Posts tagged failure rate

Australian for “Bullshit”

A couple of weeks ago we posted about ‘public education seminar’ that a group of Australian AAs are throwing together. It looks like they are going beyond this, and are putting together a full blown ad campaign. Of course, there is no law that prevents any organization from advertising its services – even a religious one like AA – but for an organization who claims to be one of ‘attraction, not promotion’, it is just another example of how they are full of shit. Is there anything this group does not lie about? One thing I noticed they did not mention in these ads was their Chairman’s admission of their 95% dropout rate (yeah, it seems AA Australia’s success rate is the same goose egg that it is in North America).

Quote of the Day

“You amaze me. Why so bitter and angry ? Why do you feel the need to bash AA every chance you can get. You should know by now there is a big difference between religion and spirituality. I have been a member of AA for almost 8 years — highly involved in service. I am only 26 and am the future if you want to say.

My own
conception of something greater than my self has enabled me to live an incredibly productive life. My Higher Power is so far off the beam than conventional religious beliefs it would make peoples toenails curl. But, above all else it works.

AA does not demand a Christian God. It only suggests a God of your own understanding. So if you read the big book a little closer and lay aside your prejudice, even the biggest atheist or agnostic can recover. If you really want to get technical; if it was not for AA you would not be here. AA is the granddaddy of all 12-Step programs.

love and service,


KB, AA, explaining to Cliff Walker at Positive Atheism the difference between Spirituality and Religious.

Quote of the Day

“Our 1992 Survey showed that only 5% of newcomers to AA are still attending meetings after 12 months. This is a truly terrible statistic. Again we must ask ‘Where does the fault lie?'”

– Dr Ron Whitington, Chairman of AA Australia General Service Board
Comments made in AA Around Australia, Spring Edition, 1994; Commenting on a survey of more than 100 of Australia’s AA groups.

You've got two choices….

I don’t know about you, but if drinking panther piss was among the conditions for me to get felony drug charges dropped, I would slam it down without batting an eyelash. I would also eat bugs, dance naked, sleep with Roseanne Barr, sky dive or walk on glass – if that happens to be what it takes to stay out of the slammer. Threatening a person with prison time is a sure fire way to get them to do just about anything. Alcoholics Anonymous has a policy of “attraction, not promotion”, and one way of attracting new members is to offer up a single, unpalatable alternative: prison. This is what the good folks in Fremont, Nebraska are doing. It is part of their court’s new drug program:

“Participants in the drug court program must attend three Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings a week, maintain a sponsor and work at least 25 hours a week or perform community service, among other requirements….”

Of course AA is cooperating with court by signing attendance cards, force feeding meetings and dogma down the throats of these court ordered participants, and assigning a one-on-one sponsor, who no doubt offer up an even worse alternative than prison if a person decides to leave AA once their mandate is fulfilled: death. Make someone a captive – any dogma – and there is a great chance they will swallow whatever dogma is put in from of them, eventually believing whatever they were told. After all, this is the same technique that convinced Patricia Hearst to rob a bank.

Of course, this belief in the dogma won’t help these addicts get off of the sauce, and what we’ll have left are addicts and alkies who believed they failed the program because of their lack of character, or because they didn’t fully work the program, or some of the many other ridiculous AA excuses which point the finger of shame directly toward the individual. If these guys believe meth addiction is hell, wait until they tack on the mental mind fuck of a few months inside of a 12-step program.

As the years progress, a small minority of graduates of this program will go on to sober up, and will be held up as a shining example of what this court ordered 12-step program can do to a person who “truly follows the path”. The chances are good there will be a follow-up puff piece focusing on one of these individuals who recovered from the brink of death, and the ninety-percent plus who fail at sobriety are ignored – all with the cooperation of the local AA group who have convinced themselves that none of this is promotion.

Saving the World

I’m responding to one of Danny’s comments here on the front page, because I have been wanting to address some of these points anyway, and because I think it merits its own discussion.

In response to this comment, from Danny (here):

You guys have a whole past-time, cottage industry going here based upon hatting our fellowship. Do you at least have SOME familiarity with the Big Book after which the fellowship is named? I have to wonder.

I asked,

Do you honestly believe that we’re here passing our time hating on your fellowship?

And Danny said:

Some seem that way. Not all do. I don’t ‘get’ the motivation. Would you say that the motivation behind a site like this is a “noble” one?

It seem like, “AA didn’t work for me so it won’t work for you either – and I am going to expend my efforts to prove that to somebody.”

Is this like a “I am going to save the world by exposing the truth” kind of phenomenon?

Am I even close?


Danny S – RLRA
Real Live Recovered Alcoholic


’Morning Danny,

A lot of things don’t work for me, but I don’t spend my free time stomping around trying to convince everyone that those things are bogus. (Completely OT, but that just made me think of an angry letter to the editor I read once: This guy wrote in to say that the lottery was a scam because he’d been playing for two months straight and hadn’t won anything yet.) We get that a lot here, “You must have failed at AA, and now you’re just disgruntled and probably still drunk.” That’s one of those Unofficial, Unofficial AA Slogans I wrote about. We couldn’t possibly have a beef with AA unless we failed it. It’s a lazy way to dismiss criticism.

Here’s the noble cause:

AA is fucking enormous. If the treatment industry were a microcosm of the whole country, AA would fill the niche Christianity fills. And like Christianity, which has a mighty sense of entitlement to assert itself and influence every facet of society – public schools, court rooms, the Constitution, people’s private lives – AA/12-step has a similar sense of entitlement within the treatment industry. And it is also treated by the treatment industry with the same… Idunno… unquestioning, kid-glove indulgence that Christianity enjoys. In general, people treat Christianity with respect, even if they don’t believe it. It’s kind of funny how rational people, or people who are not Christians, will so rarely – in the arena of public discourse – call bullshit on someone’s religion, even when their opponent’s religious belief is at the very root of their demented approach to public policy.

 Nobody wants to stand up and lambaste AA anymore than anyone wants to get on prime-time news and tell Christians that their religion is ridiculous and that it has no place in government (unless you’re Christopher Hitchens). If you do that, you become the immoral, godless crank, and the uproar is enormous. How long do you think it will be before our country is ready to elect an atheist President? As it stands, we just don’t take anyone seriously unless they have faith in some in strange, random, unprovable,  supernatural event – among many random, strange things they could possibly believe.

In the treatment industry, public criticism of AA and 12-Step programs is rare, and for the same reasons. It is always very delicately couched – AA is just a given; it’s conventional wisdom, mainstream. I wonder how many times Ann Landers, for instance, has suggested AA to her readers, without knowing anything more about it than that AA is what drunks are supposed to do. The treatment industry is bloated with AA, and this is a horrible result. AA is a “miracle;” it’s a belief system; it’s a spiritual program. But it is not addiction treatment, anymore than Intelligent Design is science.

In order for science to consider Intelligent Design seriously, even just to engage in a debate with ID’s proponents, science itself would have to abandon its rigorous standards; the conversation would require that science actually redefine terminology in order to find some common ground for discussion. This has already happened with AA. The treatment industry takes the utter unaccountability of AA seriously. Terms like “spiritual disease” are rarely questioned. And the result of this has been disastrous for so many people.

Further, AA’s unaccountability and lack of responsibility for what actually happens in AA meetings, and the treatment industry’s dependence on, and unquestioning acceptance of AA, has generated some awful AA gestalt, which is like The Grey Goo . People are not being treated for their addictions in AA; they’re either becoming part of the goo or getting run over by it. As MA pointed out, we’ve seen the damage it does to people — its epidemic.

Compared to the giant machine AA has for support, and the doe-eyed acceptance it receives in general, and the millions of members and meetings, we’re really small potatoes. AA is not the underdog; it’s the Gold Standard. AA enjoys a place at the head of the grown-ups’ table, while its critics are viewed as the turds in the punchbowl.

But when we criticize AA, hold it up to the light of day, the response we receive from AAs is so interesting. You’d think they were being persecuted. An enormous institution with this much influence (yes, I know AAs deny this) should be immune from criticism? Can’t handle a little ankle biting? They do not welcome the muckrakers? They have no interest in doing a fearless moral inventory, rooting out abuses and ineffective elements, in evolving? No desire for accountability? Why? Why are the members who question what goes on in meetings told to take the cotton out of their ears? No checks and balances? No standards? Critics must have failed the program that cannot fail.

So, yeah, I’d say that our mission here is noble. We have a mess. People are being harmed in AA because it mimics the dynamics of an abusive domestic relationship* – and it is The Norm. Is wanting to “expose the truth and save the world” a ridiculous pursuit? The way you phrase that makes it seem that doing so is quixotic, silly, childish, deluded. I guess it’s the “and save the world” part. How about we leave off that part, and put it like this, “expose the truth, keep the conversation going, and hope it leads to reform.”


*UPDATED because, amazingly, while I was writing this, AnnaZed sent me a link to this piece from, which goes into detail about what I mean when I say that AA mimics the dynamics of an abusive relationship.

Many a newcomer will immediately feel comfy and cozy in the rooms of AA simply because the dynamics of the group mirror that of the newcomer’s dysfunctional family of origin.

    * Don’t think, don’t feel.

    * If you do feel, be advised that certain feelings are not allowed.

    * We know what’s best for you.

    * You don’t know what’s best for you, and we won’t even ask your opinion.

    * The family is correct, it is your feelings which are screwed up.

    * You must honor and respect us. You must be grateful for us. We gave you life. You are not allowed to be angry at us.

    * “Ouch! It hurts!” you say — “We’re only doing this because we love you” — they respond

    * “This doesn’t make sense!” you say — “Do it because I told you so!” — they respond

    * We will love you only if you do “this”, “that” or “the other”… we will love you conditionally

    * Don’t speak the truth — We can’t handle it.

    * Be sure to always pretend that everything is allright, otherwise the family will fall apart.

Sound familiar?

How Alcoholics Anonymous Costs You In Court

Two months ago, a guy in North Carolina became suicidal after getting liquored up at his home. The situation escalated after police and the man’s AA sponsor arrived, and ended with the guy laying dead on the ground with a bullet hole through his chest. Yesterday the autopsy results were released, which showed that this guy’s blood alcohol content was above the lethal amount. He should have already been dead by the time the deputies arrived, but somehow he was still able to function. Here is an article about the incident.

The fact that this guy is now dead is obviously a tragic consequence, but looking further into this story reveals other failures, as well. Toward the end of the article, the reporter cites some previous arrests of this victim – including DUI, public intoxication, assault on a female and carrying a concealed weapon. These are not all of this guy’s convictions or arrests. There were two additional arrests for impaired driving, one resulting in a conviction (1990), and the other in a suspended sentence (1997). In four of these cases, he was compelled to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

This is an example of how AA is not a benign organization. This man is a victim of AA in two ways. One is their failure as a program for sobriety, and the other is in how AA conducts itself in relation to our court systems. This man had obvious psychological problems that extend beyond alcoholism. Problems that AA is ill-equipped to handle, and are actually more likely to exacerbate. A sponsor who is untrained in counseling, and who is very likely to be unbalanced himself — coupled with the collective idea that medication is poison, becomes a toxic mix for a person with psychological problems. Treating this man’s anger – which was likely the result of a chemical imbalance in his brain – with shame, resentment lists, suppression of his feelings and divine intervention; instead of with real psychological help, is the standard AA approach. An AA slogan is often said, but never applied, comes to mind. This guy needed a “check-up from the neck up”. What he got instead was a religious program that fails almost everyone who walks through the door. A program that had already failed him multiple times. AA is not required to accept anyone as part of a court mandate. I wish they wouldn’t have accepted this guy, and would have instead forced the court to find other methods of treatment – real, psychological treatment that someone who is mentally ill deserves. Maybe this tragedy could have been avoided.

I wanted to write about this case, because I wanted to isolate a specific example of how AA costs everyone, beyond the most obvious thing, and that is loss of life. There is a cost AA’s high failure rate. Putting an exact dollar figure is impossible. Factor in the hourly rate of those involved in the multiple arrests, court appearances, jailhouse stays and legal fees for this person — and it will give you some idea of what the costs are to you and me in terms of tax dollars. Multiply this by tens of thousands of cases, and you begin to get an idea of how this impacts everyone. It does not matter that an AA chapter passes around a collection plate, and accepts no outside contributions. That is not what costs you and me. We lose out from AA’s failure, and their inability to accept the idea that they are not a solution to almost every new member, or in this case, returning member.

Those Kids Were Fast As Lightning

[Update: Apparently, since last night, Dr. McCartney has removed his post titled “How Does A.A. Work?”  The comments remain, if you follow the link, but they are unformatted now and a little difficult to wade through.]

This is dedicated to speedy, raysny and AnnaZed who are fighting the good fight over in the comments at David McCartney’s blog. Go check out their expert timing.


Unofficial, Unoffical AA Slogans

[This goes under my new category: Gratuitous AA Bashing. Alternately: kiss my ass.]

pollution sunset

pollution sunset

After having participated in many discussions with AAs, I have noticed that, while they often disown and dismiss their slogans, they also tend to be Carbon-Based Random Slogan Generators in their own right, responding to any given argument by stringing several slogans together in response to any criticism of their program.

A good case in point is the AA’s response I received in the comments to my Stinking Thinking post, in which the commenter politely handed me my ass for assuming that AAs treat these slogans as gospel, when, in fact, they are just guideposts — even while he unconsciously uses nonsense slogans to make his point, specifically: a variation on “None are too dumb for AA, but some are too smart,” and “One might accuse groups of ‘brainwashing,’ but the fact is, lots of brains NEED a good washing…” Using only two slogans in five paragraphs shows uncommon restraint, and I commend that. But I’m gonna address these.

Being smart isn’t anything to apologize for, as I’ve mentioned before. Neither is there such a thing as “too smart.” Smart is just a thing you are, like blonde or funny. Imagine telling a toddler he’s “too smart.” Not that I don’t get what they’re trying to say: AA works, but not if you sit around trying to analyze it until you suck all the God out of it, like taking the magic out of awe-inspiring sunset, by explaining that all the brilliant colors are generated by pollution.

And clever as it sounds, the brainwashing slogan is just bullshittery on so many levels, no matter how you interpret it, which could be a few different ways: First, “I’d rather be brainwashed than drunk, in jail, institutionalized, or dead.” (That’s a false dichotomy.) Second, “The antidote to my brainwashing is more brainwashing.” (Another false dichotomy.) Third, “Ha ha! So what if I’m brainwashed? I like it!” (“I know you are, but what am I?” To which there is no response, except “Honey? Hide the kids now.”) Fourth, they are making some kind of distinction between brainwashing (which is real) and washing one’s brain (which is not), which sounds kind of Yodaesque, but doesn’t make any sense at all if you’re smart. My gut feeling is that this slogan is simply damage control – a way of offering up just enough of the truth, in a light-hearted way, to diffuse further inquiry. Continue reading Unofficial, Unoffical AA Slogans

How Alcoholics Anonymous lies with statistics

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

How Alcoholics Anonymous Lies with the Truth

“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.