Sober Truths: 50 years of AA critics, bad science and bad attitudes 

Finding Fault like there's a reward to it - Isn't there more to constructive criticism than pointing out the faults in others? Meet the new book (same as the old book) that takes a pot-shot at AA, 12 Steps and the Treatment modality that embraces this "bad science." Authors Lance and Zackary Dodes sing a familiar refrain in The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry. This just in: AA is flawed and unscientific. OK, so room for improvement isn't news. But is AA ineffective? So, in Episode 04 of Rebellion Dogs Radio, we look at AA-bashing from Dr. Cain in 1963's "AA: Cult or Cure?" to Penn & Teller's Bullshit episode on Showtime and this new book. We look at AA's own triennial survey results from 1977 to 1989 and why critics see embarrassing 5% success (or let's call it failure) rates. We counter that with peer reviewed studies that call such a conclusion erroneous or misleading. For 50 years and then some, as a fellowship, we have inspired many to change their life for the better. We have also inspired some to be critical of us.

Bill W was not reactive; he thought that our critics weren't all wrong and we could learn from them.  From Cain to Dodes, fellowship reaction is always divided. Many are dismissive or hurt by the mean spirited condemnation. Others find it a breath of fresh and feel vindicated for their own frustration with AA's preaching personal inventory on one hand but being resistant or belligerent about meaningful change as a fellowship. It's a question worth asking for each of us: Am I change-resistant; do I default to contempt prior to investigation when:

  1. I am criticized,
  2. someone proposes a change in my home group,
  3. or, in this case, when someone is publicly critical of AA as a whole?"

It's a regular Rebellion Dog-fight this month and we invite you to listen in or join in on the conversation. We race through the history of debunking and debunking-busting in 45 minutes. We are 100% in favor of skepticism. But have these critics got their facts straight?

At the end you can hear Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life's author Joe C, playing lead and singing back-up on The Chronicle's song Jesse and he wrote, "Chronic Malcontent," the prefect theme song for Episode #4.

Read or download the transcript of Episode 04 HERE
 

For links to Don McIntire, “How Well Does A.A. Work?”in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, AA Recovery Outcome Rates – Contemporary Myth and Misconception and Hoffmann (2003) “Recovery careers of people in Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Penn & Teller Bullshit show on Showtime




2 comments

  • Bobby  Howell

    Bobby Howell Seymour, Ct. 96483

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship. Initially AA started as a fellowship. The fellowship became a 12 step program. It did not work well as a 12 step program. Bill W. discovered that the fellowship was much more effective in helping other alcoholics to recover. By the time of Bill's death the fellowship was proving to be quite successful. Membership in AA was growing at the rate of doubling about every 10 years. After Bill died the fellowship slowly changed. AA again morphed into a TWELVE STEP PROGRAM. AA continued to grow on its own momentum for a couple more decades, continuing to double ever 10 years. Today, by AA's own count, there are less members than 20 years ago. Does AA help others? Or do they only help themselves, and shut the doors. In 2013 AA gained 875 new members. In 2014 AA lost 97,000 members. This information is from Box 459, AA's own newsletter. There is a solution. Bill W. left it for the suffering alcoholic. But it is not a set of directions. It is a path to be followed thoroughly. The fellowship (not Fellowship) works. Pride has been AA's worst enemy.

    Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship. Initially AA started as a fellowship. The fellowship
    became a 12 step program. It did not work well as a 12 step program. Bill W. discovered
    that the fellowship was much more effective in helping other alcoholics to recover. By
    the time of Bill's death the fellowship was proving to be quite successful. Membership
    in AA was growing at the rate of doubling about every 10 years.
    After Bill died the fellowship slowly changed. AA again morphed into a TWELVE STEP PROGRAM. AA continued to grow on its own momentum for a couple more decades,
    continuing to double ever 10 years. Today, by AA's own count, there are less members
    than 20 years ago. Does AA help others? Or do they only help themselves, and shut
    the doors.
    In 2013 AA gained 875 new members. In 2014 AA lost 97,000 members. This information is from Box 459, AA's own newsletter.
    There is a solution. Bill W. left it for the suffering alcoholic. But it is not a set of
    directions. It is a path to be followed thoroughly. The fellowship (not Fellowship)
    works. Pride has been AA's worst enemy.

  • Rebellion Dogs Publishing

    Rebellion Dogs Publishing

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments Bobby. AA' population this year follows a trend since the peak in membership in the early 1990s. I resist the temptation to conclude what this means. Is it that, as you say, AA meetings seem more closed (proud) and less accessible and therefor people are voting with their feet? A more rigid AA would feel like home to a smaller group of members. Or is AA following a trend reported in the book, BOWLING ALONE which comments on America's trending social habits? Church and bowling, bingo and bookclubs are all seeing drops in participation - at least face to face. How many AA members ( who are members because they say that they are) don't go to f2f meetings? What is the online AA population? GSO wouldn't know because they don't track these members; they only survey members (or more accurately, attendees) of f2f groups. Bucking the trend, AAs set a record for attendance in Atlanta. The previous quinquennial record was in the 1995 World Convention and while San Antonio 2010 saw a rise over 2000 and 2005 attendance, the 95 record wasn't broken until this year. I would agree that many and maybe most AAs see AA the program and AA the fellowship as indistinguishable. That said, there isn't a universal or majority driven demand for conformity of this interdependent interpretation of what AA is. Any two or more members can hold a meeting and forego any connection to the Steps or the Big Book they were written in. I was at a meeting in Pennsylvania that was about the book LIVING SOBER. They read the Traditions but not the Steps. The reading and discussion was around the chapter on going to meetings. Some made reference to the Steps as most of discussion was about what we each get from meetings, what we look for in a home group etc. others talked about sponsorship, service and or forming new friendships. A favorite AA group of mine in Toronto reads only the Grapevine preamble and then the chair solicits topics from the attendees. While part of district and the overall General Sersvice structure, this group, We Are Not Saints, has no formal support or criticism of the Steps. They are a great example of, as you suggest, "the fellowship working" in 2015. Pride is an enemy to each of us AAs. It rears itself regularly in me and while I aim to contain my own pride it continues to embarrass me from time to time. Thanks again for joining the conversation.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments Bobby.
    AA' population this year follows a trend since the peak in membership in the early 1990s. I resist the temptation to conclude what this means. Is it that, as you say, AA meetings seem more closed (proud) and less accessible and therefor people are voting with their feet? A more rigid AA would feel like home to a smaller group of members. Or is AA following a trend reported in the book, BOWLING ALONE which comments on America's trending social habits? Church and bowling, bingo and bookclubs are all seeing drops in participation - at least face to face. How many AA members ( who are members because they say that they are) don't go to f2f meetings? What is the online AA population? GSO wouldn't know because they don't track these members; they only survey members (or more accurately, attendees) of f2f groups.
    Bucking the trend, AAs set a record for attendance in Atlanta. The previous quinquennial record was in the 1995 World Convention and while San Antonio 2010 saw a rise over 2000 and 2005 attendance, the 95 record wasn't broken until this year.
    I would agree that many and maybe most AAs see AA the program and AA the fellowship as indistinguishable. That said, there isn't a universal or majority driven demand for conformity of this interdependent interpretation of what AA is. Any two or more members can hold a meeting and forego any connection to the Steps or the Big Book they were written in. I was at a meeting in Pennsylvania that was about the book LIVING SOBER. They read the Traditions but not the Steps. The reading and discussion was around the chapter on going to meetings. Some made reference to the Steps as most of discussion was about what we each get from meetings, what we look for in a home group etc. others talked about sponsorship, service and or forming new friendships.
    A favorite AA group of mine in Toronto reads only the Grapevine preamble and then the chair solicits topics from the attendees. While part of district and the overall General Sersvice structure, this group, We Are Not Saints, has no formal support or criticism of the Steps. They are a great example of, as you suggest, "the fellowship working" in 2015. Pride is an enemy to each of us AAs. It rears itself regularly in me and while I aim to contain my own pride it continues to embarrass me from time to time. Thanks again for joining the conversation.

Add comment