Alcoholics Need More Options than AA

It's no surprise that faith-based programs are particularly ill-suited to atheists and agnostics

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Should atheists be forced to participate in faith-based recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)? The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently said no, unanimously siding with drug offender Barry A. Hazle Jr. after state officials mandated his participation in AA. Court documents state that Hazle’s requests for a secular alternative were repeatedly denied by both his parole officer and representatives from the state-contracted mental health service provider, West Care. For violating his parole, Hazle was arrested and incarcerated for over 100 additional days.

The appeals court ordered a Sacramento district judge to consider preventing state officials from requiring 12-step treatment as a part of the parole program. But it’s going to be difficult, because this one-size-fits-all prescription – 12-step meetings and 12-step-based group therapy for everyone – reigns supreme in treatment today. Nearly eight out of ten private programs use 12-step recovery, with two-thirds compelling patients to attend meetings, according to researchers working on the University of Georgia’s National Treatment Center Study and cited in Inside Rehab by Anne Fletcher. Public programs, frequently starved for funding, aren’t much better. In fact, West Care, California’s sole drug treatment provider, only contracts with religious-based treatment programs.

(MORE: Addiction Treatment in America: Not Based in Science, Not Truly Medical)

But even if they’re rarely acknowledged in today’s treatment community, there are many alternatives to 12-step fellowships such as SMART Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, and Specifically For Women. This is important because a national survey published in 2007 concluded that an addicted person was just as likely to stay sober whether they were involved in AA or another support group. In fact, it would behoove treatment providers to match people with a support system that’s suitable to their preferences, because group participation is associated with increased abstinence.

(MOREStudy: Men and Women Benefit in Different Ways From AA)

Of course, almost all rehab programs advertise a wide range of options, evidence-based services as well as mutual-support groups, but tradition dominates. As a young opiate addict, I went through two inpatient hospital facilities, an outpatient program, a sober house, and a sober coach before learning that an alternative to AA (or NA) existed. Even the methadone program I paid to enroll in, a public program designed for heroin addicts, was 12-step based. This is odd, considering traditional AA communities don’t acknowledge medication-assisted sobriety as genuine sobriety.

To be sure, faith-based, abstinence-only fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous can be a very helpful, affordable resource. But these mutual support groups were designed to be voluntary, certainly never to be confused with medical or court-mandated addiction treatment. Meanwhile, the alternatives remain widely unknown, an ignorance that presents a real barrier to those in desperate need. When asked what kinds of treatments are available for addiction, 60.1% of respondents to a 2012 national survey said groups like AA or NA.

(MOREQ&A With Author Gabrielle Glaser: Wine, Women and the Dangers of AA)

Addiction is our nation’s most costly and preventable health problem. And because individualized care is so frustratingly difficult to find, California’s state officials now have an opportunity to make some long overdue changes. By taking concrete steps to make alternatives to 12-step recovery more available, these state officials can encourage all addicted Californians, not just parolees, to invest in their future.

75 comments
GeriHudson
GeriHudson

I am curious as to what the secular options are, and what their long-term success rate has been.  I've never been court-ordered to attend AA, but would think you would be given an option of either giving it a try, or being sentenced to jail time.  We are talking about people who've committed crimes, here - they're not victims of anything but their own bad choices, and I would think the torture of enduring sitting in a room full of happy people for an hour would be preferable to sitting in a cell.  You can go with a closed mind and just get through it - you won't be forced to participate in any way, and you can get your paper signed and head right out the door.  I believe that AA is chosen by the courts because it is the only program with any long-term success.  If there is another out there, I'd love to hear about it so we can send our atheists there and return to sharing our experience, strength and hope to try to help the newcomer without someone whining about being offended at our mention of God.  AA IS a program that is designed to help us crazy alcoholics develop a relationship with a power greater than ourselves so we can be a little more sane and a lot less selfish, and try to help others do the same.  I'll never understand why this creates so much anger among people who just don't want it, as no one is forcing it on you.  Find another program, go to jail, keep on keeping on like you're doing - if you ever change your mind, AA will be there, ready to help, if you want it..   

CharlesMclean
CharlesMclean

This is the moment 12-steppers usually take to their keyboards to recoverysplain how the refusnik's perceptions are invalid, and will eventually get them dead, jailed, or institutionalized.  It is the Righting Reflex of the room people on their personal step mission unleashed on the *constitutional incapables of the world* (people who need a different program). 



ReneeBishop
ReneeBishop

@CharlesMclean Times are finally starting to change I think. More and more people are getting help and recovery professionals are finally taking note that this useless program has caused more harm than good.

GeriHudson
GeriHudson

@CharlesMclean Please do find another program.  It would give me a headache, trying to listen to you in a meeting.

GeriHudson
GeriHudson

@ReneeBishop @CharlesMclean "this useless program" has kept me sober and HAPPY for 21 years.  I dare say you could possibly be sober, but happy?  Doubtful.  Happy people generally don't feel it necessary to be so critical of the good fortune of others. 

OlrunHorde
OlrunHorde

Agreed, as someone who's been in the rooms over 25 years.......the dogma is thick.

TedDadogger
TedDadogger

This comment is for Msig1ct and anyone else who wants to believe that AA has never hurt anyone. In the early 1980's AA medical counsel Dr Vaillant conducted project SHARP, a 7 year study intended to, in his words "once and for all show the effectiveness of this program". No need to take my word for it. Google AA SHARP project" or "AA effectiveness" and you will find many websites that feature the study. To Dr Vaillants credit, it was a very scientific and systematic study, no doubt intended to be used for many years as absolute proof of the effectiveness of AA. But it didn't quite turn out that way, or as Dr Valiant put it: "But then came the rub". Instead of showing the effectiveness of AA, it showed something else entirely. First off, it showed that the type of treatment made little difference in predicting likelihood of success. AA, CBT or no treatment at all were all very close. In a fatal blow to the idea of "powerlessness".  it seemed that what really mattered was decision to turn their life around. The individual person succeeded, not the program. If that was the whole story it wouldn't be a disaster for AA, but as they say on infomercials: But wait, there is more! Since the whole 12 Step treatment model is built on the statement that addiction is a disease (it would be hard to collect those fat insurance rehab payments otherwise), the most important thing in a medical study of treatment of any disease isn't to find out out how well it works, but to make sure it doesn't have the potential to harm the patient. And this is where AA failed horribly: The (randomly assigned) AA participants were found to binge drink at a rate roughly 900% higher than those who received CBT. Not only that, they where also found to binge drink at a rate that was about 500% higher than the subjects who received no treatment at all. When you consider that binge drinking is closely tied to accidental death and suicide, the next number won't come as a surprise: the mortality of subjects randomly assigned to AA where 30% higher than those fortunate enough to be assigned either CBT or get no treatment at all.This was consistent both at the 1 and 7 year mark. These aren't just numbers. The 30% represents real people with names, families, hopes, dreams and a future. In other words, this study killed people. If AA was really about helping people with addiction instead of being about AA and the multi billion dollar rehab industry that is built around it, AA would still publish the study and feature it in materials and on their websites along with a statement along the lines of "while we believe strongly that the AA program can help many people, it also has the potential to harm or even kill". Needless to say, this study is nowhere to be found in AA literature or on any website that I am aware of.  This study used a couple of hundred people. Tens of thousands are coerced into AA every year. There is no reason to believe that people who are forced to AA fare any better than those unfortunate who ended up randomly assigned to it in this study.If you are one of the few people who find that AA works for you; congratulations, keep doing what works for you. But the truth is that in all likelihood, AA harms or kills more people than it helps.

GeriHudson
GeriHudson

@TedDadogger Oh, good grief.  Tell this BS to the hundreds of people I know in the area of my small town who've been sober 20, 30 years or more.  Alcoholism is a fatal disease, period.  You are absolutely correct in one thing - if forced to attend AA, their chances of staying sober are very low.  BUT!  Many of those same people DO survive long enough after being introduced to AA that, when they reach a point where they actually WANT to stop drinking, they come back because they heard something that made them feel a bit hopeful, and are willing to do what is suggested, and live happy, useful, sober lives.  That is the story for many, many alcoholics.  This has to be one of the stupidest, most dangerous posts I've seen yet from people who hate the idea of God so much that they think nothing of attempting to destroy His greatest gift to poor drunks like me.  "This study used a couple of hundred people" who were not ready to stop drinking.  Just that simple, and if they're getting in the kind of trouble that lands them in front of a judge, they're trudging the road to an alcoholic death in the fast lane, and it's just a matter of time before they either get sober, end up in prison or a psych ward, or die.  Those are the only options for alcoholics, and AA is ONE possible path to sobriety.


TedDadogger
TedDadogger

What is being missed by the pro-AA'ers is that this verdict is not an attack on AA itself. While I think there are serious issues and contradictions within the program itself, that is irrelevant for this discussion. Instead, it is an affirmation and enforcement of our constitutional rights. 9 out of the 12 district courts have affirmed that AA is without a doubt religious in nature. Once that determination has been made, as far as legal issues are concerned personal opinions don't matter. A persons religious beliefs are irrelevant. The Establishment Clause guarantees freedom from being coerced into participation in religious activities. Period. If a devout Catholic is coerced into a Catholic program his Constitutional Rights are still violated. I am not anti-AA or anti-anything as long as the person going made that decision freely. I don't think AA should "get religion out of the program'. On the contrary, I think AA should be honest about its origin as an off-shot of the Puritanical Christian Oxford Group and its religious content. This way a person can make an honest assessment whether AA is right for the. And in case anyone wants to to use the "spiritual, not religious" argument, the religion is basically organized spirituality. A group of people may consider themselves spiritual as individuals, but if they form an organization of people with a similar view on spirituality, by definition they just formed a religion. The Big Book makes no mention of door knobs, Group Of Drunks or Good Orderly Direction. Instead, it paints a very specific picture of what God is: A singular interventionist deity who if you pray is capable of one very specific thing: keep you sober for 24 hours. Chapter 4 in the Big Book gives very specific instructions for agnostics: Stop being one and find God. There is nothing wrong with being a religious organization. But it you are one, it is blatantly dishonest to say that you are not. Just like most other religions institutions, this doesn't prevent an agnostic or atheist from attending AA or another institution if they feel it is helping them. But that is a decision for the individual and no one else. As a pilot for a major US airline who sought help through my company's Employee Assistance Program after  a series of painful personal events where I tried to use alcohol to numb myself only to find myself stuck in a program that is completely incompatible with my personal beliefs, I can honestly say that coerced AA is hell. For several years with several to go I have been forced to convince people who hold my career in their hands that I believe things that I don't. In other words, I'm living a lie, and the stress has taken an incredible toll. Personal relationships and physical not to mention mental health has suffered severely. I used to be an open, trusting and honest person. The choice to either give up my career or live a lie for years has turned me into closed in person who weighs every single word when speaking. I would never try to talk anyone out of AA if that is where they want to be. But for the rest of us, this verdict is a huge victory and the firs step to eliminate this unconstitutional practice once and for all. 

Lovinglife52
Lovinglife52

Thought this was a good piece that reflected a lot of the things I found in the 12 step world. It gave me somewhere to go for a while, but I found the whole higher power concept ridiculous. AA is a religious solution and should admit that. I does not do this as it knows it would attract a lot less people in the modern world.

Msig1ct
Msig1ct

AA is hurting Millions?  That is probably the most ignorant comment I've ever read in my life.  There are more AA groups than ever, and if one doesn't suit you, there are plenty of meetings with great sobriety to choose from.  The program is not the problem, the people are, and yes, there are always going to be people with selfish agendas, just like in any organization.  It's helped millions around the world, and more people are being exposed to AA today than ever.  Naturally you're going to see different dynamics pop up that aren't or weren't present 20 years ago, that's the evolution of any organization or fellowship that has grown tremendously since 1935.   

AntiDenial
AntiDenial

@Msig1ct  Yes AA is hurting millions that have been emotionally abused, forced to worship a Higher Power and thrown in with sex offenders and violent criminals. AA is really ramping it's efforts up to go after our kids now and tell them they have a disease for life and labeling them. 

GeriHudson
GeriHudson

@AntiDenial @Msig1ct Good lord.  How have I been sober all these years and missed all of this going on?  I had no idea we were doing all of this!  This is just so dreadful! 

MonicaRichardson
MonicaRichardson

Thank you for this intelligent article that is sorely needed. PLease keep them coming. Can you you do a story also about how AA is hurting millions, with court DUI coercion, the sentencing of violent and sex offenders to meetings unknown to the public and AA members and address the dogma and cult behavior currently going on. Old timers that are good folks are leaving in droves.  Want to know why. Watch on youtube The 13th Step the film the 14 min version. A film is being made to expose all of it. thank you again for this article.

RayB94
RayB94

AA has never claimed it is the only way to get sober. It isn't. AA has always said it is nothing more and nothing less than a fellowship of men and women whose only pupose is to help each other stay sober. Experience, strength, and hope is shared and each individual is free to take what makes sense and leave the rest. No one, in my opinion, should be mandated to AA. Also, AA is not, and doesn't claim to be, for people with a primary addiction to other substances. Unfortunately, judges, lawyers, counselors, etc. often mandate people to AA and tell people with other addictions to "just say you're an alcoholic" because there are few good alternatives in their area. The influx of non-alcoholic addicts into AA has diluted AA in some areas and caused other problems as well. As for alternatives, it's very simple. Start your own meeting, SOS, Smart Recovery, or whatever. A lot of AA meetings get started because someone doesn't like the meetings available to them and decides to start another one. There is a common saying, in fact, that all you need to start a meeting is a resentment and a coffee pot. I see a lot of resentments in the comments. And, coffee pots aren't that hard to find.

thearmbarkid
thearmbarkid

@RayB94 And I see a lot of baseless, unproven, regurgitated Billshlt claims.  AA would lose at least half of the people in those church basements if court-mandated attendance were abolished tomorrow.  And then who would buy those lie-packed Big Books that AA relies on to pay the huge salaries drawn by those trustees?

Jack3Ohio
Jack3Ohio

@thearmbarkid @RayB94 Well stated, AA is a dangerous cult and court mandated attendance only perpetuates this sick and nasty group that has ruined many families.

GeoKoz
GeoKoz

for those who understand no explanation is necessary but for those who don't none will suffice

AntiDenial
AntiDenial

Another AA Member Financially Scams an Elderly Man he Met at Alcoholics Anonymous

AA is a hot spot for Crooks Scamming Senior Citizens. Yet AA has voted to do nothing to protect the Elderly in AA Meetings.

Man stole from elderly, avoids prison sentence but must repay money

SANDUSKY REGISTER STAFF PORT CLINTON SEPTEMBER 22nd, 2013

A Norwalk man who stole $11,000 from an 78-year-old man he met at Alcoholics Anonymous received a suspended prison sentence, but was ordered to repay the money, according to Ottawa County court recordsTimothy Gilbert, 42, was charged after bank employees called police in December 2011 when they noticed the elderly man making unusual withdrawals from his bank account.

Gilbert had fed the man a story about needing $11,000 to get his father’s inheritance, and the victim agreed to lend him the money, according to police reports.

Gilbert was eventually charged with theft from the elderly. He was sentenced Thursday to more than three years in prison on the theft case and a 2011 theft case.

The prison time was suspended, and Gilbert was instead placed on three years probation and ordered to repay the $11,000, according to court records. He was also ordered to complete 100 hours of community service. NA Daytona Beach Area Schedule.

http://www.sanduskyregister.com/article/4676646

- See more at: http://nadaytona.org/2013/09/22/another-aa-member-financially-scams-an-elderly-man-he-met-at-alcoholics-anonymous/#sthash.g6wnTtSY.dpuf

RayB94
RayB94

"Yet AA has voted to do nothing to protect the Elderly in AA Meetings."
Exactly how did "AA vote"? Each meeting is autonomous; did a specific meeting take a vote???? While this incident is horrible (and the guy should have gotten prison time), this is not an AA problem as a whole. My experience is that the problems seen in groups are often caused by people who are mandated - a violation of AA principles - or who are not alcoholics at all. they tend to be addicted to other things but come to AA because it is the only game in town.

MonicaRichardson
MonicaRichardson

@RayB94 Ray. why are you quoting rhetoric that is not true about how AA works. Yes it is an AA problem as a whole. Its happening in meetings all over the WORLD!  There is also a huge problem of AA oldtimers sexual preying on new young woman.. aka 13 stepping ...going on for 60 years.  We addressed this in California and the push back was disgusting! over 75 meetings are using my literature for safety. We outed a rapist and got him arrested. AA in NY needs to have a paid employee that travels to the worst clubs to tell them to know it off and have a MAAS workshop there on the AA dine who has millions.  There needs to be a hotline for woman who are being grabbed, verbally harassed and hit on and for parents whose children have been molested. This was reported in a newspaper March 2013 in the Headlines. 

AntiDenial
AntiDenial

@RayB94 Yes - you know how people vote. AA had a board meeting to address sex abuse in AA by AA members.  They VOTED to do nothing and let the sex abuse and financial abuse continue.

This is an AA problem because AA goes into our prisons and invites violent felons to AA meetings. They also work with Drug Courts. AA is part of the problem.

GeriHudson
GeriHudson

@MonicaRichardson @RayB94 I was 13th stepped as a newcomer.  It was awful, BUT, it never would have happened if I hadn't spent my developmental years using sex as a means to an end.  Women are encouraged to stick with the other women when they get to AA, but many choose the easier, softer way and seek out men who are equally sick.  Much of your post didn't make sense, but I think the gist is that AA is a dangerous organization in general.  It is not.  It is certainly much safer than the streets, and there are people in every meeting I go to who try to help protect newcomers.  It's up to them whether or not they want to be protected.  Victimhood is always an option.  The majority of AA members are good, decent people when sober.  Sorry if that hasn't been your experience, but it has been for most who have come through the doors and chosen to work the program, rather than look for another less healthy alternative.

PeteSoderman
PeteSoderman

Nice article! Chelsea, I just published a book, Powerless No Longer, that addresses recovery from a secular, evidence-based perspective. I would love to send you a copy. I don't do twitter, but you can contact me through my website: http://powerlessnolonger.com  Keep up the good work.

Jack3Ohio
Jack3Ohio

And the wonderful thing about AA, is that it destroys families, by taking in the alcoholic and demonizing them as basically worthless and incapable of dealing with their addiction (NOT DISEASE BILL W.) and indoctrinating them into the religion of AA. They appeal to their "higher power" to guide them, giving up all "free will". Usually this "higher power" is their sponsor or the general "group think. And, as I have experienced, through in a little evangelical fervor and you have a raging fire. In many cases, this poor lemming, willingly gives up their real family relationships for the cult. There absolutely has to be an alternative to AA, it is a pariah on families.

RayB94
RayB94

This is such a distortion of AA, it would be impossible to do a point by point rebuttal. Suffice it to say: AA does not demonize the alcoholic or tell him/her they are worthless; in fact, quite the opposite, it tells people they can recover. AA in no way encourages people to give up their free will; in fact the literature talks specifically about the exercise of free will. AA says little about the family beyond the need to make amends for the wrong the alcoholic has done to them. I'm sorry if Jack3Ohio has experienced a bad meeting or lousy AA group. It happens. One way to exercise free will is to find another group more to your liking or not go at all. AA doesn't mandate you to go - or to follow the suggestions for that matter. The courts may mandare but that is not the fault of AA.

thearmbarkid
thearmbarkid

@RayB94 Oh please, AA members go to attorneys, judges and corrections officials and begs them to send people to AA all the time.  If AA was serious about not wanting the court-mandated members, they'd stop signing the cards, or sign them BEFORE the meetings begin.

MonicaRichardson
MonicaRichardson

@RayB94it tells people they can recover...really..they tell you you need to come there forever and that you are broken and you are like a man who has lost his legs! Its an outdate 1935 crazy ass Christian made up religious dogma driven sicko club. AA lost its way in the early 1980's and has been going downhill ever since.

GrahamWhite
GrahamWhite

@MonicaRichardson @RayB94 Do any of you have personal experience with alcoholism/addiction? (meaning your own) Do any of you have any personal experience working the 12 steps? (not just reading them) Have any of you been an active part of a 12 step group? (not just a few meetings to "observe") I do. And my experience over 18 plus years is that your fears in regards to "religious dogma", organized maleficence, and sexual predators are unfounded. Are there predators in AA/NA? Absolutely!  But consider the population. Alcoholics/addicts are not angels. We, for the most, are people who have engaged a variety of harmful (to self and others) behaviors over long period of time (some are sicker than others) such that there are some who see involvement in a 12 step group as little more then a new playground. But to condemn AA/NA as a whole is foolish

Jack3Ohio
Jack3Ohio

@RayB94 What you say may be true, but the only reality I have is what I experienced in the destruction of my marriage. I have talked to relatives(who have been to AA in another state)  have told me that this particular group may be overly evangelical in nature because of where it is located. My spouse swallowed the whole scheme while none of her other mental issues were addressed. She can spout every cliché AA has and believes that Bill W. is like Jesus and the Big Book is her Bible, all the while saying that she has given in to the will of God to guide her. Unfortunately, it is pretty evident that the "will of god", is the baloney her sponsor and "support group" tell her.  I cannot see that AA is a wonderful answer for her, me, her kids or grandchildren. She is an isolated recluse, who only looks to her "support" group for direction.