Alcoholics Anonymous: 3 Reasons AA Meetings Don’t Work

September 15, 2012

Alcoholics AnonymousAlcoholics Anonymous is one of the best resources for people struggling to overcome alcohol abuse. The nonprofit organization has setup over 110,000 groups all over the world. Millions of people have used Alcoholics Anonymous to treat their substance abuse issues. Is it really, though, the foremost solution?

Alcoholics Anonymous is the first line of defense for most people trying to overcome their substance abuse problems. The organization insists that it is an effective line of treatment. Despite their claims and the organization’s popularity, some unbiased studies have shown otherwise. The National Institute of Health and a study from the Cochrane Collaboration have shown that the effectiveness of 12-step groups cannot be determined.

Here are some reasons that AA may not work for you personally:

Can Exacerbate Sense of Hopelessness

Alcoholics Anonymous repeats mantras that treat alcoholism as a disease. People are told that they are powerless to fight addiction. People struggling to overcome their alcohol addiction may come to see their path to recovery as hopeless. Many addiction counselors have said this approach is dangerous, because people need to be empowered and hold a sense of self-control to overcome their problem. Telling people that alcoholism is an incurable disease also gives them an excuse, should they have a relapse.

Members May Feed Each Other’s Addictions

People who attend 12-step programs come in many forms. Some legitimately want help, while others have been ordered to attend after receiving a DUI. Some have more willpower and a more positive outlook than others. People who are only passively interested (or not at all) can be a negative influence on others. Also, people can be discouraged and have a relapse. One member may have a relapse after losing their job or going through a rough divorce; that relapse can send riptides through the rest of the group as they share their story. That can be particularly true if that member has been clean for a long time and other members have come to revere them.

One major drawback with AA meetings is that members come to focus on other people’s failures and successes as much as their own personal failures and struggles. This can shape their outlook in a negative way.

Doesn’t Recognize Individual Problems

There are different reasons people become alcoholics. People may suffer from alcoholism due to genetic problems.  Some theories state that people may become chronically dependent on alcohol after drinking so much. Most 12-step groups treat people as if they fall into these categories. However, not everyone who attends AA meetings is suffering from those problems. A large number of members attend AA meetings because they are struggling through major challenges in their lives. They may suffer from any of the following conditions:

  • Organic depression.
  • Situational depression stemming from a recent painful life experience (such as a divorce, loss of a job or death of a loved one).
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from an unresolved long-term problem (this could include childhood emotional abuse, combat experiences in the military or being the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault).

In these situations, alcoholism is actually a symptom of a larger illness. Although excessive drinking still needs to be curbed, it may not be the real or sole issue that needs to be addressed.

Spiritual Approach

Lastly, Alcoholics Anonymous takes a spiritual treatment approach. The Supreme Court has even ruled that the 12-step program is religious, despite the fact the group maintains that its approach is spiritual and not religious.

Many people do not share the spiritual attitudes 12-step programs advocate. Some of these people have felt uncomfortable and misunderstood when participating in AA meetings. Hearing a message that encourages them to embrace a spiritual philosophy towards alcoholism can be unhelpful or even expound upon feelings of hopelessness.

Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most common approaches most people follow when they try to receive treatment. Unfortunately, it may not always be the right solution for everyone. If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism, you may want to look into all your treatment options and decide what works best for you.

About the Author: Kalen Smith writes about treatment strategies to assist people suffering from drug and alcohol abuse. For more information on whether you need a form of drug or alcohol rehab, Smith suggests reading “Should I go to Rehab? Signs that it’s Time to Seek Help” by Adam Watterson.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

choose a rehab June 3, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Nice article about the flip side of AA. While it certainly works for a lot of people out there, it is also certainly not the answer for everyone. I especially like the point about how there are many different reasons that people turn to alcohol. If you are counting on AA to solve all your problems, but you’re suffering from depression, PTSD, long-term emotional issues, etc you’re doing a disservice to yourself if you just focus on AA and don’t get help for the underlying issue that is causing the alcoholism.


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