Inspired by Speedy and his ideas (Yah, um, Speedy?) I have been poking around on the science blogs, wondering if anyone in the skeptic community has AA on their radar – not so much. A little, but not too much. Today, I ran into an interesting post about the publication of the book called The End of My Addiction by Olivier Amiesen – the cardiologist who cured himself of his chronic, debilitating alcoholism with a drug called baclofen. If you’re up on the addictions news, I’m sure you’ve heard of it. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read a lot of comments about it on different forums: variations on the theme that alcoholism is a spiritual problem and no pill can cure that, and even if it could, they wouldn’t take it.
The post focused on the fact that research is not forthcoming – and it oughta be. What was especially interesting to me about the ensuing conversation in the comments was that there were no AAs present. It is a heated discussion, to say the least, but it never turns “spiritual.” However, there is no one there to point out that perhaps the reason that research has been stymied is that curing alcoholism without God or steps (and the ever pre$ent revolving door) is not in the best interest of the treatment industry. I’m not coming down on either side of the debate about whether or not the drug could work for people, but rather on the side of research. Why no research?
The AA faithful are great at taking what they want and leaving the rest when it comes to demonstrating the effectiveness of the program. Every member of AA who successfully quit drinking is held up as an affirmation of the program, while those 95% plus who fail are disregarded as though they don’t exist. Or, if challenged, they will say that those who fail do not fully “give in to the program.” Of course, by this logic, AA is 100% effective.
Most often, their rationalization of why AA works is anecdotal. They will use their own experience as an example, and they will use the examples of the dozens of other people in their home group to show that the program does indeed work for some people. The problem with this logic is that it disregards the five percent of alcoholics who would have quit on their own without AA by taking full credit for their quit. Because AA meetings are where people motivated to quit drinking tend to congregate, it gives the illusion of a successful program to those making anecdotal observations. Let me draw a comparison:
Let’s assume a type of cancer that has a 5% percent remission rate, and a company produces an herbal remedy that offers a cure for a percentage of people. If we were to take ten thousand people with this cancer, and follow their progress over five years, and along the way replace those who either died or dropped out of the study, we would have 2,500 people whose cancer went into remission while taking the herbal remedy. It looks impressive, but it is the same number of people who would fall into remission from a control group who took a placebo. The herbal remedy would be proved ineffective, and if that herbal company took these figures and offered up an infomercial showing testimonials of cancer patients who were cured while using the remedy, it would be beyond unethical. It would be criminal. Continue reading How Alcoholics Anonymous lies with statistics