• Is AA an Irrational Treatment for Alcoholism?
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    Is AA Irrational?

    The world of alcoholism treatment is full of controversy. Since the beginning of drinking history, there have been individuals whose consumption reached beyond proprietary limits. Problem drinkers, heavy drinkers, those who consume too much alcohol and create trouble in the lives of those around them in varying degrees have been an area of focus in the medical—and even later mental—health arenas for as long as can be remembered.

    There have been many attempts throughout this period to achieve a semblance of normalcy for those who are afflicted by alcoholism. This is not the forum for determining how and when that problem must be addressed. The advent of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 has been seen as a milestone in the formation of help, but does not address every possibility, nor does it claim to do so. While many inroads have been made since then, no one has provided a blanket panacea for treatment efficacy.

    In an April 2015 article published in The Atlantic, writer Gabriel Glaser speaks about the irrational nature of Alcoholics Anonymous and the use of 12-Step recovery in treating alcoholism. Glaser, since then, has created a hot controversy by bashing the traditional treatment programs.

    What Glaser has done is diminish or attempt to obliterate the resounding success seen in a beginning of a solution to this age-old problem. It would have been best for her to see the roots of a treatment possibility and to build up, from there, to newer solutions that have had some mild success to-date. None has yet been proven to have had complete and total success.

    The Pros of AA for Treatment

    Historically, 12-step treatment has worked for millions of alcoholics who have successfully stopped drinking and made the life changes that are possible with this form of intervention. Support groups have been recognized and included in all forms of problem-solving arenas of mental health. The origin of the support group form of treatment is recognized as having been in AA.

    AA membership is free. Some members receive treatment in rehabs, treatment programs, sober living programs, recovery centers and in other facilities. Some members walk into the rooms directly from the streets and begin attending AA meetings, maintain life-long sobriety and become useful members of society. Treatment, however, is not a necessary part of AA. In fact, it is not a part of AA at all.

    Sheer numbers of recovering individuals in AA offer what no other group has yet been able to maintain over time, a group of people who can and do support the recovery of each other. This has proven to be a vital link in the long term recovery from alcohol abuse and dependence.

    While the author had promoted treatment with Naltrexone, it is not a safe drug for everyone to take. Many people suffer horrible side effects from using the drug. Because it blocks the delivery to pleasure receptors in the brain of users, many experience total loss of pleasure. Reports of high rates of suicidal ideation and depression are common, along with increased risk of overdose if the user returns to drinking and/or drug use.

    The Cons of AA for Treatment

    Arguments against AA are often raised with the report that it “doesn’t work” for many alcoholics. No statistical data is possible for arguments on either side of this issue, although many have tried to quantify or classify recovery.

    Alcoholics Anonymous (or any other Twelve-Step program) does not work for everyone. Many find it rigid and too focused on spiritual principles.

    The spiritual aspects of AA are often disparaged. There is no religious connection within AA; but a necessity for spiritual belief is found to be problematic for many. Some people find AA to be cult-like or ritualistic with steps and sponsorship.

    Irrationality Arguments Made in this Article

    • Treatment centers began using AA as a springboard for treatment from alcoholism because it was the only thing that had historically worked. Other programs existed since long before that time, with little or no gain made toward recovery. Mental health professionals have been doing counseling and medication interventions for many years, along with psychiatric hospitalization, shock therapy and incarceration. None of these methods have proven remotely effective in reducing drinking for alcoholics.
    • Lack of authority and professionalism is another argument that is made. AA is a community of recovering individuals. The first true Self-help group is quite separate from and not at all connected to, treatment programs anywhere. The hiring of counseling staff at treatment centers has nothing to do with Alcoholics Anonymous. The author’s confusion on this matter undermines any valid arguments she may have brought to the conversation. The same argument could be made about hospitals that charge much more than $40,000.00 for treatment. They also employ workers with less education than counselors in a treatment center. There is no basis for this argument.
    • Statements about the inability of a handful of individuals to recover is poorly made, given the sheer numbers of people who enter treatment each year. Using those numbers would have made a much greater impact on the readers of this article to prove her point.
    • AA has never made the assertion that it works for everyone. From the beginning, it has recognized the need for other services for many of the people who drink problematically. No single intervention works for everyone.
    • Treatment with other forms of therapeutic intervention abound. Had this article truly researched those treatment programs available in the US alone, there might have been a more balanced and productive article produced. Large numbers of alternative (to Twelve-Step) recovery programs and other support groups are available to those who eschew this approach.
    • Clearly, offering alternative solutions is not the intended goal of Ms. Glaser’s piece. There is little rationale provided to support her claim that AA is an irrational organization.


    Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

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