AA has never claimed it can cure all the alcoholism in society. It is a program for people who want it, not for everyone who needs it.
I have been sober for 18 years. It is not important whether or not you believe me. I know the benefits I have gotten. My many friends in AA have been sober 5, 10, 20, 30 years. Surely those are benefits, even if everyone in my AA group suddenly went back to the bottle tomorrow!
There is a small but crucial mistake in your first sentence above that probably accounts for more 90% of the misunderstandings and hostility that some people have about AA.
AA does not say that anyone who drinks is powerless over alcohol. Not even the guy who gets drunk and drives drunk. Maybe he is just an irresponsible jerk. AA does not say that “you” (whoever “you” is) are powerless over alcohol. AA is a group of people who have concluded individually that – without help – they are powerless.
We have come to this conclusion after MANY bitter failures of our own unaided will power in the face of our addiction. The first Step in AA says “We admitted (NOT "we told you”) that we were powerless over alcohol. . . ." People either come to this conclusion on their own before they come to AA, or else they decide FOR THEMSELVES that they are alcoholics after comparing their experience and their feelings with those of other alcoholics. YOU have to decide.
Now you ask an excellent question: “If someone starts drinking after quitting AA with no detrimental effect to their life would you cite them as a success or a failure?”
Neither. I would say they had no business in AA. If you can control your drinking and it has no detrimental effect on your life, then how can you take the first step in AA, which is to admit you are powerless (by yourself) against alcohol? You would be lying! What’s your little game, fella? Are you trying to get free coffee and cookies out of us?
Seriously, I have no doubt that many first-timers in AA who never come back are just people who need to learn to drink responsibly. They sit there politely, hear us talking, and nothing seems to click because they are not really ONE OF US.
If they can learn to drink responsibly, I envy them, I wish them well, and have a cold one! I hope they will always think well of AA even if they do not belong there, and maybe their experience will be useful someday if they have a friend or family member who really IS an alcoholic.
You’ll have to believe me when I tell you that quitting by myself or drinking moderately did not work after 20 years of trying. Maybe it can work for someone else. I donno. I’m me, not somebody else!
AA has worked for me for 18 years, takes a couple of hours a week, I voluntarily give about $4 a week, and there are over 100 AA meetings in my city to choose from. If something works better for someone else, GO TO IT! I wish you only the best, and you have all my love.