Maybe you’ve seen Gabrielle Glaser’s Atlantic Monthly article entitled, “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous.” Glaser, a self-proclaimed normie (i.e. non-alcoholic), attempts to illuminate the scam of Alcoholics Anonymous, which passes itself off as the sole antidote to alcoholism, and advocates instead for newly developed drug treatments as a solution more “scientific” than AA’s program of abstinence and spiritual growth.
Maybe you’re indifferent to both this article and AA. But if you love AA for having saved your life and yet this article doesn’t anger you, you work a WAY better program than I do! I am angered and for many reasons – the foremost being that I am fond of truth, and the article is rife with inaccuracies. A second is that I don’t believe in increasing people’s suffering for the sake of a snappy article (or book sales). Nothing can be gained by slamming AA, but so much can be lost!
The most glaring error, to me, is Glaser’s lumping together AA, which makes no money for anyone, with the treatment center industry that rakes in tremendous profits from addicts and their stricken families by “selling” what one can find freely in AA. Yes, without question, some treatment centers place under-qualified counselors in positions of power and exploit the crisis of addiction to charge exorbitant fees in exchange for a Big Book and an introduction to the steps – but they are not AA! Quite the converse, they embody every disaster that Bill, Bob, and other pioneers of AA tried to avert with the 12 Traditions.
Wrong also is holding AA responsible for the judicial practice of “sentencing” people to AA. I can’t imagine anything further from the 11th Tradition of “attraction rather than promotion.” As we often hear in the rooms, “AA is not for people who need it; it’s for people who want it.” But thanks to the courts’ total disregard of this policy, many people are forced to attend AA meetings. Like the treatment industry, the U.S. punitive system exploits AA, funneling unwilling people into the program simply because it lacks the means to otherwise deal with them. (That thousands of lives have been saved this way, however, can’t be denied.)
Glaser’s allegation that AA touts itself as the sole solution to alcoholism contradicts a clear statement in the Big Book’s forward to the second edition: “Upon therapy for the alcoholic himself, we surely have no monopoly. Yet it is our hope that all those who have as yet found no answer may begin to find one in the pages of this book…” [italics mine]. In other words, if you CAN’T find any other way out, we have something to offer you here.
Glaser implies that Marty Mann and her 1940s fellows in the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism were scheming to promote AA: “But AA supporters worked to make sure their approach remained central. Marty Mann joined prominent Americans…” Gosh, Gabrielle, that’s right! They were trying to hog the spotlight so they could get…uh… money? fame? Does it ever enter your mind that their sole intention was to help dying alcoholics who had not yet heard of any solution? Do you ever consider that such is what AA is all about?
Perhaps most irritating to me, but indicative of a larger societal misconception, Glaser confounds AA’s higher power with religiosity: “‘Alcohol- and substance-use disorders are the realm of medicine,’ McLellan says. ‘This is not the realm of priests.’” Excuse me, but what the hell do priests have to do with AA? Absolutely nothing! AA is a spiritual program, not a religious one. Why is this distinction so difficult for so many to appreciate? Religion tells people what to believe; spirituality calls for an inward search for meaning and truth. The only goal dictated by spirituality is growth toward loving kindness.
Science, Glaser claims, does not support this charlatan program of abstinence and spiritual growth. In this oversight, she ignores a wealth of scientific research supporting the success of AA (see Substance Abuse: Alcoholics Anonymous Science Update), simply because no study can figure out why it works. Spiritual growth does not show up under a microscope – so it must amount to nothing!
If Glaser were to succeed in leading alcoholics away from AA, what great gains would be made? If alcoholics took opioid antagonists like naltrexone or the muscle relaxant baclofen sensibly as Glaser propounds, if everyone would stop this silly business of abstinence and spirituality, from what would Glaser be rescuing people? “The prospect of never taking another sip is daunting, to say the least. It comes with social costs and may even be worse for one’s health than moderate drinking: research has found that having a drink or two a day could reduce the risk of heart disease, dementia, and diabetes.” Oh – I see! Abstinence is scary, so we shouldn’t attempt it. And not drinking, based on a handful of studies in the past 2 decades, suggests there might be potential benefits for some people from drinking moderately.
For alcoholics, these potential benefits from 1-2 drinks per day do not put much on the scale against death or the misery of living with full blown alcoholism. Sadly, I am willing to bet that Glaser’s article will, for scores of people in the difficult, early stages of sobriety, serve as excuse for relapse. Of those, how many will die? Will Glaser ever know? Does she care?
There is so much more to AA than not drinking! People in the program evolve into their best selves. In a matter of a months, they realize a potential that could not have been brought about by years of opioid antagonist pills and therapy. In AA I learned to seek a guiding voice other than my ego’s, to love imperfect people as I am imperfect, and to be of service – the most rewarding pursuit life has to offer. For the first time in my life, I discovered what it is to be happy from the inside out. I am a different person today because of AA: quitting drinking is only a small part of that. How tragic to think that Glaser’s finger pointing may rob others of what I have found!