Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 11 October 2010

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Harvard researcher, psychiatrist and leading chemical dependency expert, George Vaillant, reviewed the research on effective treatments for alcoholism and assessed recovery in two community cohorts of adolescent males, followed from 1940 through the present day.

He concludes that AA is effective because of four different factors inherent to the program that have been widely shown to reduce relapse prevention for addiction: (1) external supervision, (2) substitute dependency, (3) new caring relationships and (4) increased spirituality. He adds that AA serendipitously follows the principles of cognitive behaviour therapy for relapse prevention.

Vaillant concludes that Alcoholics Anonymous appears equal to or superior to conventional treatments for alcoholism, and the skepticism of some professionals regarding AA as a first rank treatment for alcoholism appears to be unwarranted. Alcoholics Anonymous is probably without serious side-effects.

Citation: Vaillant GE. Alcoholics Anonymous: cult or cure? Australia & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 2005 Jun; 39 (6): pages 431-6.

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Comments (7)Add Comment
written by Beth, October 12, 2010
Reading this report, I was right there with the logic until the last sentence -- "AA is probably without serious side effects."

Really? Has anyone ever looked for serious side effects among the people who have left AA? Any group that has strong group cohesion has potential for misuse and abuse; and I suspect that you would be most likely to see evidence of this among AA "dropouts" who had a bad experience.

I can agree that the AA program may not have serious side effects when it is run by people who "work the program" with integrity. But do all AA groups have the maturity and centered-ness to do that consistently?
written by Cecil, October 12, 2010
I'm a recovering alcoholic. Because of AA I've been blessed with 24 sober years. In a row, too. Go figure.

After three years of sobriety I stopped going to AA meetings when I moved from one city to another. I attended five groups in my new city and found that none possessed maturity and focus, instead they were cliquish and suffered from a plethora of infighting and politics.

I have survived and have remained drug free and sober because of my three years of AA membership, membership that involved loving, caring but no nonsense groups. Today I experience no serious side effects, indeed no side effects at all. I only feel a profound and immense gratitude for those who helped me when I had no where else to turn. But I fear for those who do reach out to AA for help and find dysfunctional groups.
written by nancy, October 15, 2010
I hope that the above comments do not deter someone from going to an AA, Al Anon or other 12step program.

I do not fear for people in meetings.

I recommend you look at some 12 step literature. The welcome packet to Al Anon gives a very interesting overview of that meeting.

The meetings are not free form groups, but are guided by time tested traditions and a structure established to keep personalities from diverting the group from its focus of helping people to work the steps. They are not like church with subtle (or not) pesuasion.

12 step, in my experience, is a remarkable tool for sppiritual growth and maturity. It is a great place to learn boundaries.

written by nancy, October 15, 2010
I hope that the above comments do not deter someone from going to an AA, Al Anon or other 12 step meeting.

I wrote a comment and it seems to have gotten lost, but I con't reconstruct it.
written by Teresa, October 15, 2010
I've experienced both healthy and unhealthy 12-step groups in different cities. The ones that followed the traditions and established structure were very very healing for me, due to the opportunity to express my feelings with profound group acceptance, lack of interruption or being given unwanted advice, and no pressure to have religious beliefs exactly as others have.

[Except that some individual group members seemed to believe that their dominant white male, sexist, ageist, racist, discriminatory version of God was the only OK religion. But that is not the official policy of the 12-step groups. The official policy is that we each have our own way of relating to and having a Higher Power, if I understand correctly, with the idea that group members are not to try to control other member's spiritual relationship with a Higher Power, but to let each person have their own spiritual relationship with that Higher Power in their own way.
written by Bill McNiff, October 20, 2010
Blessed are those who come into A.A. with an honest, open and willing attitude for they shall inherit an opportunity to live a sober, productive life. And blessed are those who study A.A. with that same mindset.
written by C. A. Peabody, December 21, 2010
In fact, AA has little to do with the Mr. Valliant's first three points. External supervision, substitute dependency, and caring relationships have little to do with the original 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact, AA meetings have little to do with the 12 Steps. AA was conceived from the core principles of the Oxford Group, a simplified 6-step program that include a specific set of spiritual actions - spiritual action meaning right action. AA is a very specific set of actions that, when done fearlessly and thoroughly, produce a fundamental psychic change. In modern AA, group members are hurled slogans such as "Just don't drink", "Put the plug in the jug", "Sit down, shut up, and wait for the miracle to happen". These ideas couldn't run more contrary to the fundamental idea of AA, the idea that the alcoholic or addict has become insane and no longer possesses the ability to chose not to pick up. AA is based on the idea that nothing human - no group, person, place, thing, pill, doctor or any other worldly remedy can fix the mind of alcoholic. He/she has a broken mind, without power, and can only be fixed by establishing a relationship with something greater than oneself. An addict who has experienced a psychic change is no longer "in recovery". This is someone who no longer suffers from the obsession to drink or use. This is someone who has gone from being insane to sane again. Achieving physical sobriety is far from the only requirement of AA. To remain sober, an alcoholic must change, but how? By taking the steps. Not talking about them, studying them, going to meetings about them, not by drinking coffee, eating snacks, and making friends at group therapy in some church basement somewhere. The chronic alcoholic or addict recovers by having a spiritual experience in actually doing the steps. The directions are clear-cut and are articulated in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous - the text book of AA, if you will. Why is this necessary? Because the untreated alcoholic or addict is a cauldron of spiritual decay, filled to the brim with the poison that brought them down - selfishness, dishonesty, fear, self-seeking, cowardice, immaturity, a total preoccupation with their own comfort, even if that comes at the expense of others. The alcoholic does not drink because they are a victim, because they suffer so and have had such a tough life. True AA teaches us that the drinker drinks because he is an alcoholic. He drinks because he loves drinking, and has drunk so much that he has crossed a physical line and acquired an allergy. He has broken his body and will die with the body of an addict. He can, however, recover from the mentally, with the help of God. AA begs drunks and addicts to actually go and take steps because what good is it to achieve physical sobriety yet continue to live as a selfish human. What good is it to continue to fight through each day, wallowing in depression, consumed with one's own thoughts, feelings, and life. What good is sobriety if I am still not a good brother, son, or husband? What good is it to attend meetings all day long and neglect my family at home? Taking steps involves a life exorcism, a rigorous written moral inventory, prayer, understanding, humility, making amends, meditation, working with others. Without these actions, the true alcoholic or addict will continue to suffer and relapse. Why do these steps work? Not because of people or support or groups etc? They work because once the poison is out, there is room for something else to flow in: God. God powers the addict to do things that he/she could not do before. To Mr. Valliant: Take the time to read the first 162 pages of the Big Book. You will see what the essence of the program is and why AA works completely. As a good friend once said to me, "Meeting makers make meetings." Only by changing, working on ourselves, walking through pain and discomfort... only by giving to others, serving others, and serving God may we return to sanity. And once sane, we are free men and women. Once sane, we may go anywhere on earth without risk. Once sane, there are no triggers. Once sane, all the world is before you and there is nothing to fear.

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