Is it really fair to talk about AA "success rates"?

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?:smiley:

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.

Well, the implication then is that all of the people (such as the OP) who do use AA and attest that it is the thing that keeps them sober (and there are hundreds of thousands of such people) are somehow deluded–that they have been sucked in by some kind of cult-like thinking. That contradicts everything I know of the close friends I have in AA/NA. They aren’t fools by any stretch. AA isn’t medical treatment. An alcoholic doesn’t go into AA and say, “Go ahead, work your magic on me!” It isn’t something that you can perform upon a person and whose effectiveness you can gauge by some kind of external metric. Rather, AA and its placebo collapse into the same thing. If it “worked” for only one person, then we could say that it works.

Congratulations, Valteron. Good luck to you!

My Mother had been sober almost 30 years when she passed away; she said the same thing and, despite that by then she was a renowned counselor, was still going to meetings.

I lost track of the number of times I was doing something with my Mom and a stranger walked up, introduced him- or herself, and said “Your Mother saved my life.” AA saved her, so should get partial credit for some of her saves, adding to its numbers.

Thing is, AA isn’t about stopping drinking. AA can’t do a thing about someone’s drinking. What it’s about is changing someone’s thinking. Once I got the alcohol out of my physical system, the craving went away–that took just a few days. However, the obsession to drink, a mental/psychochemical/whatever phenomenon stayed. By working steps, admitting powerlessness, etc., the way I thought about myself, the people around me, and coping with life on life’s terms changed. I no longer needed to drink to cope with the world around me and the inside of my head.

Now, how do you measure success in that? How do you measure if someone’s desperate enough to completely change the only way they’ve known how to live for most, if not all, of their adult life? Because if they’re not ready to do that, AA can’t do diddly. It’s kind of like giving chemo to someone who doesn’t have cancer–there are no results because the situation isn’t right for anything to happen.

I haven’t had any strong desire to drink in nearly 8 years. I don’t go to AA so that I don’t drink. I go because it helps me continue to treat others around me and myself right–so that I don’t slip back into the selfish, self-centered thinking that made my drinking life miserable for everyone involved. I go because sharing how it worked for me with the new guy–whether he really wants it or not–helps me to stay in a good place in my head and my life. And that keeps me from thinking that a bottle would be the solution to whatever problem is going on at the moment.

That’s just me. If someone’s really an alcoholic (for which there are many definitions, but one of the better ones I’ve heard is that if you can’t predict what’s going to happen if you have a drink–might be 4 drinks, might be 4 am, might be 4 days-- you’re probably one) whatever works is great for them, their family, and everyone they interact with. AA, RR, voodoo, bloodletting…different strokes and all that.

I remember hearing this as well, and it’s a No True Scotsman thing. If you quit in AA, then the program works! If you quit outside of AA, then you really weren’t an alcoholic to begin with. If you were in AA and fell off of the wagon, then your weren’t working the steps right, you were holding on to that old “stinkin’ thinking”, or it was YOUR fault in some way. If you fell off the wagon outside of AA, that showed why you needed to be in meetings!

I didn’t like the idea that they portrayed that AA is the one and only true path to sobriety and that the method is infallible if you just follow the simple steps.

It’s good that it helps some people, but I think they need to realize that it is the limit of the organization: it helps some people, but not the majority.

Fortunately, nobody is setting the bar that high. Nobody would expect AA to be able to cure 100% of the people in their program let alone all of society.

I believe you. I just don’t know if you’re sober because of AA. I don’t know if your friends are sober because of AA. Why don’t I know? Because there doesn’t seem to be a reliable method for testing the efficacy of AA.

The you I was referring to wasn’t generic. It was actually you, Valteron, who is powerless to resist John Barleycorn.

That’s an awful fine distinction you’re making there. You sure the group dynamic has nothing to do with everyone agreeing that they are powerless before alcohol?

When it comes to programs to treat diseases we generally do our best to measure their efficacy. It’s how we determine whether or not the treatments are working and if we should employ other methods of treatment that might prove more effective. I’m glad AA has worked for you but I still don’t know how effective AA is.

I agree with you entirely. And there probably never will be a reliable method for testing the efficacy of AA from a scientific point of view, for a number of reasons. First the highly individual, self-directed nature of every individual’s involvement in a completely voluntary program makes objective measurement of individual elements a nightmare. Why does this person stay sober all his life after joining, and the other person keeps going out, getting drunk, coming back, etc.?

Also, AA has NO kind of control, tracking or monitoring system over its members, no membership lists, nothing. Anyone can drop in at any meeting in the world and say, "Hi, my name is. . . . . .! and sit down and participate. You can add, “and I’m an alcoholic” if you want, but nobody has to.

The closest I can come is anecdotal data. I attended a world AA roundup conference where we filled a stadium with members. There is a little game we play. Everybody stands up. Those sober for less than a year sit down. Hundreds do. There are still thousands standing. Everybody sober for less than 5 years sit down. Now only about half the stadium are standing. And so on, until a few old guys and gals who have been sober more than 40 years are left standing. Round of applause for everyone.

Maybe you can’t measure it, but something good has happened to those people.

(. . . . )

The trouble is you are thinking of AA as an antibiotic salve that can be applied to a number of infections while a control placebo is applied to other infections. AA is NOT a treatment in the sense of something you do to people while they passively accept it. It is a program that you work at your own speed, with steps that are SUGGESTIONS that you interpret in your own way. YOU are responsible for how you work it, how fast you work it, where you go with it, how often you call your sponsor, how often you meditate, how many meetings you attend, etc. AA has no power and no resources to monitor or control any element of your program. If an antibiotic salve depended on all those variants, can you imagine running a test for its efficacy?

Finally, if a doctor had a cancer treatment that costs nothing and does no harm at all to try on patients, would he throw it out the window on the grounds that it may be effective for only certain cancer patients?

And what percentage of those that attended say that something good has happened to them? We don’t know. And what does “something good” actually mean? We don’t know.

If that doctor had nothing except anonymous testimonials to support this method of treatment, and it was to be used in lieu of other treatments? Yes.

If AA is necessary for some people to control their drinking and it does no better than chance, that requires that AA hinders some people who would have controlled it on their own.

AA is worse than nothing because it requires a lot of work and forces vulnerable people to accept the stupidity of theism as a condition of turning their lives around.

“Something good” means they used to get drunk all the time and could not seem to control it no matter how hard they tried, and now they have learned to stay sober, and turn their lives around for the better by sharing and comparing their experiences with other similarly afflicted people, drawing strength and inspiration from their fellow sufferers.

Nobody stood at the door of the stadium with a counter and said: “Has something good happened to you as a result of AA?” so admittedly, there are no percentages. But why would people travel voluntarily to a world congress of AA at their own expense if they are convinced it has not done them any good?

Why would people spend thousands of dollars a year on cigarettes, or alcohol, or lottery tickets, or Big Macs? Subjective senses of “good” aren’t always your best bet for determining actual good.

At best, all you can say is that is what it means to you.

Why would somebody voluntarily go to UFO meetings or Sasquatch gatherings at their own expense if they weren’t convinced of their legitimacy?

To try to pick up wierdo-hottie chicks?

I am pondering how to even assign the diagnosis of ‘alcoholic’ upon someone. (Yeah, I am aware courts can order an evaluation, so somebody somewhere thinks they can)

Considering some of the locals here, I would be hard pressed to draw a ‘line’. One individual here did 7 years hard time for multiple DUIs, still drinks to excess, but always walks home now. Has a home, wife, and job. His liver probably glows in the dark, however. Is he an alcoholic? Hell if I know, he is damned functional one, but I bet his autopsy (should he fail to arise tomorrow) would cite ‘terminal alcoholism’ as the cause of death.

Another acquaintance does not drink that often, but when he does, there is always a brawl. And not just a little tete a tete, but a full bore slug fest.

How many times a year does this need to happen to confirm a diagnosis?

At the risk of being repetitive, I’ll be repetitive: AA is not treatment, and doesn’t claim to be. If you don’t take that into consideration, you can’t even have this discussion.

In Michigan court ordered AA is routine. I know several people who went to get their paperwork signed and headed to a bar.
AA will work when the person is ready. Forcing people into it, skews the statistics. Many have no intention of quitting.

How much it hinders people who would have controlled it on their own is open to question, frankly. If you think you can control it, nobody is forcing anybody to go to a meeting. Non-alcoholics who “try” AA may well be why so many people who go to AA are not there a year later. I do not know about the 95% figure or how it was collected, but I would agree from my own experience that the majority of people who walk into a given AA meeting are not still attending **THAT MEETING **a year later.

For that matter, I have read that 80% of new businesses are not there 5 yerars later, but that has never been cited as a reason for people not to start a business.

So WHY don’t most people who try it stick with it? We don’t know. But here are some logical assumptions.

We can assume that virtually 100% of people who walk voluntarily into an AA meeting have some valid concern about their drinking. Thank goodness there is a court decision that will stop judges from forcing people to go to AA! There may be an occasional weirdo who just wants free coffee, or a Ned Flanders (the Simpsons) who drank a small glass of sherry last month and is wracked with guilt. But let’s say 100% have some worry about their drinking, and there probably is some form of excess that gave rise to that worry.

BTW, you might be interested to know that I, with my 18 years of sobriety, actually belong to that group of people who initially attended one meeting and did not come back for years. In my case, it was because I was still young and on the bar scene and did not feel my drinking was all that bad, and was scared of what life would be like without booze to comfort me. I told the AA members that I could drink responsibly if I tried. They smiled, said good luck, and I did not see AA again for 10 years. In 1993, I started my present 18-year run.

Logically, there can be the following reasons to explain why a person does not return to AA after attending one or a few meetings. Please tell me if I have missed any.

[li]They died (got hit by a bus, or something) or suddenly got hospitalized. [/li]
[li]They moved to another city. They may be regularly attending AA in that city, or maybe not.[/li]
[li]They believe that they are powerless over alcohol all right, and they love the program, but they found an AA meeting closer to home with people they like better. The first AA meeting does not receive a report. There are NO records. All the first meeting knows is that Sue came to three meetings, seemed to like it, but never came back.[/li]
[li]They admit there is a problem, but that AA is too radical and severe, and that they can handle it themselves with just a bit of will power. Now, this last category must be further subdivided into two sub-groups[/li]
[1]People who can control it themselves and become moderate drinkers. These people do not need AA, but attending a few meetings at least familiarized them with the concept and they might be able to send a REAL alcoholic friend there someday. No harm done. Couple of hours and a couple of bucks wasted, maybe.

[2]People who are still deluding themselves that they can handle it alone, or that they can turn their drinking moderate and keep it there. Now, this category further subdivides logically into two more categories:

[2a]People who will never admit they have a problem that has them licked, and will drink themselves to death, or

[2b]People who will realize that they need outside help because without it, the booze will win every time. These people may return to AA, (where they will be welcomed with open arms and a big hug) OR TO ANOTHER TREATMENT PROGRAM IF THERE IS ONE AVAILABLE THAT WORKS FOR THEM. AA does not pass jugement on other programs.

So how come I am an atheist in AA? And I BECAME an atheist about 10 years into my 18 years of sobriety, AFTER I joined AA. I have several atheists buddies in my meeting group. There is also a 12-step group called Rational Recovery (RR) for those who do not want to hear the G-word. But I have never felt a need to go to it because AA does not demand any religious belief of any kind. A lot of atheists attend both, simply because there are more regular AA than RR meetings.

You just have to trust in a higher power. That can be God, Allah, Jesus, your sponsor, your AA group, whatever. For me it is the power of love when people help one another. The 12 steps, which were written in the 1930s, mention God, but they are merely suggestions that each member can interpret as they wish.

I have NEVER been reprimanded or criticized by another member for being an atheist.

When I say the serenity prayer, I say "May I achieve the serenity. . . . " instead of “God grant me. . . .”

You cannot admit that a person has achieved something good if they who used to drink to excess on a regular basis and could not stop no matter how often they promised their doctor or family they would, but later finds a way to live a happy, serene life without alcohol? You cannot admit that is objectively “good”?

I’ve posted links to studies in other threads which I am pretty certain you took part in. I’ll do it again.



Bolding mine

Here is another summary from a soon to be published study:


Here is another study that shows A.A. attendance may lessen depressive symptoms.


There is an interesting quote on in the last link:

And yet another new study.


So, contrary to what others want to believe, A.A. participation leads to better outcomes, appears to lessen depression in depressive participants and leads to better social and problem solving skills. Additionally, helping others in A.A. leads to better outcomes.

Is A.A. perfect? Nope. Does it increase the chances that a person will stay sober? Yep. Does it lead to better lives for those who do stay sober? Yep.