Trashing AA as “Irrational”

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 luxury treatmentmoney 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 thisgavel2 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!

microscopeIf 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!


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Filed under AA, Alcoholism, Recovery, Sobriety, Twelve Steps

12 responses to “Trashing AA as “Irrational”

  1. Wixie

    What a great response to a terrible misleading article. I couldn’t have said it any better. AA saved my sorry butt and gave me a life (10-4-83). I will always be grateful and will always pass on my blessing. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Eileen hudson

      Totally agree…..A.A. Saved my life is all I know. I was living in a hopeless state of mind for a long time……God and A.A was the answer for me and grateful to have 15 yrs sober today..

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ned

    There is a whole industry of bashing AA look for websites, it’s not a big deal it’s been going on for years. It’s just someone who is trying to make money.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have no problem with the article, but she never addresses those 10% of us, (me) hopeless alcoholics & addicts (and compulsive eaters) who MUST implement a complete abstinence and replacement therapy (i.e.: the 12 steps, the fellowship, service to fellow man) type of program. If you can drink safely, as a great speaker from Texas says, “Rock on!” I can’t, and I have tried that experiment countless times.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anonymous

    People keep posting this to facebook, blowing their anonymity in a public forum, as well as forgetting that AA has no opinion on outside issues. Someone else’s opinion of AA is an outside issue. Who seriously gives a fuck what someone says about AA? If you get your feathers all ruffled, then maybe you don’t really believe in it. I love AA, and you’ll never see me need to defend AA against any “attack”. All YOU’RE gonna do is make us look like a bunch of crazy people, so take a bow. Attraction, rather than promotion.


    • I disagree. Not everyone reposting this blog is alcoholic; many love AA because it has turned their loved ones around. Further, there is no last name associated with this blog, but even if there were, nowhere do I claim to be a spokesperson for AA. I speak for myself. As for the trend of interpreting Tradition 11 to mean that alcoholics should all remain closeted about their recovery, that is a tremendous misfortune for AA. Marty Mann, who had Bill and Bob’s full support, could not have been more public about her alcoholism and recovery. So long as healthy, happy, productive people conceal from others the fact that they found a solution in AA, the general public will continue to envision alcoholics as low-bottom deviants. Watch the documentary “The Anonymous People”
      ( or see my stand on it here:


  5. TJ

    This is a fair and well-argued rebuttal to Glaiser’s Atlantic piece, which was also fair and well argued. I think there is more room for common ground. Glaiser is not arguing against AA participants; rather, she is arguing against public perceptions, accommodation, and expectations of the AA program. AA does not need to be defended against its critics; it needs to be defended against its devotees.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Alexei

    She’s wrong on so many levels. Thanks for the thoughts, Louise. Sounds like Anonymous halo is getting a little too tight.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ummm .. there’s a pill I can take and then be able to drink without feeling the effects of the alcohol? Okay, but what about skipping the booze, the pill, and all the “control” I would exhibit, and just have water instead?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: The “Irrational” AA Article and It’s Blowback | Greenagel Counseling Services, LLC

  9. “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.”
    Never heard it stated so succinctly or accurately!
    Thanks for your illumination of the concept Louisa!!

    Liked by 1 person

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