staff, nurses, and the weekend psychiatrist (though not my own) for not attending the afternoon groups and the evening AA meeting. I repeatedly told them that I did not have an addiction to deal with, and because many of the groups were based around sharing stories and a shared commitment to remain sober, I felt that I was intruding. I was told that "everyone could learn something" from these groups, and that I was being noncompliant and would have to remain in the hospital longer if I didn't start attending. (This didn't happen, because my psychiatrist said that this was a lot of nonsense.) It was also hinted to me that I probably did have an addiction that I wasn't admitting to.

On the one hand, my situation was and is probably an anomaly. On the other hand, I wonder what the unit experience was like for those people who actually had a dual diagnosis and had no interest in dealing with their addiction at that time.
posted by epj at 2:15 PM on August 25, 2009


Ah, I see that's Stanton's site that's citing Fingarette. I know that maias was talking about collaborating with him on a book fairly recently. Presumably, she'll be along when she gets home to put her two pennorth in on the subject.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:19 PM on August 25, 2009


Just because the "higher power" you are required to submit to can be a radiator or the ocean does not make that any less insulting.
posted by signalnine at 2:28 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, my situation was and is probably an anomaly.

I had a very similar experience a while back. The local mental hospital doesn't (or, at least, didn't) separate those who were there for addiction issues from those who were there with mental illness issues. The addicts generally outnumbered the depressed/schizophrenic/manic/etc, so most of the group meetings were about addiction. I was there for a depression-related suicide attempt.

I didn't attend any of those the last time I spent a week there. But this was more related to the fact that the medication I was prescribed lowered my blood pressure to the extent that I couldn't stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time. For some reason, they kept me on it for the entire duration of my stay.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 2:28 PM on August 25, 2009


Additionally, there has been something of a culture war in the rooms similar to the one going on outside the rooms that has sort of pitted what could be considered fundamentalists against more progressive types.

Yeah, that's true here in the UK too. I've had people from the fellowship try and take my inventory from the floor of a conference where I've been speaking about the value of methadone treatment and heroin prescribing. However, I often share a platform with a friend who has twenty eight years sobriety through the rooms who talks about how those treatments saved his life before he reached the point when he found he was able to get clean.

My experience has been that the very often, the longer people fellowship people are sober for, the less likely they are to be rigid and dogmatic like that, and it may well be necessary that in the early days, they need that kind of fundamentalist belief system to enable them to stick to a very difficult path. As they become more secure in their sobriety, that whole 'take what you need' concept seems to have more purchase on them.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:33 PM on August 25, 2009


Just because the "higher power" you are required to submit to can be a radiator or the ocean does not make that any less insulting.

I don't really want to drag this out because everyone sort of takes the higher power thing the way they want to, but for many people getting out of the terrible cycle of self-hatred and blame that is their own personal alcohol diaster makes this sort of insult really trivial by comparison.

You're not required to go at all, so don't go if you don't like it. Go to Rational Recovery. Stay a drunk. I realize there's the unfortunate assocation with church which is also sort of optional but in a much less truly-optional way for many people due to social and work and family pressures.

Personally I would rather have a Jesus freak for a parent instead of a drunk. I'm aware it's a false dichotomy, but it's what a lot of people consider when they're thinking about the lesser of two evils which is usually the best you can even hope for when your life has been upended by a family member's lifelong alcoholism.
posted by jessamyn at 2:36 PM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Cheers PeterMcD; have to agree with "if you find it helpful or a good fit ... then it's probably not worth enquiring too deeply in that direction" - my first thought having read that article would be how shit if the entire outcome of your philosophising on the matter was to help get two blokes denied their education benefits, so I wondered if it had fed into any positive responses too. Maybe maias will have something to say.
posted by Abiezer at 2:39 PM on August 25, 2009


They require people to admit they are powerless and to give up their fate to a higher power.

IMO, I've always understood this as meaning, in a very concrete way, that part of your recovery really trying to understand that you are not the centre of the universe and that other people exist, have feelings, and have bigger problems than you do. It's an adjustment of perspective; to start looking outwards instead of the narcissism typical (again imo) of addicts/alcoholics.
posted by jokeefe at 2:41 PM on August 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


PeterMcDermott : "if you find it helpful or a good fit (I never have, but I know a lot of people who credit it with saving their lives) then it's probably not worth enquiring too deeply in that direction."

As they say in OA: take what works, and leave the rest.
posted by subbes at 2:45 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


IMO, I've always understood this as meaning, in a very concrete way, that part of your recovery really trying to understand that you are not the centre of the universe and that other people exist, have feelings, and have bigger problems than you do. It's an adjustment of perspective; to start looking outwards instead of the narcissism typical (again imo) of addicts/alcoholics.

Oh and if only it were exclusive to addicts/alcoholics....
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:48 PM on August 25, 2009


I'd just like to point out that a lot of the 'official' skeptic community (to the extent there is such a think, personally I'm skeptical of it) is in a lather over people being sent by law. Personally, I think for many of the reasons cited above, it's a bad idea. And according to someone here, courts are leaning away from it for totally unrelated reasons.

I'm not an alchoholic, but I have plenty in my family that I would fucking love to send to AA. I've given them pamphlets, but you know, you can't force anybody.

As a non-theist I've speculated what I would think about as my higher power. And I think it would be as simple as my unrealized potential to live. No problems there.

(as an aside, if a 12 step program is risky because it helps potential felons network, what the hell is the county jail?)
posted by lumpenprole at 2:55 PM on August 25, 2009


I've been busy working this afternoon (I know, the horror, right?) and am coming in here late, so I'm not really able to make a timely assessment of any of the comments. I think all the ground I was going to cover concerning anonymity has been covered, anyway and I tend to agree that it's up to the individual to remain anonymous or not concerning their own recovery, and when you break your own anonymity, do so at your peril, and please don't do so as an official representative of A.A. as a whole. No one anywhere is granted the power to speak for A.A. beyond their personal experience. That and it is horribly poor form to out other members of A.A. as such -- it's their business, not yours.

Thanks for the post, kmz. I look forward to reading the article at length tonight - I've skimmed the first half, & it seems so far like Ebert's get a pretty good grip on his own sobriety. I'm glad for him. Really & truly. The depths of the last days are a pretty horrible abyss. some fall in, some pull back. Some need a hand away from the edge. I struggled at that edge for quite a long time and when I felt myself falling, and held out my hand for help. I'm awfully damn glad it was there. I'll leave it at that.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:00 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm definitely not one to knock anything that works for someone. An old roommate of mine ( one of the warmest, realest people I've ever known) was a hardcore alcoholic. AA saved his life. Literally. But, I'd be lying if I said I didn't think he ended up addicted to AA. If you have an addictive personality, though...

On another note, I just finished reading Infinite Jest for the second time, and I think David Foster Wallace showed a real understanding of, and admiration for, AA.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:06 PM on August 25, 2009


However, I often share a platform with a friend who has twenty eight years sobriety through the rooms who talks about how those treatments saved his life before he reached the point when he found he was able to get clean.

Oh totally, Peter, I have worked both in harm reduction and non-harm reduction settings (the drug courts, while they allow methadone, are zero tolerance otherwise) and my personal recovery story has never impacted how I have ever interacted with a client or the services I refer to. I am abstinent but I refer clients to methadone maintenance when it's appropriate, and basically never talk 12 Step stuff with clients because self-disclosure with respect to a broad range of personal information in my experience honestly creates more problems than it's worth. Helping people get clean and sober in a 12 Step program is not part of my job description despite the fact that I work in the field and am also in the program. The lines between the two are clearly drawn for me, and I have to admit that I am disheartened to hear about people having 12 Step recovery foisted onto them unwillingly in treatment sites where the only other option is leaving against medical advice, which is never good for outcomes. I would like to see at the very least some alternative programming inside institutions so people can choose what their treatment will be. This element of personal choice has been vital to the mental health recovery movement, and has completely changed how mental health service consumers engage in services for the better. But, again, if a person freely chooses 12 Step recovery and feels they benefit from it, it's not for someone else to tell that person, "Don't do that! That's not scientific/evidence supported/the best possible solution." At least from a social worker's perspective, we don't do that. We let people decide what supports to engage for themselves.
posted by The Straightener at 3:06 PM on August 25, 2009


You know who else had a club you weren't supposed to talk about?

"If Atlantis couldn't beat the ocean, I sure as hell can't."
Bonham does a pretty good job.

I like the "Scientology is AA with a goatee" thing. Wasn't in AA myself. In the military though it's almost an open secret. Nearly all the guys I know who were in AA we're intolerable assholes who either became more intolerable or more assholish.
I mean, entirely apart from drinking. Said 'Hello' in passing to one noncom and he told me "I have a college degree y'know!" Ok. Didn't know putting your palm up towards someone meant 'defensively indicate your last level of education.'
They mostly stopped drinking though.
And again, were mostly dicks anyway before they got in.
I suspect the proselytizing is based on a sort of predatory behavior rather than by design of the program, far as I could tell from the outside.
Which, really, makes the proselytizing all the worse. Subverting some person's belief system just because they're at a vulnerable point and trying to get well.
...although on the up side, I think some of them did become hardcore religious types, and again, they were real pricks, so diminishing returns sort of thing in that case. One guy wound up handing out those Chick tracts really aggressively. I'd never seen one before then. I thought they were meant ironically. Really cheezed him off too. "Hey! These are great! can I see some more?" *readreadread* "HA HA HA! lookit this biker guy and the devil!"
Really awkward though, cos, what are you supposed to do if the guy is recovering?
Some guys do use it as a sort of crutch you can club people with.
...not that that's AA's fault at all.
I guess I'm looking at being a dick as separate from being an alcoholic (although alcohol and doltishness can reciprocate - they're not intrinsically alloy, far as I've seen).

And that being the case, I have to give it up for someone whos motives seem pretty compassionate.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:12 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Voluntary AA-- AA as a self help group, practiced by amateurs who recognize that they are amateurs who don't believe that they can cure all psychiatric problems, who know that they are not doctors-- is a wonderful, useful self-help group that can be a total boon to those who give it a try and find relief there.

A treatment system that *forces* AA on people, on the other hand, which doesn't recognize that it is not the only way, which uses its interpretation of AA to oppose the use of psychiatric medication and which is unregulated or under-regulated is a recipe for abuse and will actually reliably generate cults with sociopathic leaders and seriously traumatized victims.

Here's why. If you-- the treatment provider-- see yourself as trying to make people see that they are "powerless," trying to make people humble, trying to make them "turn it over" and trying to make them "take personal inventory," you are basically doing what cult leaders do. Isolating people, telling them everything they thought previously is wrong, that they must submit, that they must confess and that they must accept humiliation and powerlessness, that "your best thinking got you here"-- well, all of that doesn't lead to treatment that is empowering, respectful and individualized.

It also has repeatedly produced actual cults-- Synanon itself being the most famous. People who have been subjected to this stuff have every right to be bitter and resentful.

No one should be forced into a 12-step program. No treatment center should have 12-step-only treatment-- this is a violation of the traditions but people have refused to see it that way because there's too much money in it and because they believe they are doing the right thing. Nonetheless, those who do "12 step work" as counselors are getting paid for it-- which is a no-no.

Young people, most of all, should never be forced into 12 step programs because no one knows if they are indeed powerless with a 90% chance of relapse and forcing them into an alcoholic or addict identity can create a self fulfilling prophecy. William Miller's research shows that the greater your belief in powerlessness and the disease model, the more severe your relapses will be. So, this kind of indoctrination should not be done. Referrals, suggestions, yes-- but professional treatment should be based on research evidence and on "first do no harm." There are plenty of ways to help young people with drug problems that do not have these potential side effects and do not involve exposing them to a group of people with more severe problems who may indeed lead them astray.
posted by Maias at 3:31 PM on August 25, 2009


They require people to admit they are powerless and to give up their fate to a higher power.

AA requires nothing of anyone.
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 3:44 PM on August 25, 2009


"Just because the "higher power" you are required to submit to can be a radiator or the ocean does not make that any less insulting."

It does to me, and I'm a pretty devout atheist. Since your higher power can be anything, it basically amounts to acknowledging that there are forces operating on your behavior that are outside your control. I'm not in AA, but if I were my higher power would be something like the universe, the laws of physics, or evolutionary forces that shaped my genes.
posted by Manjusri at 4:18 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


But, again, if a person freely chooses 12 Step recovery and feels they benefit from it, it's not for someone else to tell that person, "Don't do that! That's not scientific/evidence supported/the best possible solution." At least from a social worker's perspective, we don't do that. We let people decide what supports to engage for themselves.

Yeah, that too. My current job involves advising on one of a handful of drug treatment systems change pilots currently being trialled here in the UK and the biggest challenge in the area where I'm working is actually attempting to commission abstinence-based outpatient treatment from companies that operate with a twelve step philosophy.

It's necessary because although we've always had good harm reduction provision in this area, we've actually been very poor when it comes to commissioning community based abstinence treatment. What we've done traditionally is ship people off to far away residential rehab and in-patient detox, and those people tend to stay where they land. As a consequence, fellowship meetings have never really had enough people to nurture them locally, so we just don't have them. As a consequence, we have thousands of people who've been in methadone treatment for twenty years or more, and a much lower proportion of people who become drug free than you see here -- because by and large, people in our system aren't exposed to people whose experience they share who've been able to get and stay abstinent for themselves.

Coincidentally, I just recently suggested that a colleague should look you up because he was about to go to Philadelphia to look at the Philadelphia Recovery Project, and I thought you'd get on -- but it turned out that he had to drop it off his itinerary.

Shame really, because this man has stories like you wouldn't believe -- and I know that you do too because I read them on here...
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:22 PM on August 25, 2009


exactly, Manjusri. that's why my higher power is alcohol.
posted by msconduct at 5:33 PM on August 25, 2009


No treatment center should have 12-step-only treatment

And I should just add that somewhere like this would never get commissioned in the area that I work. The whole point is about getting more choice in the system, and trying to nurture the fellowship as an adjunct to treatment. But we'd still expect them to provide all the standard features of any structured day programme, as laid out in the various NICE guidelines.

William Miller's research shows that the greater your belief in powerlessness and the disease model, the more severe your relapses will be.

This is something that we used to argue a lot about (when our views were somewhat reversed), but talking to smart 12 steppers lately, they tell me that their take on it is that while they might be powerless over their drinking, it's only themselves who has responsibility for their recovery. Where you choose to put the emphasis might make all the difference.

The things I find problematic about the model personally, are the fact that it's static and unchanging, and many of Bill W's half-arsed theories have taken on the status of holy writ, unmodified and unmodifiable in the face of any and all scientific advances.

But as long as 12 step philosophy is just an adjunct to treatment and not the thing itself, that's really not a problem for me. People, as we've said, can take it or leave it. If it works for you, that's fine. If it doesn't, nobody should be shoving down your throat.

It seems most problematic in the USA, where you often don't have the kind of mixed treatment economy that you get in Europe, Australia, etc. or where lack of insurance cover or money mean it's the only treatment option some people will have.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:38 PM on August 25, 2009


The Big Book has the chapter on the atheist killing himself with a gun right?

Or is that an older edition?
posted by thoughtslut at 7:32 PM on August 25, 2009


having 12 Step recovery foisted onto them unwillingly in treatment sites

You just described what makes the Minnesota model tick.

I am abstinent but I refer clients to methadone maintenance when it's appropriate, and basically never talk 12 Step stuff with clients

During one of my internships I took part in a group therapy session. I sat outside the group and did a group matrix. When I was done, I was shocked at the amount of self-disclosure of the facilitator. Coupled with all of the A.A. jargon he peppered the "therapy" with, one wouldn't be shocked if the insurance denied payment.

I refer clients to methadone maintenance when it's appropriate

Methadone is still being used? Wow, I have been gone a long time. I though methadone clinics went the way of Frye boots. Then again, I used to dispense Antabuse in a detox and that was one crazy-assed drug that is still in use.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:32 PM on August 25, 2009


The Big Book has the chapter on the atheist killing himself with a gun right?


Not exactly. At the beginning of chapter 10 there is reference to an alcoholic killing himself, but it doesn't state that he was an Atheist, and it certainly doesn't take up the entire chapter.

From the chapter entitled "To Employers," it quotes at length a personnel manager:
I was at one time assistant manager of a corporation department employing sixty-six hundred men. One day my secretary came in saying Mr. B — insisted on speaking with me. I told her to say that I was not interested. I had warned him several times that he had but one more chance. Not long afterward he had called me from Hartford on two successive days, so drunk he could hardly speak. I told him he was through — finally and forever.

My secretary returned to say that it was Mr. B— on the phone; it was Mr. B—'s brother, and he wished to give me a message. I still expected a plea for clemency, but these words came through the receiver: "I just wanted to tell you Paul jumped from a hotel window in Hartford last Saturday. He left us a note saying you were the best boss he ever had, and that you were not to blame in any way."

Another time, as I opened a letter which lay on my desk, a newspaper clipping fell out. It was the obituary of one of the best salesmen I ever had. After two weeks of drinking, he had placed his toe on the trigger of a loaded shotgun — the barrel was in his mouth. I had discharged him for drinking six weeks before.

Still another experience: A woman's voice came faintly over long distance from Virginia. She wanted to know if her husband's company insurance was still in force. Four days before he had hanged himself in his woodshed. I had been obliged to discharge him for drinking, though he was brilliant, alert, and one of the best organizers I have ever known.
I have no idea if these anecdotes are apocryphal, and have wondered that from time to time. It seems like it would be debunkable if so, but with all the anonymity, it could have been slipped it to scare people, if that's what you're intimating. I guess I've always taken for granted that since the book has been freely available since the 1930's that if someone wanted to debunk or dispute it, they would have long since done so. Someone please set me to rights here if I'm being willfully ignorant.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:42 PM on August 25, 2009


They require people to admit they are powerless and to give up their fate to a higher power.

no, they don't - you can walk away any time you like and find another way to solve whatever problems you may or may not have and they're not going to "require" you to do anything

they're asking you to consider the idea that you could be powerless and need to give up your fate to a higher power, however you define that - if you can get through life without doing that, fine

a lot of people try that and it doesn't work for them - and so they admit they are powerless because life, not AA, has shown them they are powerless

the thing is, as a person who is actually able to control oneself without appeal to a higher power, you have no experience, no knowledge with which to judge someone who doesn't - you're lucky - blessed - and not everyone is as lucky or blessed as you are

if it's not an issue you have to deal with then you're really not going to understand why someone would feel they have to surrender to a "higher power" - and comparing them to someone who consults "mother paula, psychic consultant" just shows your ignorance of the situation, not any kind of real skepticism
posted by pyramid termite at 9:03 PM on August 25, 2009


I can't believe that there are still people defending a program with such a high failure rate, a reliance upon religion (the loose interpretation of higher power is bullshit), and a system based upon outdated concepts of addiction, all tied to some book written decades ago by a non-expert and carried out across the country by amateur counselors with no professional training. Hey, guess why the failure rate is so high?
posted by GavinR at 9:50 PM on August 25, 2009


Hey, guess why the failure rate is so high?

Um... because addiction has physiological and psychological effects which are pernicious and difficult to overcome even with the best of professional in-patient care?
posted by hippybear at 9:52 PM on August 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


GavinR: "I can't believe that there are still people defending a program with such a high failure rate, a reliance upon religion (the loose interpretation of higher power is bullshit), and a system based upon outdated concepts of addiction, all tied to some book written decades ago by a non-expert and carried out across the country by amateur counselors with no professional training. Hey, guess why the failure rate is so high?"

I don't think their concepts of addiction are all that outdated in retrospect. Although Bill W. classified it as an allergy (I know I was allergic because I used to break out in fights), later on in his life, he tried to gain a better understanding of addiction and came to a lot of the same conclusions we do today.

I'm having a hard time getting what's hard to believe about a program that has managed to survive relatively intact for all of these years and has helped a large number of people. I'll give you that the success rate is relatively low but that it true for nearly all avenues of attack on addiction.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:17 PM on August 25, 2009


I've had relatives who've joined AA. Even if they never drink again, they will call themselves alcoholics until they day they die. Others have worked on their own to get out from under their addiction, and while they acknowledge being a drunk, they've learned to manage their drinking and see no reason to abstain completely. Neither perspective is inherently right or wrong, it's about what works best for the drunk. Has there been some proselytizing from the former, or a couple of relapses from the latter?

Yeah.

But I know those people, regardless of their strategy, are happier and healthier than they were 20 years ago. Again, it's about what works best for the person with the drinking problem.

Thanks for the post, kmz.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:23 PM on August 25, 2009


GavinR, what do you think works better for alcohol addiction?
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:49 AM on August 26, 2009


Strange.

Tomorrow, I am going to the memorial service for a good friend of mine who recently passed, a member of AA since 1955. He was down as low as you can go, and AA helped him get well and stay sober.

He got sober in AA and remained sober and active in the fellowship until his death last week at age 91.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 6:02 AM on August 26, 2009


I also found Craig Ferguson's honest, straight from the heart, dialog about being sober to be very insightful. Mainly "I don't have a drinking problem....I have a thinking problem" as a testiment that he will always be in trouble when it comes to alcohol..and he knows that.


GavinR, I really think you should research AA a bit more...not from a spiritual or result oriented point of view...but from a philosophical one. The core of AA rests in the admission that whatever one has tried in the past...has failed. That a closed fist, rejecting approach to alcoholism simply doesn't work. AA doesn't address alcohol addiction as much as the values one has in life...part of the 12 steps is to admit that the addiction cannot be controlled or rejected, so it must be accepted....its a step that changes the way one thinks about their disposition, having it no longer hidden and out in the open...an affirmation that can help free one from the associated shame that leads to relapse.

Where the failure occurs that you talk about...is where that crucial step of letting go is missed. It takes more time for some than others...but its an ongoing process of change within an individual, not a program with a timeline or a goal at the end. With alcoholism, I strongly believe being results oriented will lead to relapse. That's where AA tends to shine, as it changed the person...not the addiction.
posted by samsara at 6:08 AM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Jessamyn, I'd never made the AA and public library connection, but that is exactly right. AA is there if you need it. If not, walk away. If you decide it might be helpful later, there'll be a meeting you can go to. Drunk, sober, rich, poor, Christian, Atheist, JewBu, doesn't matter, any more than those things matter when you step into a public library.

AA does, though, have a bit more tolerance for stinky people, in my experience.
posted by QIbHom at 6:52 AM on August 26, 2009


AA does, though, have a bit more tolerance for stinky people, in my experience.

QIbHom,
That made me laugh!
I've a bottomless admiration for AA - despite its well-known imperfect results. And I congratulate everyone with the guts to help themselves find peace.
But gutsy people do sometimes come in ripe packages. That's life!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:33 AM on August 26, 2009


Great post, thanks kmz.
posted by Elmore at 3:57 PM on August 26, 2009


I've been sober for over ten years, five before a little trip behind the shed. Ihave used 12 step meetings through some of it, and have now gone for a couple of years without meetings. I continue to follow the tenets of the program but I got sick of all the court ordered phonies who were there to get an attendance sheet signed and then they'd bail.
get off my lawn!

AA works for a whole lot of people. There are meetings going on constantly and most are well attended. That says something. Whether people like it or not, it works.
People stop drinking and stay stopped when they are voluntarily in AA and are willing to change their behavior and their thinking a bit.

You can't abruptly stop an addiction - it is one, delirium tremens are very real - without changing behavior. You can't change behavior without changing your attitude about the behavior.

AA helps people change their attitude. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less. You can adopt it as a lifestyle, you can pick up a meeting here or there, you can get peace of mind from reading articles like this that show you're not alone. However you want it, you can have it. There are zealots that would have you believe you MUST attend meetings or YOU WILL DIE - they are mostly wrong, I think. I avoid them.

For those that scoff and say there's no factual, statistical basis for AA to work: who gives a shit? It makes people's lives better. What else is there?

Good on you, Roger. Go do that again.
posted by disclaimer at 8:30 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Chiming in late - been away from MeFi for a while.

Good article. Fascinating comments here as well. I think everything has been said on both sides of the issue. As someone who has adopted the lifestyle suggested by AA, I find it brings me comfort, fellowship and a sense of belonging that I had not experienced at any point in my life until now. I don't have to speak up in meetings (though I usually do), I don't have to put $$ in the basket when passed around, I don't have to follow the steps. All that I am asked to do is have the desire to stop drinking.

On the issue of keeping people anonymous, I agree that should be held as sacred. In my small town, people talk and although I don't really care if the PTA moms find out I'm in AA, I do care if my young son gets any flack as a result. Also, I have become friends with 3 people in AA who are well known in the entertainment industry (movies, television and commercials, respectively). I would never tell anyone who they are or that they were even there. I would extend that to anyone in the rooms. And I would hope that no other member would out me in the community. That is just simple respect, plain and simple. I feel safe in AA meetings. They are a lift for me.

If it works, use it. If it doesn't, don't.
posted by mnb64 at 11:14 AM on August 28, 2009


pyramidtermite - thanks but not quite what I seem to remember but probably don't.

i see that the latest edition is free online. doesn't have anything like what I thought I remembered.

i don't like what is there though. definitely a religious recovery program.
posted by thoughtslut at 6:20 PM on August 28, 2009


btw, Sober for Good is a book about people who quit, many of whom did not use AA.
posted by thoughtslut at 6:22 PM on August 28, 2009


« Older Delivered in 30 years... or less!   |   Billboarding Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments