Problems with Alcoholics Anonymous

There are several flaws or problems with Alcoholics Anonymous.  First and foremost is that it is an incomplete approach to alcoholism.  There is no denying that it does have many good benefits that are helpful to some people, but it is limited to a select few.

It offers emotional support, people you can relate to, a place to go to fill your time and feel connected to others, helps you reconnect with your morals and values which have most often been obliterated by drunkenness, helps break down denial, build a new social life that takes you away from the old places and friends, educates, provides structure and hope and gives people something to hang onto.  These are all great aspects, but it does not encompass all that is needed.

Spirituality Alone Does Not Cure

Nourishing a rich spiritual life is an important component of maintaining long-term sobriety, but it is not the only component and it does not have to include a higher power. People who don't believe in God or follow a spiritual path can still find sobriety by addressing their biochemical issues. Not only that, it does not address the biochemical roots of addiction, which is why relapse is so common.

The other point of issue with the spiritual/religious aspect in Alcoholics Anonymous, is that AA comes very close to being it's own religion. It tends to be a little punitive, rigid and shaming and tries to brainwash the individual into believing everything they say is true and abiding by their rules.  It encourages powerlessness, which can be counterproductive. Regardless of how defiantly they deny it, AA is a religious program.

Spirituality is about the relationship you have with your core self and the world around you and finding meaning and purpose in your life, while religion is about beliefs and practices that involve God or a higher power. AA and the 12 steps clearly fall under the religion category.

Spirituality is a very personal, individualized experience.  People get very mixed up and think of religion and spirituality as one.  Being spiritual does not necessarily have anything to do with religion or God, although religion tries to make you believe they are one in the same.

I don't believe in a "higher power" and yet consider myself a deeply spiritual person.  My spiritual connection and fulfillment is found in communing with nature, meditation, writing and my relationship with self and others. 

Living a spiritual life does not have to include a relationship with a higher power and one does not have to embrace the whole powerlessness concept.  We are not powerless over addiction.  If  the alcoholic addresses the biochemical roots of their alcoholism, they are empowered to take control of their recovery path.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with using spirituality to assist in recovery of any illness, as a matter of fact, it is an essential component of my life, but not many people can make a full recovery with spirituality alone because the real cause of addiction is not addressed. Additionally, not everyone can embrace this concept. Many people with alcoholism are too damaged physically and emotionally to begin working on their spiritual life, and some people are uncomfortable with the whole spiritual/religious aspect of AA, and other people don't believe in God.

Even those individuals who already have strong religious or spiritual beliefs most often do not succeed in long-term sobriety, which leads us to one of the most important problems with Alcoholics Anonymous; the success rate.

Low Success Rates

The biggest flaw with Alcoholics Anonymous is that it has a very low success rate for long-term sobriety.  Accurate statistics are hard to come by because of many factors, such as anonymity and dishonesty, but most studies reveal that it only has about a 2.5 percent success rate for over 5 years of sobriety.  Some statistics have it as low as .01 percent.

Putting all statistics aside, one only needs to ask around any Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to clearly see what the statistics are.  At any given meeting, at any given time, most people that are present are newcomers.  Membership usually consists of people who have only a day sober or a few days or weeks.  There are a few people who have 90 days or 120 and maybe 1 or 2 people with 6 months or one year.  Depending on the size of the meeting, there may be one, or if you're really lucky two old timers, someone with more than 5 years.  Old timers are far and few between.

Most alcoholics do not recover from their condition; they die. Those who do recover using a 12 step program fight constant cravings to drink and suffer with a variety of other symptoms like irritability, anxiety, tension, fatigue and depression that has a deep impact on the quality of their life and forces them to be dependent upon attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings the rest of their life.

Staying sober is a constant battle and they continue to be addicted to a variety of other substances and activities like sugar, caffeine, carbs, sex and cigarettes. Even Bill Wilson (aka Bill W.),the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was plagued with symptoms like depression and fatigue and remained an incurable addict in more ways than one until the day he died. It is not well known information, but the infamous Bill Wilson was severely addicted to nicotine, caffeine and sex. His, so called divinely guided messages from God, were actually the result of hallucinations, sexual obsession and shame.

Additionally, we’re talking about long-term sobriety, not short-term. Sure, a good deal of people can get a few months of sobriety or a year under their belt with some serious white knuckling, but in the overall picture of life, one year is not a long time. That does not constitute long-term, stable sobriety. Not only that, continuously fighting overwhelming cravings to drink does not constitute success.

Regardless of how defiantly AA denies it, the bottom line is that AA and all 12 step programs are religious programs that employ the use of a variety of cult-like practices that drive many people out the door and back to the bottle.

Another important fact to keep in mind is that almost all alcoholism treatment centers are based on the 12 step program and demand that all patients attend Alcoholics Anonymous.  AA meetings are built into the treatment curriculum and the 12 steps and serenity prayer are recited several times a day.  So that means that treatment centers are having about the same success rate and failures as AA.  Alcoholics Anonymous and traditional treatment are basically one in the same.

When I was in rehab more than 24 years ago, our counselor told us that only 3 of us would still be around in a year.  There were approximately 30 of us in rehab at the time.  I remember feeling horrified by that number, but I was determined I would be one of those three.

Research has found that spontaneous remission of alcoholism will occur about .05 percent of the time, so you actually have a better chance of staying sober without treatment than you do with alcoholics anonymous.

Another problem with Alcoholics Anonymous is that it promotes dependence on the program.  It replaces one addiction with another, instead of teaching the individual how to take the skills they learn and apply them to their life outside the program.  They will brain wash you into believing you must attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for the rest of your life or you'll get drunk. This simply is not true. Once you address the biochemical issues of alcoholism, your cravings disappear and staying sober is no longer an issue. You can stop drinking without AA, but if Alcoholics Anonymous is used, it should be a transitional phase for the early phases of recovery, not something you're sentenced to for the rest of your life.

My Personal Journey To Sobriety

At this point you may be thinking, wow, this woman is totally against Alcoholics Anonymous, but that is not the case at all. I would just like to help you see the limits that it holds and point out how you can achieve sobriety more successfully, with or without AA.

I was a chronic, falling off my barstool, disastrous drunk and drug addict when I found Alcoholics Anonymous and traditional rehab and it saved my life.  I will be forever grateful to my rehab counselor and the people of AA who helped me get back on my feet.

It was the foundation in my sobriety, but there came a point when I hit a wall.  I could not continue to maintain my sobriety without moving onward and away from Alcoholics Anonymous.  It gave me what I needed to begin, but it wasn't a complete picture.
I entered traditional rehabilitation in 1988.  I participated in 30 days of in patient treatment and then went to a halfway house for 3 months.  I wanted to stay sober more than anything in the world and I followed the requirements of the program thoroughly.

My withdrawal and the aftermath that followed was intense, severe and prolonged.  I lived with extreme levels of anxiety every minute of every day which escalated into severe anxiety attacks several times a day and frequent bouts of hyperventilating. I didn't stop shaking from head to toe until about six months later and even then it would return from time to time. I simply couldn't function normally.

I completely threw myself into Alcoholics Anonymous - 200%.  For the 90 meetings in 90 days requirement, I attended somewhere between 180 and 270 meetings in 90 days.  I was in a meeting 2 or 3 times a day for the first 90 days.  For the next year and a half I continued to go to meetings 4 or 5 times a week.  My entire life was AA and I wouldn't have been caught dead saying anything against them, because at the time I didn't think there were any problems with Alcoholics Anonymous.

I helped set up meetings, tear them down, I chaired meetings, attended AA dances, dinners, conferences and camp outs.  I volunteered my time at the alcohol clinic to help with new patients.  I gave my first lead when I had 6 months sober and for the next year I was giving leads all over the tri-county area.  Everyone in my life was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I worked the 12 steps forwards and backwards more times than I could count.

The problem with this picture was this:  I was sober, but I was incredibly miserable physically, psychologically and cognitively.

A year and a half later and I was still crippled with daily anxiety and anxiety attacks.  I couldn't think clearly, couldn't remember things, my brain felt fuzzy, I couldn't stay focused on the task at hand.  I was extremely irritable and agitated.  It was very difficult to be a mother.  I loved my son deeply who was only 7 at the time and our relationship was still suffering immensely. 

I experienced wild and erratic mood swings and I was depressed.  Once again I felt like I couldn't go on with things as they were.  I didn't want to drink, but began to feel that I was at high risk because I needed to have relief from the intense symptoms I was experiencing.

At this time, an amazing thing occurred and another woman in Alcoholics Anonymous gave me a book to read called "The Missing Diagnosis" by Dr. Orion C. Truss.  It was here that I found the much needed relief I looked for.  This book led me to several other books and a new doctor.  Over a period of time I pieced together the missing parts of the puzzle. 

Not only had I discovered relief for myself, but I had also discovered why Alcoholics Anonymous is so unsuccessful.

Biochemical Repairs Are Needed

What is it that Alcoholics Anonymous and traditional rehabilitation is missing? 

Alcoholics Anonymous was formally developed in 1935. Since that time we have learned an astounding amount of information and have a much better understanding of the addiction process. Scientific evidence now tells us that alcoholism, or any addiction, has its roots in imbalanced or depleted neurotransmitters in the brain, nutritional deficiencies and allergy. Yet AA and 12 step programs have not grown or expanded their treatment approach in any way. With all other physical diseases, we consistently update and change our treatment approaches as we learn more information about the terrain; but that is not the case with alcoholism or addiction, it remains stubbornly stuck in the past.

One of the most destructive problems with Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step treatment programs is that they refuse to even look at new scientific evidence, listen to new insights or hear anything that contradicts the original AA principles, and continue to treat addiction with an outdated model that besides being sexist, shaming, abusive, cult like and patriarchal isn’t and never has been very successful. What’s even worse is that they rationalize and justify their failure by blaming the victim.

Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 steps are based on the beliefs of a Christian evangelical cult called the Oxford Group that attempts to control people’s behavior through guilt, mind control and shaming them into submission rather than a real medical treatment that focuses on the true physiological roots of alcoholism. These distasteful practices have resulted in the largest part of the addicted population to fail to maintain sobriety and/or take issue with the current treatment approach and often walk away.

Most people do not succeed in a 12 step program because it is an ineffective program that does not address the true root of alcoholism, but AA does not consider that as a failure of the program. Instead they blame the alcoholic with statements like “they haven't hit their bottom yet,” “they're in denial,” or “they didn't work the program.” When in reality, that has nothing to do with it. 

People leave or don’t succeed with AA and 12 step treatment programs for a variety of very valid and healthy reasons such as they are uncomfortable with: the powerlessness concept; the “group think” mentality; the religious aspect; the abusive aspect; the rigid, dogmatic structure; the shaming; the blaming; the sexist aspect; the patriarchal aspect; the archaic aspect; the demeaning aspect; the abusive criticizing on the hot seat; and the cult-like brainwashing methods to name a few. Then since there are no other treatment options available to them, they return to drinking.

People do not succeed with AA and the 12 step program because it does not address the true root of alcoholism. For successful recovery from alcoholism and long-term sobriety without intense cravings and discomfort there must be biochemical repairs.

Biochemical repairs consist of restoring balance to the neurotransmitters and body chemistry through diet, environment and nutritional supplementation.  Conditions like food allergies or sensitivities, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, candida overgrowth, chemical sensitivities and nutritional deficiencies, which alter neurotransmitters need to be addressed.

The alcoholic cannot continue to smoke, eat sugar, drink coffee and eat grains because they keep the addiction process active.  They must stabilize their blood sugar, replenish depleted nutrients and make major life style changes.

When I began to make biochemical repairs, all the symptoms that had plagued me for most of my life and led to my drinking disappeared.  The depression, anxiety, irritability, cravings to drink or drug etc. etc. were all miraculously gone.

If you look around any Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, you will see that most of them are smoking, drinking coffee and eating donuts or some other form of sugar like a fiend.  Everyone I knew struggled to stay sober and to live life.  The negative symptoms I lived with previously are pretty much the norm for alcoholics in recovery.

So I was very excited with what I had learned and wanted to share my new found knowledge with the people I loved in AA.  To my surprise they didn't want to hear it.  They rolled their eyes and walked away, criticized me, told me I'd get drunk, shut me out and eventually withdrew and distanced themselves from me when the couldn't manipulate me back into the brain washing.

The only person who didn't tell me I'd get drunk or withdraw from me was my counselor from rehab.  I continued to stay in touch with him off and on for many years after leaving Alcoholics Anonymous.  He never embraced the biochemical knowledge I shared with him, but I was very grateful that he didn't turn his back on me.

I had quit smoking and once this happened I could no longer stand to sit in a room full of cigarette smoke, because it would give me headaches, breathing difficulties etc.  Back in those days smoking was allowed in public places and every AA meeting was full of so much cigarette smoke you couldn't see across the room. The distance between me and other AA members continued to grow larger and larger until I no longer fit in at all and didn't feel the need to be there anymore.  Slowly I began to stop going to meetings until eventually I gave them up all together.

Cravings to drink DID NOT return.  As a matter of fact, drinking was no longer an issue at all in my life.  I didn't think about it or struggle with it, period.

It's been over 24 years now and I continue to be sober without cravings.  I haven't attended a meeting since sometime in 1990.  I went back to college and picked up a couple degrees in psychology and counseling and now dedicate my life to educating anyone who will listen about the importance of biochemical issues in regard to addiction and mental health.

Alternative treatment centers that approach alcoholism from a biochemical viewpoint, as I have described above, have a success rate of about 75 percent and even as high as 84 percent.

If you'd like to learn more about how to quit drinking without AA and how I used the biochemical approach to maintain long-term sobriety, I share my story and protocol in my book Get Sober Stay Sober: The Truth About Alcoholism. Alternatively, you may want to take a look at my Clean and Sober for Life Jump-Start Program for a more complete program. If you need a more personal touch, I am also available for sobriety coaching.

Some AA members like to email me and vehemently defend their program and attack me. To you I say this: First and foremost, your behavior is case in point for illustrating the wide depth of problems within Alcoholics Anonymous. No one has forced you to read this page. At any time you are completely free to hit your back button and go elsewhere. I don't read these types of mails, nor do I respond to them, so you are wasting your time. I'm not here to convince anyone to leave AA.  If AA works for you, then by all means keep doing what you're doing.

However, if it doesn't work for you or if you've hit a wall, then perhaps you need something in addition to or instead of.

I'm also not here to try and convince anyone not to attend AA.  As I mentioned earlier, there are some definite benefits to the 12 step program, especially in the early phases of recovery, and if you're one of those people who find Alcoholics Anonymous to be a good fit, but still can't achieve sobriety, then perhaps you need a combination of both.

As the saying goes, "Take what works and leave the rest."

I am here to provide the alcoholic with the facts so they can make the choice that is best for them.

If traditional treatment centers incorporated biochemical repairs into their program, then the problems with Alcoholics Anonymous would not be quite so large and we could probably see amazing results.