“To see what is in front of one’s nose requires a constant struggle.”
George Orwell wrote the above words. So much of the insular world of Alcoholics Anonymous is analogous to entering an Orwellian state, and how AA manipulates public perception is a prime example of this. Many are familiar with the 1989 summary of five previous Triennial surveys released by Alcoholics Anonymous, that shows it to have 95% percent dropout rate within the first year. (source:aa_triennial_survey ) For obvious reasons, AA will not release any further summaries. They don’t really need to, because nothing has changed about the organization to make a positive change to their zero percent effectiveness rate. I say zero percent effective, because the natural course of the disease shows that 5% of alcoholics will quit on their own anyway. Sure, 5% of AAers successfully quit for their first year, but if we were to pluck out a sample of 100 alcoholics who started playing golf, or began knitting, or converted to Catholicism – they, too, would have a 5% quit rate after a year. That does not mean that participating in golf or knitting or Catholicism helps a person recover from alcoholism.
I have often heard a true AA believer say something akin to “I know it works, because I have seen too many success stories to doubt it; and every AA meeting I attend if filled with people who have quit for three or five or fifteen years”. I have seen the same thing, and to a newly indoctrinated AAer who just happens to be stepping into a room for the first time, this all looks impressive. It seems even more impressive after hearing the drunkalogs and stories from other members after any given meeting, telling the newbie how bad their drinking problem was, and how they quit because of Alcoholics Anonymous.
There is a reason the room is filled with successful former drinkers, and that is because AA happens to be a place where people motivated to quit drinking congregate. Giving AA credit for their quits is like blaming hospitals for making people sick, because there are so many sick people at hospitals. Still, this does not prevent AA from using this perception to their advantage. Even though AA does not release any more survey summaries, they still take cherry picked data from their surveys and release it to the public in an effort to give the appearance of its effectiveness. Basically, they lie. Let’s take a look at an example of AA does this. I will use their 2004-survey-brochure, which is given to the public, as an example.
Here is a press release of their 2004 survey. It isn’t raw data – it is their manipulation and interpretation of the raw data. Like all good propaganda, it contains elements of the truth, as in this quote, which is taken from this press release:
Length of Sobriety – 36% of respondents say they have been sober more than 10 years; and 14%, 5-10 years. In response to prior queries, 24% say they have been sober from 1-5 years and 26%, less than one year. These totals indicate that more alcoholics in A.A. are staying sober longer.”
This is an example of lying with the truth, particularly with the inclusion of the last line – “These totals indicate that more alcoholics in A.A. are staying sober longer”. They also say that the average length of sobriety is 8 years. This is patently false, and all one has to do is take this data, and plug in the variables from their 1989 survey summary to see that there is no change in the rate of effectiveness:
Assume a new chapter is started with exactly 100 members with a new person filling in the void left when a member leaves. At the end of year one, there will be 5 one year members and 95 who have been there for less than a year. Go forward another year. You will now have close 10 successful quitters of one and two years (actually, 9.5 if you assume the average, but since you can’t split an actual person, I’m rounding up). Fast forward ten years, and that chapter will have a good many permanent quitters. It looks impressive to anyone attending their first meeting. You’ll have close to 70 people (70%) of the room who have quit for 6 months or more. Of those, close to half are at 5 years or longer. Each of them attributing their success to AA. All of them telling you to work the steps and you can do as they did. Now fast forward 20 years, keep the same success rates of 5%, 30% and 95%, the room looks even more impressive. And if you took a survey of only those who are active members, plot them on that bell curve, you will come up with numbers almost identical to the numbers in brochure and press release:
35% have been sober for over 10 years.
16% have been sober between 5-10 years.
28% have been sober between 1-5 years.
22% have been sober less that 1 year.
The average quit time in this example is 8 years, just like the 2004 survey shows. As impressive as these numbers seem to a person looking around the room, they only prove a 5% quit rate.
Recently on Youtube, I watched a video an AAer had made questioning why a group of people would criticize a “benign and benevolent benefactor”. To him, I would point to the above as an example why AA, like any cult, is not benign. What the numbers do not show, and what is most important, are the consequences of AA’s duplicity. The few successful quitters in that room are impacted little beyond their ability for rational thought, but the hundreds of others who went through the turnstiles with unrealistic expectations of success have been manipulated and harmed. Most go back to drinking, many with the idea that they failed the only thing that could help them recover from their addictions – and they are led to believe it to be their own fault, because they were not “honest with themselves” or they were “selfish” or they “didn’t work it”. The state of being for an X-Stepper who leaves the group is not dissimilar to someone leaving the Moonies or the Church of Scientology, although they are most likely more compromised, because their addiction has been left untreated.