About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Alcoholics Anonymous doesn't work better than the alternatives

A recent study by Marica Ferri and her co-workers at the Italian Agency for Public Health (hey, my compatriots actually manage to do some newsworthy research, occasionally!) have compared several so-called 12-step programs for recovery from alcoholism, including the famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) “Alcoholics Anonymous,” which mixes group therapy with Christian prayer. The results, published in the journal The Cochrane Library, are clear: it makes no difference which program one enrolls in, one has about the same (not very high) chance of returning to sobriety for good.

The news is controversial, of course, because of AA's religious underpinning. If Ferri et al. had simply compared the effectiveness of several drugs to treat, say, the common headache, everyone would be happy: it doesn't matter if you take Tylenol or aspirin, but it does help if you take either one. Let the slickest TV ad make the difference between the two brands. But with AA the implicit comparison (though Ferri and colleagues wisely stayed away from it in print) is between Jesus and secular therapy. Apparently, a draw ain't good enough for Jesus.

Indeed, this is a particular example of the whole “power of prayer” scientific and theological idiocy that has occasionally surfaced even in professional medical journals (and has been thoroughly debunked). Whenever effects of prayer or other religious mumbo-jumbo have been alleged, they have easily been explained either by placebo effects or by small random statistical fluctuations (in which case they will not be repeatable in a follow-up study). It is funny, in a sad way, to see religious people haggling over issues of marginal statistical significance, because they don't seem to realize that by engaging in such exercises they are implicitly admitting to severe limits to the power of their allegedly all-powerful god. I mean, if finding Jesus could really rescue you from alcoholism, wouldn't the outcome be clear and indisputable? Since when miracles have a probability level so close to that of random events that a professional statistician can't tell the difference?


  1. I believe that AA's effectiveness declined drastically as soon as it stopped being the last stop for the dying ... as soon as people started being sent there by judges, etc. AA only works for people who have actually hit rock bottom and believe that they have no other choice but to surrender their autonomy to the program. People who are sent there by others don't believe that, and the program (usually) doesn't work for them.

  2. I amost have to chuckle at the consistant anti-religous undertone of your blog. You seem to go anywhere to prove that there is no God. I have worked the program (AA) off and on several times. I will agree that its effectivness is no better than any other treatment available (I personally found sobriety years after I attended AA, although it did help with brief periods of sobriety for me). I did not realize that AA was a Christian group (and i've attended many meetings). They even go as far as to never use the word "God". They always refer to it as a higher power, and are very clear that a higher power does not have to be God. They tell you that you can think of it as God if you choose, or your sub-conscience, or the sky, or whatever you want. Your just supposed to surrender yourself to your own higher power. The real purpose of AA is to meet other addicts, hear there storys and relate to them. The first thing your supposed to do is get a sponsor (someone with years of sobriety)and he is supposed to help keep you on track. The religous end of AA is extreemly minimal, and I would definately not call it Christian. Perhaps the two founders were Christian, but that has little to do with how the program is run. This study certainly has nothing to do with proving anything for or against religion at all. Keep plugging away though.
    I agree with ridger that one must hit a personal bottom before any program will work. Unfortunatly thats how it works, it seems that great loss is the only thing that gets us addicts on the right path.

    1. They(AA) mention God through out the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. They mention God in the steps, step 3 ..turn your will and life over to the care of God..'Ask God to remove your character defects' is step 6 and 7,. Step 5 'admit to GOD and another human being' step 11'through prayer and meditation, and The book goes on and on about God,by name, and uses Christian lingo through out the book. Courts have ruled AA is a Religion.
      It is only at the beginning of the book and step to theat they use a generic .. Higher Power.. terms.

    2. I've been going on and off for about 12 years. The only way I can get AA to work is to completely immerse myself in it...sponsorship, stepwork, daily AA literature, service work, and of course prayer. Just to mention a few. And there isn't anyway that I'm aware of, to commune spiritually with a lightbulb, so there ya go "they say higher power" But the longer you stay, most of the time, you will be pushed toward God. By one sponsor or another. One of the AA mottos is "experience, strength and hope" More like opinions, strength, and hope. But regardless.....I would burn myself out on fucking AA so bad that....I would just say fuck it, being that I was that miserable. And use. I think it is a good program for some. Even Bill W. in his biography admits AA just wont work for everybody. But the problem for me is....what else is there? I live in the bible belt dammit, and the mentality is; God will fix everything, if i can only prove im deserving.

    3. I've been going on and off for about 12 years. The only way I can get AA to work is to completely immerse myself in it...sponsorship, stepwork, daily AA literature, service work, and of course prayer. Just to mention a few. And there isn't anyway that I'm aware of, to commune spiritually with a lightbulb, so there ya go "they say higher power" But the longer you stay, most of the time, you will be pushed toward God. By one sponsor or another. One of the AA mottos is "experience, strength and hope" More like opinions, strength, and hope. But regardless.....I would burn myself out on fucking AA so bad that....I would just say fuck it, being that I was that miserable. And use. I think it is a good program for some. Even Bill W. in his biography admits AA just wont work for everybody. But the problem for me is....what else is there? I live in the bible belt dammit, and the mentality is; God will fix everything, if i can only prove im deserving.

  3. I have been sober since 1979. The first 10 or 12 years I was heavily involved in AA. And, in all fairness, I feel I must attribute my sobriety to AA, even though I have not darkened their doors for some time. One thing that critics sometimes miss is the severe demoralisation the alcoholic experiences, sometimes even the inability to feel the least bit normal.

    At first blush the findings of the researchers re. the low rate of recovery sems to contradict personal experience. But on second thought I think there is an observation selection effect at work. AA members of course remember those who they see on a daily basis and tend to forget those who only attend for a brief period of time, or who quietly disappear after a longer period of time. I suppose that could be part of the strength of the program, in that it leaves the indelible impression of widespread success. But even the AA literature acknowledges (with a pie-chart, no kidding) that there are more active members with 1 year's sobriety than there are with 2 years's sobriety, and so on through the piece. Any given group will probably have a couple of members with 20 or more year's sobriety. What happened to last year's newcomers, and the years before? No one keeps track. But there are some who go back to drinking, albeit in a more controlled fashion, and many more you simply never see again.

    A point that was made in the New York Times article was that, despite religious overtones, many of the techniques of other therapies are informally applied within AA, although they are not named as such. I hinted at this in an earlier comment on a different thread. I call it ground level AA, and for me it was always the most enjoyable part, and the part where I most felt I was learning or making progress.

    Somebody once said of self-help books that they're all just fine- provided you can execute their precepts. I think this probably applies in some measure to self-help groups, as well.

    Most of what Jim says is pretty accurate.

    My apologies for the length. I hesitated to respond at all, for this very reason. And I didn't even get to discuss what is like to be an agnostic in AA. Oh well, I'll let you off the hook- for now.

  4. AA is definitely a religious group; just look at their 12 steps.
    Step 3: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him."
    It doesn't come more explicit than that. If Jim Fisher wasn't personally proselytised at length, that says more about the individual chapter of AA he attended than the group as a whole. This is the same as the Boy Scouts; as ha a terrible time and was finally asked to leave because of my atheism, whereas my nephews haven't heard a single mention of god in their troop. This speaks to a lack of religious interest among their troop leaders, not with the movement as a whole. So it is with AA.
    I agree that all such soi-disant "self-help organisations" are utterly useless, though.

  5. Kimpatsu's comment leads to some interesting thoughts concerning the AA meme-plex.

    The religious tone of AA stems from its historical relationship with the older Oxford Groups, a somewhat cultic religious movement of the 1920's. Anyone interested in AA's relationship to this movement, or its own cultic potential could wander around in Agent Oranges's website.

    It remains true, however, that Jim's group is probably quite typical. I had no trouble recognizing it from up here in Canada.

    AA has its own religiosity. It is only seldom that you hear talk of Heaven & Hell, the Devil, the Judgement, Christ, etc. But there is a lot of talk about a higher power, "God as we understand him", and prayer and prayer's cohort, coincidence (i.e., no such thing as) etc. What is interesting from the meme-plex point of view is that the latitudinarian attitude that Jim refers to makes it almost impossible for there to be an AA critic. If someone gets started, he can simply be told "Think of God as a light-bulb, or whatever".
    Or simply "Keep an open mind". The end result is that AA is saturated with a God that is a garden-variety God, "the fellow upstairs", from whom there is no escape. Generally speaking, AA is pretty well insulated from both philosophic discussion, and from comparisons between itself and other programs. Individuals may proselytise but there is no recognisable authority for the newcomer to answer to, except for the sponsor, if you have one (I never had one).

    Looking on AA as a meme-plex may help explain why it is so succcessful as a movement, even though the true recovery rates may not be that good.

    1. So true.....Bill W. was a stock speculator by trade, and a shady one at that. I bet he hadn't any problem with wording things so that AA came out as the ultimate authority, even as to insulate it from questions by some of its own members. The bad thing about sponsorship is the large ego some sponsors get when they think they "know something"

  6. I guess my major point is that AA success or lack there of has little or nothing to do with religion. I just find it rediculous that M uses this study as an example to prove the worthlessness of religion. Religion in itself, without AA has perhaps helped just as many to sobriety (thats the route my brother ended up going).

  7. I have to chuckle at Jim's objection to the anti-God tone of M's blog. Well, it is M's blog and he is free to inject any tone he wants into it. It is then up to the readers and/or responders to read it or go to another one that espouses supernatural belief. Simple huh?

    As to AA - my son was in it for a while about 15 years ago. I think it helped him some. He still drinks moderatly but alcohol does not define or control his life. My father and grandfather were both alcoholics - but I got lucky - I can't stand the sensation of being drunk, even though I enjoy an occasional snort.

    Your blog is just great the way it is Massimo. Over my head sometimes but keep on truckin'.

  8. It seems to me that the main point is not whether or not AA is a religious organization, but the fact that in this case, as in all supposed supernatural phenomena, they are grasping at the straw of "barely better than chance."

    Would you want to ride in a bus if the driver had a "barely better than chance" likelihood of making a turn correctly?

  9. There are two factors that come into play when dealing with any sort of recovery program, which help to determine whether such programs are successful for an individual or not. First is the motivational level of the individual (how motivated the individual is to effect change for the better), and second is the presence of a supportive social circle to provide psychological and emotional positive reinforcement. I can see where AA would be helpful for those who really have the "this is my last chance" level of motivation.

    And there's no question that there's a religious sensibility to AA's 12-step process that might make things a touch uncomfortable for those of a strong secular bent. But by the same token, AA usually goes out of its way to be inclusive of all spiritual points of view (or lack thereof).

  10. I think j_krehbiel hit on the real point. If AA achieves the same results whether the particular group is strongly religious or not, whether a given individual is religious or not AND is approximately as successful as organizations that have no religious component at all, then it just doesn't say much positive for the power of God (or other chosen deity). I continually hear from preachers, clerics and other religious spokespersons that God is all-powerful, that God answers prayers, that God is Good, and (in the words that scroll across one of my co-worker's PC screen) GOD IS IN CONTROL. But then the studies put lie to every one of those contentions. I have concluded that if there is a god, it is very different from what we have imagined.

  11. As I see it, the funny thing here is that those who talk about using the power of God and those who don't believe in God but nevertheless accomplish equally great things are using the same "power" - in both cases the power is that which is the opposite of laziness and selfishness - which weaken people and prevent success.

    The "power" I refer to is (1) self-discipline and (2) compassion for others.

    Both of which require one to use a lot of energy to better the world, to make improvements, to help others rather than oneself. Some call it the power of god, others don't, but it's the same thing. Why quibble about what we call it? The enemy (selfishness and laziness) is the same for atheists as it is for theists...

  12. Dennis said,

    I have to chuckle at Jim's objection to the anti-God tone of M's blog. Well, it is M's blog and he is free to inject any tone he wants into it. It is then up to the readers and/or responders to read it or go to another one that espouses supernatural belief. Simple huh?

    M can write all the anti-God posts he please. My point is why go somewhere (like AA) that has no relevence to making his point. No one at the meetings is telling you that AA works because of the power of God. At the time I attended AA, I had a natural world view and had no problem working the program. As far as 12 steps, those are actually seperate meetings for people who choose that direction. The 12 step program isn't even part of regular AA meetings. I thought I would throw that out there since many are quoting step 3. You can be an atheist and easily work the AA program. Noone will preach to you and noone will tell you you must believe in God. Anyone that has worked the program will agree with this.

  13. Jim

    I guess things can vary from group to group, so in the AA tradition, I will simply respond to your experience with mine.

    No one at the meetings is telling you that AA works because of the power of God.

    Actually I found that this is a constant refrain.

    At the time I attended AA, I had a natural world view and had no problem working the program.

    Some folks around here would not agree.

    As far as 12 steps, those are actually seperate meetings for people who choose that direction.

    We had a "step meeting" at our group too, but apart from that, the steps were constantly mentioned.

    The 12 step program isn't even part of regular AA meetings.

    Not from where I sit.

    I'm not trying to be a nit-picker; and I realize that groups can differ. I just don't want the other bloggers to get a one-sided impression.


  14. Jim

    Again. The second paragraph of "anonymous'" comment corresponds with my experience.

    Perhaps you are in a larger population center? That sometimes makes a difference. We're about 100,000 here (metro).

  15. Massimo, I have noticed that there are a lot of anonymous posts again. Perhaps it is time to remind folks that posts with no name attached are kind of unfair to everyone else. Not that anyone cares about real names (although I use mine). However it can become confusing and trying to attempt to respond to, or read a response when there are numerous anonymous posts.

    It is very easy to clck on "other" and insert your name or a pen name. You don't have to fill in the "webpage" blank.

  16. I live in the northeast. My guess is that you guys that see the other end (religous) of AA are perhaps living in southern or a more religous part of the country?

  17. I live northeaster than you. New Brunswick (Canada, not NJ).

    Just curious. Did they say the Lord's prayer at the end of meetings?

  18. To some of you in recovery:

    How do you feel about drugs like Vivitrol? From what I understand, it's pretty effective.

    One of the reasons I always considered AA religious in nature was it's resistence to medical treaments for alcoholism. It seems to be based on nothing more than a "drugs are bad" kind of reasoning. I've never heared an argument against Vivitrol that was more than that.

    It seems to me, that if you want to help people stop drinking, you should be behind whatever is shown to work.

  19. Dennis,

    You're right. I'm one of those occasional "anonymous" posters--but only because I post from work and have no other online identity. I try to remember to put my name on my posts, but sometimes, if I'm in a hurry, I forget. I do firmly agree that if one has a position or an opinion, one should be willing to own up to it.

  20. noah: "It seems to me, that if you want to help people stop drinking, you should be behind whatever is shown to work."

    It helps to fully come to terms with the FACT that one is a completely fallen, foolish individual who will ultimately do what he/she thinks is good for themself, no matter what common sense and ethics dictate.

    Contrary to "conventional" wisdom, SELF is more often than not just plain irrational. Working against, it is like trying to reverse gravity. When a one knows that, one knows what he's up against.


  21. Noah

    Some of the old-timers were dead set against drugs like Antabuse, etc., because they thought it would rob the recovering alcoholic of a "spiritual experience". I have even heard people rail against treatment centres in toto .

    Personally, I have nothing against these things, but one also has to have some coping strategies if one is to avoid cravings, etc. Nowadays more and more AA's have experience of treatment centres, where drugs are prescribed, along with other kinds of therapy- relaxation therapy, cognitive, behavioural, etc.

    The cognitive element is especially strong in AA, though it is not known as such.

  22. suffenus,

    I am in agreement, and I'm certainly not pushing drugs as a sole treament. All they can do is decrease cravings and most alcoholics I know have issues far beyond alcohol (don't we all).

    Thanks for your perspective.

  23. Suffenus,
    Yes, they did say the lords prayer at the end of meetings (although I haven't gone to one in about 6 mos). I never really thought much about it at the time.

    I am not sure about Vivatrol. I use Suboxone (opiate cravings), when I went to a meeting a while back I asked if it was acceptable in the program. I was talking to one of the leaders of this peticular group, and he said he had no problem with it. I am not sure what the programs official stance is on the matter. Years ago I think it would be out of the question, but I think AA is becomming more acceptive of these types of drugs, as long as they are prescribed. Just my best guess


    Why Alcoholics anonymous is NOT christian

    There is an increasing number of churches embracing this cult with the belief that it has christian roots-its roots are deeply embeded in the occult. I dont know how many people I have heard say,they have stoped drinking and thats all that matters...is it really.?? If someone involved in the occult stopped drinking as a result of their paganism....does that make it okay.NO. The truth of the matter is AA doctrines do not line up with scripture. AA encourages the follower to be completely self absorbed,only giving of themselves when recruting new members. In the big book,the section devoted to the wives...which was a joke unto itself . I shook my head in disbelief at the caca being shoveled.The alcoholic is told that they may have to go so far as to sacrifice their own family to follow AA doctrine. Family members are encouraged to join ALANON if they refuse they are treated as outsiders who are not supporting the alcoholic and his life long recovery,which again is not biblical.AA is not family friendly if you too do not join the cult.For a christian to attend AA it is spiritual compromise at its finest.When one filters through the God bashing on the"orange papers" site one has an awakening alright,its like shining a light on cockroaches.You see AA for the cult it is.

    AA ~ The Broad Road of AA
    "To us, the Realm of the Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive, or forbidding...." Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 46.

    Bible ~ The Narrow Road of Christ
    "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt 7:13-14).

    AA ~ Contempt for Sound Doctrine
    "Any number of alcoholics are bedeviled by the dire conviction that if they ever go near AA, they will be pressured to conform to some brand of faith or theology." As Bill Sees It, p. 201.So alcoholics are encouraged to pick a deity of their choice.

    Bible ~ Sound Doctrine
    "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine…" (2 Tim 4:3-4).

    AA ~ "God-as-you-understand-Him": Any Name "We suggest that you find a substitute for this destructive power, alcohol, and turn to a Higher Power, regardless of the name by which you may identify that power. We suggest that you turn your will and your life over to God, as you understand Him."

    Bible ~ Jesus Christ: No Other Name
    "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

    AA ~ Powerlessness
    "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable" (Step 1).

    Bible ~ Power in Christ
    No believer can claim to be powerless: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philip 4:13).

    AA ~ Spiritual Awakening
    "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…" (Step 12).

    Bible ~ Spiritually Dead in Sin
    Man is spiritually dead, not asleep. He needs resurrection, not awakening. "Even when we were dead in sins, [God] hath quickened us [made us alive] together with Christ" (Eph 2:5).

    AA ~ The "Big Book": AA’s "Bible"
    Portions of the "Big Book," Alcoholics Anonymous, are read "religiously" at every AA meeting, much like Scripture readings at Christian worship services.

    Bible ~ Sufficient for Life & Godliness
    "His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue" (2 Peter 1:3).
    Psalm 119:105 Thy word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light unto my path.

    AA ~ Leadership: "Trusted Servants"
    "Our leaders are but trusted servants. They do not govern" (Tradition 2).
    Bible ~ Leadership: Elders
    AA’s leaders and individual sponsors usurp the role God has ordained for church elders to shepherd and "feed the flock of God which is among you" (1 Peter 5:2).

    AA ~ The "Moral Inventory"
    Step 4 requires a "searching and fearless moral inventory," essentially a detailed catalogue of past sins to be "confessed" to some other person to whom such confession is not biblically due.
    Jesus Christ, is the Only Mediator, High Priest & Head of the Church. The interjection of anyone else between God & man has no biblical basis; and, it implies that Jesus is not fully capable of being the mediator, high priest, & head of His church.
    Hebrews 4: 12For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

    Funny there is no mention of giving account to a sponsor.

    Bible ~ No Condemnation
    As Christians, our sins are fully covered by the blood of Christ. We confess our sins, as appropriate, to God and to those actually sinned against. New believers are nowhere in Scripture required to make a detailed list of all past sins. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:1)
    AA ~ "Birthdays"
    AA members celebrate annual "birthdays" based on the date of their last drink. They practice a "secular regeneration."

    Bible ~ Regeneration by the Holy Spirit
    Christians celebrate their new birth in Christ.

    AA ~ The Goal: Sobriety
    The goal of AA is abstinence from alcoholic beverages (sobriety). Other sins, such as sexual immorality, are commonly tolerated so long as the AA member isn’t drinking.

    Bible ~ The Goal: Sanctification
    "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29).

    AA ~ Fellowship/Unity: A Common Sin

    AA’s fellowship is built around the common sin of drunkenness. "Personal recovery depends upon AA unity" (Tradition 1).I find this statement highly disturbing.The belief that AA is the only way gives it cult status.

    Bible ~ Fellowship/Unity: A Common Salvation "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph 4:4-6).

    AA ~ Carrying "the Message"
    "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs" (Step 12).

    Bible ~ Christian Evangelism
    Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matt 28:19-20).

    AA ~ Incurable Disease

    AA’s literature is permeated with the dogma, taught faithfully to newcomers, that "once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic." There is no "cure" offered, only continual abstinence from all alcoholic beverages.

    Forgiven Sin
    "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:9-11).

    John 8: 12When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Not obligated to spending the rest of your natural life attending meetings.Are you delivered or arent you.

    Psalms 103:
    1 Praise the LORD, O my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
    2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits-
    3 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
    4 who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
    5 who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
    6 The LORD works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.
    7 He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:
    8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
    9 He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
    10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
    11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
    12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
    Christian leaders have bought into the idea that these originated from a Christian foundation. That shows how broad the term Christian has become­-so broad as to include any deity "as you understand" him, her, or it and so wide as to include the occult, as well as the mentality of psychotherapeutic theories. In other words, most twelve-step programs are mixtures, rather than the pure doctrine and practice of Scripture. .

  25. I am recently sober, so no argument will be had from me. In fact an oldtimer of whom I have great respect for in the program says, "If I were to go on national TV and argue if this program worked or didn't work, I would rather argue it didn't work, it is a much better argument."

    I've also heard that talk is cheap. If this fellow went through the steps and din't have a better life and have unexplainable things happen so be it.

    The same man in the program with 43 years told me that if you took an aborigini (one capable of writing a paper) and told him in a semi dark room that if you flipped that switch over there the room would fill with light, he would have a lot to say on why it doesn't work, and he may even convince you. The fact remains the switch has been unflipped, and the fact remains that after the light if flipped the room will be illuminated.

    Let the fellow who wrote this believe what he will. To me a belief that the us, the universe, our minds, etc... happened all by chance takes a bigger leap of faith then us that have come to believe in a power greater than ourselves.

  26. >>If you took an aborigini (one capable of writing a paper) and told him in a semi dark room that if you flipped that switch over there the room would fill with light, he would have a lot to say on why it doesn't work<<

    He may. But there is a matter of fact about whether or not light switches or AA programs work or don't, and matter of facts can be checked. Moreover, we have solid science behind the light switch, while there is pretty much nothing behind the belief that Jesus is personally interested in your drinking problem.

  27. Greetings!

    I was trying to find "Orange papers" as I found it very interesting reading and came upon this blog. For some reason the orange papers will not open anymore. I do not agree with most of it but find it addictive (pun intended)
    I am sober 19 years and love AA I believe a loving God has acted to help me but cannot explain exactly why. I did pray and I did have a strange albeit horrible expierence that had words coming out of my mouth that I did not form by my own volition. What I said is maybe not worth saying but I did feel something "otherworldly"
    This may have been due to drug withdrawal but I was clean about 30 days at the time (1987) My belief was that it was something to do with spirit but I keep an open mind that it was "self-induced" maybe I wanted to "feel" something.
    My point is this: The "fruit" of this event is many years of not having that gnawing obsession to drink.My belief is that AA had something to do with it as I was in AA and heard people say to pray.Wow! simple-at least for me. AA and my many sponsors never told me to do anything. There is no AA "police" and I have even sponsored an atheisist!

    I just don't "get" why people some people spend so much time (agent orange)calling AA a cult.Maybe I am so brainwashed I don't even know it!

    This I know for sure-I'm alive and that is better then where I was brainwashed or not.

    Thanks for allowing me to rant.


  28. just a note on the aa article. you mentioned early in the article that aa does work about as well as any other method. As small as the recovery rate is, there are 2 million alcoholics who are staying alive in aa from a progressive disease that is otherwise 100% terminal in the advanced stages (albeit a slow miserable death). About the "religion" word you used..aa does have christian roots, but every group can interpret the book any way it works for them, and there are no rules in aa. Religious members of aa wouldn't call it religious because of the "God, as you understand him" business, and other members cringe at the word "Jesus" and it's almost never heard in meetings. If you take a look at the 12 steps, you could consider them a "placebo-inducing" program which uses a concept of god to "smash the self-absorbed ego" of alcoholics who are "selfish in the extreme", possibly caused from years of anesthetizing all emotions. As the AA book mentions, "we've resigned from the debating society" about god to stay alive and help other alcoholics to stay alive. There are really no other options that aren't prohibitively expensive. A 28 days treatment costs $10 to $30 thousand dollars, and they usually don't offer follow up. I know one treatment facility which brings the bodies of past patients for the current patients to look at. In any large city, new people come into the program constantly, and most relapse in a few months. The news of some past member dying is constant. Informally, we consider aa to have a 75% success rate if you ignore the "revolving door" newcomers who never get a sponsor and work steps, especially a rigorous 4th step and a sponsor-guided 9th step. It sounds from your article that there are religious people using aa to argue for their purposes, and also looks like you are using aa to argue back. Criticism has always been good for aa in keeping it honest about itself and keep up with the times. But misinformation about alcoholism and aa has been the main obstacle to treatment of alcoholics. To this day, anyone would rather hear that they are insane than admit that they are an alcoholic. One of the founder's of AA was always looking for a drug to cure alcoholism, he had hopes for niacin, and by rumour, for LSD while it was still in medical research. We joke that if a drug comes along, I'll take six. There are supposed to be 600 million alcoholics in the world. aa is the only program that has been tapped into in almost every country, of any religion,and a few of us have returned to meaningful lives. Thanks for your time, I thought it would be worth mentioning because aa is somewhat of a "black-box" to the public. --cat.

  29. AA is not a Christian organization... it's "spiritual." They encourage members to find God, or a higher power, in whatever ways they want. You're making some pretty assertive statements, and I think you should get your facts straight before making them.
    Just a thought.

  30. Victoria,

    I'm afraid you don't have your facts straight. Even though AA claims to be "spiritual" it is, in fact, a Christian organization. They can't say that out loud or they would run into church/state separation issues when the courts mandate people to attend AA meetings.

  31. AA is CCERTAINLY NOT a "Christian Organization" in any way!!! If you do not belong to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, how can you have an opinion on WHAT the program is? There is no argument of the basis of our programs literature, but this does not make us a Christian Organization. Do you really think we are a secret organization put together so the courts can send a drunk to us & not worry about church/state seperation issues? That is pretty absurd & ignorant thinking my friend... get more facts before stating "facts" you know NOTHING about. Be fair rather than controversal.

  32. I like what some people have said already but I thought I'd add on. AA is not by any means a religious organization. We have Christian roots and many meetings do use the Lord's Prayer to close meetings but it is stated very clearly that you are to choose your own conception of God, whatever that may be. I know people who disagree with the using of the Lord's Prayer and so they just don't say it when we close the meeting. I know from personal experience as well as extensive research that a conventional treatment followed immediately by regular attendance and active involvement in AA has the highest success rate of any treatment method. So, anyone who's curious should just do a little research (it's not that hard). And, if you're not an alcoholic, why does it matter to you? AA works for some people and doesn't for others, but alcoholism has been deemed an illness by the American Medical Association which means that it's progressive, it has physical symptoms and it's FATAL. If AA can save lives, why not let it do that? Just stay out of it if it doesn't concern you. That's a lot of unnecessary energy you're expending for something that actually works for millions of people. Thanks for reading.

  33. Anonymous said: just a note on the aa article. you mentioned early in the article that aa does work about as well as any other method. As small as the recovery rate is, there are 2 million alcoholics who are staying alive in aa from a progressive disease that is otherwise 100% terminal in the advanced stages (albeit a slow miserable death).

    There is hardly any documentation of those who have gotten sober by other means (other than AA and professional counseling), which makes it difficult to determine how well AA works compared to other undocumented methods.

    I've known several people in my life who were horrific drunks and turned it around on their own. Just for instance.

    On the topic of AA and religion? I have belonged to AA for many years, attending at least a few times a week in the past year or so. All of the cute semantics are just that- I am essentially a lay buddhist (My atheist sister refers to me as a half-assed part-time agnostic) and I put up with that archaic quote from sermon on the mount (The Lord's Prayer) as just another way that christians have managed to force more of their beliefs on the portion of the public that would rather not. And I don't live in the deep south, but rather in quasi-liberal Hawaii.

    I don't really care, really. I know some very cool people who call themselves christians and I understand that most people (no matter what their religious affiliation) are total donkeys that must be lead around with a carrot on a stick. But I also think that in this day and age realistic, clear thinking adults could recognize how the Lord's Prayer might turn a lot of people in need of help away, and perhaps they could come up with something a little less obvious to close meetings with.

    The Lord's Prayer does not say, "Our Higher Power, thou art in heaven..." It is very religion specific. I've read the passage by Bill W about why he wouldn't support changing that, and while I think he was an OK guy for creating something like AA, I don't think he's the last word on anything. Times change, people change, needs change.

    I think I'd like a nice passage from Bob Marley at the end of a meeting- or something by Deng Min Dao. They could do a rotational thing- you know- Christian on Monday (Wiccans set up the chairs), Buddhist on tuesday (Taoists handle the coffee and cookies, Confucionists set up chairs), Muslims on Wednesday (Christians get the chairs and cookies), Hindus on Thursday (Jews handle the chairs, Atheists get the coffee), Baha'is get Friday but Zoroastrianists handle the coffee and cookies. I see this as a realistic "win/win" alternative. We'll work in the Rastas where we can fit them (UNRELIABLE for cookies!)

    I imagine if things work the way they historically have, I'd end up with a passage from C.S. Lewis.

  34. Hi folks
    I am not a regular blogger, so I trust the ugly anonymity of my immediate response doesn't seem evasive (I registered the name under trying circumstances!). I stumbled across the thread whilst looking for sites associated with Agent Orange as I'd like to know a little more about the author himself.
    I see that there hasn't been much activity on the blog for quite some time. Is anyone still interested in pursuing it?
    For reference I'm 17+ years C&S, originally as a half-measures AA member (6 year habitual user but no sponsor or steps) who has serious reservations about AA.
    One thing that can be said on the religious/spiritual debate that AA is nothing if not a church!
    On the effectiveness of the "treatment", who knows what the validity and overall methodology of the various studies really is?
    In my own highly non-scientific study MOST of us who get sober in AA eventually tire of it and leave: remaining sober, usually...

  35. "God, let me set aside everything I think I know about you, AA, myself and my disease for an open mind and a new experience. Let me be honest and thorough ... AMEN"

  36. What do you suggest? Psychiatrists, physicians and clergymen have had very minimal success in treating "true" alcoholism. AA is not a religious program. So your arguement has no merit. Members of AA come from all different social, religious, economic, geographic etc. arenas. The program is spiritual. If that is something that one is uncomfortable with, they may change their way of thinking if they stop reading articles like this and actually attend a meeting or read the Big Book of AA. It is here to stay and be of service to ANYONE who has a desire to stop drinking.

  37. Thank God for choices...there are as many different treatments as there are alcoholics and we have choices. Find what works with you and stick with it. Live and let live is what I believe in. AA works for me and if it stops working, I will search out something else. I do not believe in God as written in the bible but I do believe that there is something greater than myself that runs through all of us.Connects us all. I call it love. So for me, God is Love. I wish everyone a happy and peaceful life with lessons that help you grow. I honestly believe we are not meant to know all the answers, if we did, why would get you out of bed in the morning???
    Life is meant to be lived, so live it in what ever way works for you so long as you aren't hurting anyone else.
    Good day everyone...Debbie

  38. The best part about AA is that it is there in the phone book and someone normally answers the phone or will call you back and when you are all fucked up you can go and sit with a human who has been through the same shit. The rest of it, being exactly having to follow the local leaders laws,(and you must)exalting Bill and the Bob as Saints, and paraying and even doing these steps, being powerless is a screw up. The group conciense is sometimes powerful with the right group leader. Other than that, I always feel bad about the first guy who tu get involved with because he or she gets real offended when yu get tired of their control over you.