The Success Rate of AA Is 5–10% — Here’s Why

Depending on whom you ask, AA has a success rate of about 5–10%.

And when I say “whom,” I mean people who actually study this shit — you know, scientists — not the schmuck old-timer at AA who likes to quote page 58 about, “rarely have we seen a person fail blah blah blah.”

Let me back up a bit and say that I work the AA program and have done so since 2011 — and I’ve been sober since that time.

For me, it works exceedingly well.

That doesn’t mean I can’t be critical of it.

I think a lot of people in AA who have stayed sober because of it just believe it works 100% and that anyone it doesn’t work for is just someone who is “doing it wrong.”

I’m 99% sure that’s bullshit.

AA’s Success Rate Is Fraught With Bullshit

AA has a BIG problem with survivorship bias, which (and I love this), “can lead to overly optimistic beliefs because failures are ignored.”

In AA meetings, guess whom you mostly have speaking?

The people who have worked the program and stayed sober.

That’s because most of the people who don’t stay sober tend not to be in the rooms because they’re out drinking and getting high (surprise surprise).

So you get this weird situation in AA where it sounds like it works really, really well, but in reality, it doesn’t.

And you wouldn’t ever know that by walking in the rooms because people like to quote stuff from the Big Book that is frankly bullshit.

Stuff like, “rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path — and oh, by the way, Bill W said that he would change that word to never…”

Or they like to quote shit in the preface that says, “of alcoholics who came to AA and really tried (whatever the fuck that means), 50% got sober at once and remained that way; 25% sobered up after some relapses, and among the remainder, those who stayed on with AA showed improvement. Other thousands came to a few AA meetings and at first decided they didn’t want the program. But great numbers of these—about 2 out of 3—began to return as time passed.”

So here’s my favorite part about this line. They somehow come up with this meaning that AA has a 91.7% success rate.


91.7% Success Rate? Give Me a Break

There’s a ridiculous assumption here. they assume that “remained that way” is true — but how the fuck would they know? It’s not like the people in AA were tracking them.

And where did they come up with 50% in the first place? Did they count these people? They like to say these numbers came from comparing how many newcomer chips were given out to how many 1-year, 5-year, 10-year, etc. chips were given out, but how many people got dozens of newcomer chips?

And further, how do they know that chips didn’t just, oh gee, I don’t know, get lost or something? It’s not like they had some sort of scientific method going on here. Same with the 25%. Who knows how accurate that is?

The second thing they do is blatantly fuck with the numbers. The 2 out of 3? All it says there is that they began to return as time passed. It sure as shit doesn’t say that they got sober, but the hardcore DAA and PPG people love to use that to come up with this crazy 91.7% success rate.

This is all trash. Let’s talk about real numbers from real researchers.

Let’s talk about why the success rate of AA is so low.

Problem #1 — The Success Rate of AA Is Low Because the Wrong People Are Forced to Go

This is the biggest problem affecting the success rate of AA — people are forced to go who shouldn’t be there.

Look, AA is for people who are bottom-of-the-barrel drunks and drug addicts. It’s not for people who just got their first DUI after drinking 4 drinks and blowing a .09 or people who got caught with weed in trash states where it’s illegal and got sent to IOP by a judge.

It is not at all out of the realm of possibility for people like this to be forced to go to AA. Frankly, if all you did was get caught with weed, you probably don’t belong there.

Possessing weed doesn’t make you a drug addict. Doing a little coke on the weekend doesn’t make you a cokehead. I know people who shot heroin for a few months and then never did it again — they’re not heroin addicts.

But I promise you that if you get caught with heroin — and were physically addicted, which you will be if you shoot heroin for a couple months — that people are going to tell you you’re an addict.

You might actually believe it.

There are other cases where people who were just using because they had severe mental health issues or fell in with the wrong crowd get forced to go to AA by friends or family members — even though all they really needed to do was hang out with people who weren’t drug addicts or take their mental health medication like they’re supposed to.

There are people who have a significant other who does drugs and they end up doing drugs too because they love the person and want to do anything they can to make them happy.

I know more than a few people who got sober through AA and eventually learned to drink and use like normal people because guess what, they weren’t addicts or alcoholics in the first place, and all they needed to do was get away from it for a while.

So you get all these people who for one reason or another are forced to go to AA. In the minds of many people — including many of the people who run rehabs and many judges — AA is the only solution — even though that’s not true.

So these poor bastards who are not bottom of the barrel, real-deal alcoholics and drug addicts end up in a program that’s not for them.

And they fail.

Because they just don’t belong there.

They need other solutions.

And when they inevitably fail, we blame them instead of the program or the people who forced them into a program they didn’t belong in.

Speaking of blaming the victim…

Problem #2 — Victim Blaming

Another huge problem that I see in AA that contributes to the low success rate is that, when someone fails, everyone — even them — assumes that they are the problem — and not something else.

I have sponsored a lot of guys who did everything I told them to do — everything.

They relapsed anyway.

But in their minds, they fucked up somewhere, and I’ve heard lots of people in AA say that the person must have messed up the steps somehow — even though they did what they were supposed to do.

They say, “well, maybe they left something off their 5th step secretly, or maybe they didn’t carry the message enough, or maybe they just didn’t believe in god or a higher power, or maybe blah blah blah.”

And so, somehow, someone who did everything they were told to do ends up being blamed when they relapse.

So we blame the victim. The victim internalizes this. They decide that they’re not good enough. That they’re failures.

In reality, AA might not be for them. Maybe they’re not hopeless bottom-of-the-barrel drunks and just need some separation before they can learn to moderate.

Maybe they’ve got mental health issues that aren’t being addressed, leading them back to their drug of choice.

And they see AA as the only game in town, so they keep going back, even though AA is failing them, and not the other way around.

I will admit that there are people who are definitely alcoholics and/or drug addicts who don’t do the steps the way they’re supposed to, but these are few and far between. Most of the people who aren’t throwing themselves into this likely don’t have to.

But when they’re told they’re the ones messing up, it just makes it that much more likely that they’re not going to get sober. They’re not going to try something else, like SMART Recovery or therapy.

And they won’t make it.

In fact, they’ll engage in behavior that makes them look like they’re alcoholics/drug addicts, even when they’re not for one simple reason.

That’s what AA tells them they’re supposed to do. 

Problem #3 — The Success Rate of AA Is Affected by the All-or-Nothing Mentality of AA

AA is a program of complete abstinence. For the majority of people who go to AA, that’s not necessary. It’s the people who can’t stop no matter what and who can’t moderate no matter what who need complete abstinence.

As a result of this, there’s an all-or-nothing mentality in AA. A perfect example is what happens when you relapse — your day count starts over, and you feel like you’ve completely failed.

So you’ll see people who have been sober for 20 years drink for a few days in a row and then come back to AA feeling totally defeated even though all they did was drink for a few days.

How does that negate 20 years of sobriety?

The reality is that it doesn’t.

That person spent 20 years doing the right thing. They weren’t getting shitfaced all the time. They weren’t hurting people.

They should not only get credit for those 20 years, but they should continue to get credit after a so-called relapse.

They shouldn’t just say, “I now have 4 days.”

They should say they have 20 fucking years and just subtract the 4 days of the slip-up.

Do you know how researchers determine the effectiveness of methods of helping people who are abusing alcohol and drugs?

They look at how many days they have sober/moderating compared to how many days they have abused alcohol/drugs, and if the number of days of sobriety/moderation increase while the days abusing decrease, they see that as a success.

So someone who drinks for 3 days out of the month compared to when they were drinking 15 days out of the month is considered to be successful — but AA would say they’re failing and can’t stay sober.

How does this affect the success rate of AA? People who relapse get this mentality of, “fuck it — I might as well go crazy because I just threw away all my sobriety.

That all-or-nothing mentality tells them their might as well make the most out of the relapse and go crazy instead of just saying, “you know, this isn’t even a setback — I drank a little and moderated, and that’s okay, and I can go back to complete sobriety and not feel ashamed.”

But in AA, those people feel ashamed. They stop doing all the things that were helping because they feel like utter failures.

So they don’t come back.

For real alcoholics and drug addicts who need this program, that can be a death sentence.

Instead of cutting themselves some slack, they just give up completely because they’ve “lost” their sobriety.

If we just counted total days sober instead of starting over all the time, people might not feel so fucking ashamed and might come back to the program after drinking or using for a day or a week or whatever.

Problem #4 — Actively Telling People Not to Do Things Like Go to Therapy or Take Mental Health Medication or Take Meds With Addictive Potential That They Actually Need

Most people who come into AA have co-occurring disorders. They have mental health issues, eating disorders, or trauma.

They need to deal with those things if they’re going to stay sober. In many cases, that means years of therapy, taking mental health medication for life (or both).

It might mean they need to take drastic measures, like going to a Ketamine clinic once a month for their depression — something that people would tell them is “wrong” because Ketamine “changes the way they feel.”

They might have such severe anxiety and panic attacks that they need to take a benzo every now and then.

They might need to be on Suboxone for 6 months or 6 years to stay away from heroin

Remember that all-or-nothing mentality of AA? That applies here too.

A lot of people will tell you that you don’t get to count yourself as sober if you take Suboxone, or if you take a benzo for a panic attack, or if you get Ketamine treatment, or if you have to take hydrocodone for pain.

I’ve actually heard people say that you’re not sober if you take mental health medication — meds that aren’t even addictive.

This bullshit keeps people who need these meds from taking them — and they inevitably struggle with sobriety.

Or kill themselves.

Or die from a seizure because some dipshit told them they need to stop taking their Xanax.

And the people who survive? They struggle to stay sober. They’re not taking medication for depression, so they find sobriety depressing (surprise surprise) and decide that it’s not worth it to be miserable and sober and then wonder why they keep going back to meth.

Or they’re in such terrible pain that they don’t take pain meds because it doesn’t “count” as being sober, leading them to eventually give up on sobriety entirely — and abuse their meds again.

When they might have been able to just take the meds as prescribed in combination with AA and been able to stay away from abusing them.

The people giving out this advice are not doctors. They’re hurting people. They’re killing people. They’re keeping people from changing their lives because they’re so deadset on absolute abstinence (and forcing that on others).

And these people fail at AA, the success rate of AA goes down, and everyone is somehow surprised.

What’s Your Experience?

Do you think the success rate of AA I’ve included here is bullshit? Do you think it works better than what researchers have found?

Let me know in the comments.







39 responses to “The Success Rate of AA Is 5–10% — Here’s Why”

  1. Larry Cashin Avatar
    Larry Cashin

    Interesting article. I agree with most of what you wrote and want to offer my own perspective and experience. First, I’ve been going to AA for 27 years and have been sober the entire time. That was my second go around. The first time I went for a week, hated it and stayed sober on my own for 18 months. Then I cured myself!!! hallelujah!!!!! When I cured my self, I drank 2 cans of beer a day and 3 on weekends, then 3/4, then 4/5. Then vodka. It ended spectacularly when I was kicked out of my house. I got sober with the aid of detox about 7 months after leaving home and moved back after a year.
    I’ve also been a licensed addiction counselor in Massachusetts for 14-15 years. I run group therapy sessions and do case management (referrals, etc). The success rate of AA is all over the board and is hard to measure. As far as addiction, even if someone is sober for years (i.e. you and me) it’s the presence of the previous obsession/compulsion that indicates if you have the disorder (it’s called a disorder now more than a disease; easier to relate to). AA isn’t the only act in town. There’s SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, Secular Recovery to name a few. To me the camaraderie is one of the most valuable aspects of meetings; being with others like yourself who understand what you’ve been through. As far as medications, I’ve gone at it with some AA hardliners more than once who think any medication is bad. They can cause serious harm.

  2. Claire Avatar

    It was enlightening to read some criticism of AA coming from an actual AA member. WOW! That was my main problem with fellowship (CA and NA too). It’s what gives the fellowship its ‘cult’ status. The perception from old-timers that AA, or the 12-steps is the ONLY way and if you fail, you did something ‘wrong’ (for me it was I didn’t make 1 silly amends, so silly I’d forgotten about it and it wasn’t the reason that I drank, or that I didn’t believe in a Christian God). Where I do differ from you is that I consider myself to be the ‘real deal’ alcoholic. I was bottom-draw. I get terrible withdrawal if I’m on it for long enough, including hallucinations and severe shakes, I’ve passed out a few times in withdrawal and usually can’t come off it without the help of benzos or librium. I have lost jobs, my child, crashed cars, lost partners. The whole sorry mess. However, AA did not work for me for the reason you talk about in your final section of your blog – AA’s all or nothing mentality. I got multiple years in fellowship in my local town, then had a slip. I was treated like a child, a ‘know nothing newcomer’ and the shame and self-hatred that comes from being lectured at by some 12-step hardcore Big Book basher, telling me over and over again that I’m stupid and I know nothing and I did the programme wrong, I’m grandiose, I’m arrogant…. the list went on and on. It felt worse than the relapse. I allowed fellowship old-timers to speak to me in a way that even my worst enemies wouldn’t speak to me. There was no love, there was plenty of judgement and lecturing. I did earn another couple of years, but this sense of not being ‘part of’, of having ‘failed’ continued to haunt me. I gave up really. Also my first lapse made me see the fellowship in a very different light. I think it works if you never relapse, or perhaps if you are in and out constantly for years, without really taking it seriously (so you never experience the shame of having got multiple years really doing the ‘do’). A huge amount of ex-fellowship members have experienced the same journey as me in fellowship. They relapse and are ‘demoted’ to newcomer, know nothing status. Their long-term friends in fellowship start being more aloof. There are ‘newcomer’ sections in the rooms (usually the front row), you end up sitting apart from your previous close friends. The gap between you and your previous close friends in fellowship widens. You end up in a sub-culture of the sub-culture – the ‘serial relapser’ group. This happens both organically (if you have just come back from a relapse, you inevitably have more in common with others in the same situation) but also forcefully via the old-timers’ rules. Yes rules! The theory is that there are no rules in AA. Like Marxism, the theory is brilliant but rarely plays out in reality because humans are involved. I live in a big treatment centre town and moved here to do treatment back in 2006. So we all just know other fellowship members ( I was advised to move here to stay sober). This makes fellowship even more of a sub-culture than it might be in other towns. So when you relapse you are faced with either isolation, or mixing with others that have also relapsed (a recipe for disaster as everyone is at the bottom-rung of addiction and there’s no attempts at moderation). I know countless people who relapse after a petty but really mean fight between home-group members. The bitchiness of groups is astounding (I’m talking about both males and females here). Some ‘real’ alcoholics or addicts actually leave fellowship because of it’s narrow-minded views and DON’T drink or use again – not because they were never the real deal in the first place, but because there simply ARE other ways of staying sober and happy, if AA doesn’t work. You just have to hunt really hard for them. More tragically, many fall off the wagon and never go back because after a while, although fellowship old-timers insist that you are a newcomer, they don’t actually treat you like a newcomer (a real newcomer is fresh-faced and vulnerable and really does see the group 12-step hardliner as some divine, sober-giving God, rather than a tyranical and hypocritical Big Book thumper with as many, if not more, defects as your average person). Therefore, the old-timers flock to the ‘real’ newcomers as fresh faces they can ‘sponsor’ but they don’t want to help someone who has had multiple years previously, because that’s too much hardwork. And the person knows them too well. It all breeds more failure. I haven’t gone back to fellowship since relapsing at the end of the first lockdown, in June 2020. I drank on and off for a while, with the usual disastrous consequences coming. I have found This Naked Mind much more helpful, mainly because it uses a modern, scientific approach to addiction. They also don’t have the all or nothing mentality and recognise the clean time you have as a ratio, like the one you described above (if you drink 3 days out of month when you used to drink every day, this is a success). They don’t put any emphasis on a higher power, rather they ask you to be your own higher power. I think AA is getting old and tired. It fails far too many people for it to be seen as the ‘only’ way to get clean for much longer. I just hope treatment centres and judges etc recognise that it has failings and start to look at more modern methods of recovery. It’s ridiculous that we are using something that stated in the 1930s to help us now in the back-end of the 21st century.

    1. Gib Avatar

      Thank you Claire. I’ve recently struggled with feeling that I have no choice except continued abstinence, not so much for the sake of keeping my life intact but because all of my closest friends are in the program and I am in fear of loosing status.

    2. Maeve Avatar

      Great comment.

  3. Teresa Avatar


    My opinion really doesn’t matter but I’ll give you my 2 cents worth. Has there been a program for substance use disorder that has a better success rate than AA? I think the percentage is very low in this article. Does it make it true cuz you say so?? Where exactly did you get your information from?? If AA help one person like myself get better then it’s worth a standing ovation

    1. BobG Avatar

      What medical therapy from the 1940s is still considered state-of-the art? Modern medications and therapies make recovery more attainable for many more people without the SHAME of AA.

    2. BobG Avatar

      BTW there are MANY online groups available now with a much higher success rate using medication and therapy. Monument online is just one!!

    3. Tara Avatar

      This is precisely the narcissistic “groupthink” that makes AA so harmful. “It worked for me. I don’t care about anyone else.”

      12-step programs are not science-based, nor trauma-informed. We don’t need to overhaul the programs (they are inherently harmful), we need to fully replace them with science-based methods.

  4. rkirk2k Avatar

    LOVE this. I really want to remember to be humble, and to know that my ego is always looking for ways to “run the show”… But it is absolutely true. Personally, I believe attrition and inertia have corrupted the program the way they corrupt everything in humanity. The spirit begins to die, as time in sobriety distances us from the pain, and to maintain the surge we once enjoyed from meetings, our ego begins to develop ways to assert our flavor of sobriety on the group. The ONLY time I think about drinking is listening to “old timers”. Then I remember that they have nothing else, and this is their refuge too.
    But the problem in my opinion, comes from the migration away from the spirit of the program, and gravitation toward the dogma of the group think that develops.
    Think about it – the program did the MOST good and grew thoroughly and quickly long before the advent of all the saints and priests with decades of sobriety. I will keep going to try and offer hope to those coming in hopeless like I did – but I pray I NEVER become part of what the program has become on whole.

  5. Chris D Avatar
    Chris D

    So refreshing to hear this. So often I feel as though I must tow the party line or face ostracization. I’ve been in AA for awhile a few relapses followed by shame and judgement regarding my lack of spiritual connection or not really being honest etc..
    Some of the advise or feedback I hear AAers give people in the room just make me cringe.
    Other parts of AA can be wonderful, you just must not say the The Big Book has no clothes in front of some AA folks.

  6. Gib Avatar

    Thank you for writing this. I struggled with addiction and depression in my mid 20’s, winding up in treatment in a new city at 28. After leaving treatment I decided to start a new life in that city, where I didn’t know a single person, and quickly became involved in AA as a way to put down roots, remain sober and build friendships. I’m sober about 8 years now and am starting to realize that my desire for connection and community has led me to identify in ways that I don’t really feel and aren’t accurate. I didn’t grow up around alcoholics. I have no experience with relapse. I have no experience with hard drugs. I’ve never gotten a DUI or in any trouble with the law, employers, etc. I don’t have any childhood trauma or anything like that, my relationship with my family is strong. I knew my drinking was a problem well before getting sober and never had any trouble rationalizing it, admitting defeat, or deciding it wasn’t really a problem and my drinking was okay. My life is very manageable and I rarely struggle with feelings of anger or resentment. My fourth steps have been short, easy, and I rarely need to work 10ths (like once a year I’ll talk to my sponsor about an issue) I often find that remembering I DO have personal power and agency is more helpful than reminding myself of how powerless I am. I’ve sponsored people but never found that part of the program particularly inspiring or helpful in keeping me sober. I have never felt a need to meditate or pray as a way to improve my life. I have never in 8 years felt any strong urge to drink, even when it’s right in front of me or when I’m in “dangerous” or depressing situations. It feels so wrong to think that I might not be an alcoholic of the type AA is helpful for.

    People I have met in the program who struggle with these issues on a daily basis have a continual level of chaos and unmanageability in their lives I can’t comprehend. I have a friend in the program who nearly got into a fistfight the other day with a stranger on the street who he felt “disrespected his honor” by bumping into him on the sidewalk and not apologizing. He said this kind of thing happens to him frequently and I replied that I’ve never had that happen in my entire life. My sponsor is in a custody battle with his ex-girlfriend. I have another friend who just got 5 years who is often unable to pick up the phone or respond to text messages because she gets triggered and it’s “too hard for her.” For me, unmanagability looks like, I watched Netflix too late and was slightly tired at work the next day, or that I’ve been single for a long time and it’s a struggle to find dates. The first being a normal person problem and the second having nothing at all to do with the program.

    I no longer feel safe, at home or comfortable in AA meetings and around other alcoholics. I have a few close friends who have been supportive of me and I am working on building a life outside AA, something I’d never considered until getting into traditional talk therapy recently. I feel that I’ve been gaslighting myself for the better part of 8 years into believing that I am the sole source of problems, I’m a terrible person and the only solution lies in the steps and doubling down on the program, something I’ve done a number of times. Now I feel guilty for thinking that thinking that “AA isn’t enough” for me to be happy in my life. I’ve been trained to think that any negative thoughts about the program are evidence of some deep-seated resentment that will destroy my sobriety. I’m not sure what my future looks like, but I’m slowly pivoting away from 12-step programs and enjoying finding new communities of normal, well-adjusted people.

    1. Tara Avatar

      Thank you for your vulnerability. You have so much courage. Your story is inspiring.

  7. haef Avatar

    Problem #5 The ad lib composition of every AA group had, to me anyway, a significant impact on the vibe of the group. That really impacts how connected and supported members of the group feel. I’ve been to groups all over the spectrum. If a group isn’t a good fit, change.

    The only problem is if there are new comers and they get exposed to control freaks and drama queens that inhabit some groups.

    We’re looking for a healing learning environment, not community theatre.

  8. John McCarthy Avatar
    John McCarthy

    You at the nail on the head my friend. I have been goingfor 39 years. If anyone asked me does it work, yes it does but not for the reasons that they tell. When they ask if will sponsor anyone I say no I won’t because I don’t believe it.

  9. Mark Branson Avatar
    Mark Branson

    I’ve read several of the comments and I’ve heard most of them before. I sobered up in 1983 at a 12th house for addicts, alcholics and quite a few homeless men (the house would only take men). It wasn’t my first time getting sober but I have maintained soberity every since. In order for me to stay sober I have to help others find soberity through the steps of AA. As I moved through my journey of soberity I found that I have other problems than Alchol only because I sufferered from alcholism. Note the ism after alchol which means there were other difficulties/issues other than Alchol…. Spirtual, Mental and Physical. I continue working on them with the help of a sponsor as well as Professional Mental and Medical help (I
    also take meds for my depression and anxiety as well as heart meds now that I am older) discussed with others in and out of the program of AA spirtual matters and most of the time I’m quite comfortable in my beliefs. But life has been a struggle at times for me in order to get to this point and I believe for me if I would have started drinking again during this time of soberity the obsession would have returned. But then again think about it why would I want to start drinking again what did Alchol really do for me in the first place but get me destitute and homeless? So I guess AA is not for everyone! But it is a design for living for those who are truly Alcholic.

  10. BobG Avatar

    So painfully true! I went to AA and failed miserably due to their intolerance and demand for belief in God. Bad defiant drinking on my part. Then I discovered Monument online therapy, got on naltrexone for a short while, went to a lot of (FREE) group sessions and have been sober for a long while. No inpatient detox, no interventions. Just good old group therapy and sharing with hundreds of others with the same issues made me feel accepted for who I was at the time-an imperfect human who thought booze was the answer. Once I realized WHY I drank I was able to heal. Without the why I never could have gotten better IMO.

  11. Carol D Avatar
    Carol D

    Love the idea of not having to start back at zero. Unless it’s been years

  12. Chad garton Avatar
    Chad garton

    You hit the nail on all points. AA is so full of holes and bullshit, it’s quite frankly amazing, anyone is “successful”
    Here’s a great one..
    Higher power huh? One of AA big one’s
    Guess all those pesky atheist’s are screwed. What about the guy who is sober for 20 yrs? Yet, he always wants Guess, he’s hasn’t kicked shit really….he’s just not acting on his desires…cause they seem to “slip” even then.
    I’m not sure how they can claim any true success, of breaking addiction.

  13. Leon Avatar

    I think you are spot on. AA isn’t for everyone. However, you can use some of the tools of AA to keep from drinking. I have been sober for 800 days. I have been going to online meetings which are more inclusive and diverse than my local meetings. That said, I don’t follow the steps. I have a mentor, not a sponsor. I also often get shot down because no one in AA wants to talk about today’s social issues. I understand that AA can’t get involved in politics but why can’t individual members? People put me down because I work the program buffet style. I pick and chose what I need and leave the rest at the counter.
    Bottom line. I have been sober for 800 days(since Nov 1, 2020) and many of my online Big Book stepper friends have relapsed. There are many ways to stay sober. I do whatever it takes for me. It is after all my life.

  14. Klaus Avatar

    AA is a joke. I went to a 1000 meetings. Then I stopped going and never drank again. Twelve steps of crap. It’s a commercialized business. Im sober now 20 years. They say you must do this and do that to stop drinking. Baloney, just do not drink. Attending AA meetings is the wrost part of being a drunk. Go to God and let him free you or go too AA and become it’s slave. You have a choice.

  15. William Avatar

    It worked well for me, if you don’t like it move on. Just because it doesn’t fit “your program “ doesn’t mean it can’t help someone else. If you work the program with an open mind and heart you will be better off than you were to start with. You’re learning a new lifestyle and it takes time and effort on your part. Medication is not the only answer. I know many people who have recovered and changed their lives because of AA.

  16. Melissa Brundage Avatar
    Melissa Brundage

    I think it is true that you will not fail if you thoroughly follow the path. But people are often not ready or willing to do that.

  17. Gianni Avatar

    I have always been and will always be atheist I have felt ridiculed, forces to believe in something greater than myself.

    1.  Avatar

      …but a group of ppl can build a house quicker than you can by yourself. That’s a power greater than you. Leave religion out of it, it’s not required but does make it easier if you’re already religious

  18. Tex Avatar

    March 17th will be 39 years sober which I’m proud of. 38 of those years were done without AA. And I didn’t die. I didn’t relapse and I didn’t jump back into a Johnny Walker Red bottle. And the 38 years I’ve done it on my own we’re/are way better than the one year that I drank the Kool Aid. AA harmed me way more than alcohol ever did. In fact I was happier when I was drinking than when I got sober.

    The reason I left AA was I was listening to this woman drone on about what a train wreck Something snapped and I said, “Fuck this shit !
    Y’all are a bunch of hypocrites and weak. I’m gone ! “. And I never went back. AA is a cult and is very dangerous. Alcoholism isn’t a disease. It’s a mental and moral weakness.

  19. Tara Avatar

    Darn it! I just tried to edit my comment (still “waiting for approval”) to take out:

    perhaps people like you?”


    “The only people it “helps” are privileged people (mostly white, mostly male – perhaps people like you?).”

    I recognize the passive-aggressiveness in that comment. I don’t want to be passive-aggressive. I think what you write is incredibly helpful. I’d like to be an ally!

  20. fred Avatar

    12-step programs can certainly benefit those with any SUD, but not for the reasons commonly touted by the cultists. remember the big book states plainly “god is doing for me what i could not do for myself”; and “the main purpose of this book is to help you find a power that will solve your problem”. it also states that one can simply invent this ‘higher power’. i have actually heard people say that their higher power is a door knob…seriously. aa is a religious organization – plain and simple. just through the chapter ‘we agnostics’, where you will be inundated with circular reasoning and foolishness. bill states that we have ‘faith’ in electricity, as if electricity is some sort of superstitious force that cannot be explained. in the first three chapters of the ‘big book’ there are dozens of references to god, a christian god. i would have much more respect for aa if they would state he obvious, ‘we are a christian organization and we believe that faith in our deity is the answer to a drinking problem’. instead, aa insults the intelligence of it’s members. ‘you can make up your own god’ has the same intellectual weight as believing the the earth is flat.
    additionally, there are people in aa – i have been to hundreds of meetings over the past few decades that advise others not to seek therapy, not to take prescribed medications, and that trauma per se has nothing o do with addiction. plumbers, welders, personal trainers, etc. have the audacity to believe that they should deter other people from following a doctor’s advice. please…
    the reason that aa (or any mutual support group) works is the connection that is sometimes available. we are social creatures and need social connection to thrive. instead, too often the superstitious cultists run these meetings and ultimately do much more harm than good. if you want to get better, see a therapist, find a group of non-judgmental peers to connect with.

  21. Rach Avatar

    There are so many variables to recovery programs. I have run into people in AA that say not to take medication the program alone will work. I’ve heard more actually say get to help you need AA actually supports that in the big book pg 133 4th edition.. I’m not a low bottom drinker but I have found that using AA “for me” Actually is helping me not only with my drinking but my focus I do have PTSD. I think because this program has been around since the 1930’s written in over 60 languages, there Is something to this program. It’s such an individual process It’s not a one size fits all… I will say this though, It is easier living sober than it is being out there being drunk.

  22. Mark Trickett Avatar
    Mark Trickett

    I think you are correct in your assessment of AA. I never felt comfortable at meetings and I mean not one time. Don’t get me wrong, people were cordial but I never got the sense that anyone cared one way or the other as they were so busy with their in group clique’s and gathering feathers to stick in their AA caps that I was just present. I always thought it was funny that people made such a big deal about the days or years they were sober. From my perspective my time being sober is my business and and they could keep their coins. As far as the religious aspect of AA I don’t need someone telling me I am going to fail if I don’t believe in a super being, actually I look at it as the super being is doing such a bang up job taking care of the world I don’t want any help thank you. So all that said I slipped for two days after being sober for not quite six months. I told my sponsor that I slipped up and he told me I should tell the group next meeting. I go No I’m not. I already started over in my own mind and no one in the group ever asked how I was doing. Needless to say I have never been back and will never go back. Can’t say that AA didn’t help as I have never been sober for six months since I was 18 years old. I have just decided to keep going to behavioral therapy and being comfortable rather than feeling like a piece of shit by going to AA.

  23. Dan Avatar

    I would say you have some good points. I think it comes down to being true to yourself. AA works for me and all you have mentioned such as taking drugs for depression, therapy…. did not. Been sober 5 plus years, would be 6 if I had not relapsed after about 6 months. Having said that, in my experience thus far, I believe sobriety is freedom from all mind altering drugs liquid or solid. I even take it a step further to say a positive attitude without any substance producing a high or low is sobriety to me.

  24. Jo Jo Avatar
    Jo Jo

    I like the article, AA was not for me, but it was a starting point. I found it was very one way, the GOD way—so contradicting in so many ways.
    I had a lot of childhood trauma, so much so that it controlled my entire life until I found a way to confront it.
    I finally stumbled across an excellent therapist, and that changed things. Then the strangest things started to take place. People so-called friends started to distance themselves from me. It is like AA wants you to stay sick; well, I did not have to; thank the dog next door or whatever is holding up this universe that there is hope.

  25. Mick Avatar

    The world is better off with AA. My family, friends are better off with Mick sober. AA works by having members and meetings all over the world. It’s a blessing for everybody.
    18 years sober and loving it just like you. Sounds like you enjoyed the meetings, please keep coming back
    Mick h brooklyn


    I agree with the stuff you published in the article. I got into this discussion in one of my graduate level counseling classes. I found studies that showed at 5, 10, 15, and 20 year benchmarks rates of recidivism were higher in people who went to AA than people who got 0 treatment. The forced identity of “addict” upon a person comes with behaviors that confirm the identity. This is well studied in the scope of what is called “internalized self-stigmatizing” where people assume the worst of themselves and turn mole-hills into mountains of self-inflicted castigation.

    AA places the same constraints upon their participants as a narcissist or malignant borderline, whereby the all or nothing mentality of sobriety vs addiction coupled with the Blue Book’s notions of the “unfortunates”, who are corrupted individuals who will never amount to anything of value, leaves a person the only option of being saintly or satanic with no middle ground for the very flawed human condition.

    In addition, there are those whose whole model of reality depends upon putting people into 2 categories: christians and anti-christs. These sociopathic oppressors go out of their way to force people into hell (rock bottom) until they repent and adopt the beliefs of the culture enacting the oppression. There is no love of god present in their actions towards those who choose a lifestyle outside of their definition of “normal”. They use “discernment” as their excuse to not treat others how they themselves would want to be treated. They alternate between states of love-bombing and stonewalling or criticism to try to mold people’s behavior just like a narcissist.

    I took a class on crisis intervention and one of the case studies depicted a man who drank too much, not enough that it caused any harm in his life, but he was drinking frequently at work. Marriage counseling depicted him as being unheard by his wife when he would try to talk about his troubles (the ones he drank to escape) from a place of vulnerability. His boss, wife, and other concerned people decided he should be forced into rock bottom and engaged in a rug pull. The wife divorced him, his boss fired him, and he was left alone. I pointed out in class that this was bordering on mind control, that if his chief complaint was that his wife would offer him no solace or a crying shoulder that him turning to drinking was internalization of having his emotional needs ignored by his wife (and likely his family of origin, too), and that all this rug pull did was reinforce that he was worthless and did not deserve to have any emotional validation, thus fueling his cycle of avoiding his own problems with alcohol. My comment was totally ignored in class as if I pointed out the emperor had no clothes, and everybody else were the councilors and advisors who never stopped the emperor because they did not want to admit they were not intelligent enough to see the cloth in the first place.

    I am sick of trying to ask for help and support as a male survivor of sexual assault only to have people treat me like discussing my problem is obscene and offensive because they can’t handle the truth of my 30 year trauma history. The worst is when the stigma takes the form of ‘othering’ because my life was so far from normal I am treated like there is no expectation that I am capable of normal. These people handicap me because they assume that I could not possibly know how to behave properly in the first place.

    1. Kevin Loomis Avatar
      Kevin Loomis


      First, I am sorry for what happened to you 30 years ago. I almost was raped by my best friend’s father when I was 14. I could not be alone with men until I was in my twenties. Worse, I did not tell anyone. He was arrested several years later after molesting another child. For several years, I held myself responsible because I did not tell anyone. I don’t know your circumstances, but I do know sexual trauma.

      I am also sorry for those Christians who caused you shame OR a gave you feeling of being unwelcome. I can point to countless scriptures showing this is not how we are to lead our lives. Regardless of a person, or their situation, or their lifestyle, or choices, they are a person. People matter and you matter. Sadly, there are many people who claim to be Christians but are not. None of this is an excuse, but I felt it important to clarify. Jesus said there are two commandments – love God with all your heart and soul and Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Clearly, they did not follow this – I’m sorry.

      As for forcing the word addict – you are wrong. I am an addict and always will be. If I have one drink, I will fall hard and fast. If a person were to convince me otherwise, I could see myself having ONE drink hoping it would be fine. However, I drink for the buzz, not the taste. Based on who I am, I’d immediately fall back into alcoholism. This is not from AA but from knowing myself, along with massive amounts of scientific data. Science matters. We need to know our strengths and weaknesses. Labels sometimes are helpful – such as being an addict. While you don’t like this label, you did freely use many other labels such as sociopathic oppressors, narcissist, malignant, othering, self-inflicted castigation, and unfortunates. If you are a counselor, be very careful. You could be doing more harm than good.

      I can also state you are wrong about marriage counseling and falling. I stopped drinking when I was 35 and was a full-on alcoholic. My wife left me, I was going to lose my job and the decisions I’d made led me down a path that involved arbitrations and the FBI. The point, I needed to FALL HARD to stop. I wanted to stop for many years but never had a good enough reason. When you drink – it IS your life in every way. Stopping was insanely difficult – which leads to my last point – were/are you an alcoholic???

      Your reply did not state you were an alcoholic. If you are not an alcoholic, you truly do not understand what it means. Sure, you may be a counselor and may have studied deeply in this area, but you are unqualified to speak for alcoholics. Even though I suffered sexual trauma as a young man, I’m unqualified to understand or explain how you felt 30 years ago. If I said I understood your trauma – you’d probably be upset! You had a traumatic and personal experience – something only you could understand. Clearly it was horrific. Alcoholism is also horrific but different. Please be careful when speaking for alcoholics if you are not one. You could do more damage than help.

  27. David Ely Avatar
    David Ely

    Agree with some – disagree with some – bottom line AA works if you want it – if you desire a better way of life just not an end to your “problem”. It is 100% not for people forced there by the judicial system and if a person has other issues they need to deal with them separately. AA only claims to be able to help alcoholics – it is not a cure all. The article is well thought out, however, it is a blog post and people need to understand that it is opinion based and that individual experience is unique.

  28. David Avatar

    Only the first step mentions any substances. The rest are all about changing the way you live. Lots of atheist get hung up on the ‘GOD’ concept because of prior religious trauma but it’s possible to get past that. It’s just acknowledging that you don’t run the show and brings in DBT skill of radical acceptance. There are several acronyms of God, ‘Good Orderly Conduct’, ‘Group of Drunks’ etc. For me, I used science…Gravity is the weakest force and it’s greater than me bc no matter what I do, I’ll always end up on the ground. The rest is learning about how you’re the source of your own surgering and learning to work to overcome it.

    I do think there are different group personalities/dynamics based on the meetings you attend. I had to shop around to find ‘my ppl’. The meetings I attend ppl don’t shun relapses, they’re considered learning experiences or additional research.

    At the end of the day, it’s all what you make it. I didn’t have a long history of abuse but AA made the space for me to work on the trauma that led to the abuse. Now I’m so happy I don’t see the need to escape my mood…if I ever do get an urge, I immediately do a scan to find out what I’m avoiding and which non useful survival skill (aka character defects or defaults) is at play then I address it.

  29. Bonnie Cisneros-Mah Avatar
    Bonnie Cisneros-Mah

    I came upon this article while researching this topic for grad school. I would be grateful if you would share your resources. I am looking at the efficacy of the 12 step program for my thesis and as you know research is dated and sparse.

  30. Kevin Loomis Avatar
    Kevin Loomis

    Like AA’s claims, your article also misses a few relevant points.

    First, I’ve been sober for 25 years, BUT I have taken painkillers via a prescription. I do not consider this a relapse and once the injury healed, I stopped. I consider myself sober for 25 years – painkillers were never a problem – just alcohol. Taking that away is wrong.

    Second, I hate the phrase dry drunk. I did NOT use AA to stop drinking, I did it myself when I hit the bottom. My wife left me, work was deeply affected and alcohol was everything. I quit when I realized it was either losing my wife and becoming homeless or getting my life together. I made the choice alone, in my car driving to work. I knew I needed to stop. And YES, I drank hard, every day and remained functional. 8-10 shots in one glass each night when I got home (vodka) – swallowed in one big gulp. On weekends I started with Bailys and Cream in my coffee in the morning.

    Third, I only attended AA several years ago because I was told it was a good idea. To be honest, it was nice meeting people, but I was past the difficult temptation part. I have a strong network of friends and accountability partners I lean on – similar to AA. I stopped attending after a month or so. However, I was fortunate and do NOT recommend doing it alone. When I stopped drinking was an insanely difficult period of my life. I left the stock market, lost my license, moved from NY to AZ then CA, got arrested by the FBI, and had several high-level arbitrations. I needed to remain sober to get through everything – there was no other option. I also found Jesus at that time. Ironically, I followed the steps via the Bible – without realizing it.

    Fourth – what I don’t like about this article is stating some people can have a few drinks and be fine. For me, that is NOT an option. Stopping drinking was insanely difficult. To this day, I still crave the buzz a few times a week – 25 years later! The point, stopping for good is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. If I restarted, I don’t believe I could stop again. I know me. Alcohol gives immediate relief and is very easy to get. I’d abuse it fast and start chasing the buzz. For many people who stop and restart later – they fall hard and fast – not only drinking hard but drinking as if they never stopped. Stating you can have a few drinks and should be fine is horrible! Maybe for a few people, but a good friend of mine did exactly what you stated. He had a beer. He is now divorced and living alone. This part of your article is where I have the most issue with.

    Lastly, your article brings up relevant points that should be spoken about. Sadly, being an alcoholic is complicated, and messy with horrendous consequences. AA however is free, is everywhere, and has positively impacted countless lives. I was one of the lucky few who stopped by myself – I would not recommend this path to anyone. Accountability is everything along with community. If a person stops attending meetings or goes dark, their partner will call them to see what’s going on. That is huge.

    Thank you for the article.

  31. Andreas Avatar

    I like your article.A.A. is not for everyone. All the steps blah blah
    All the soberness. Saying that one is alcoholic is even making it worse because acholic means one believes in alcohol. .