Friday Feedback: Yes, AA Does Work

friday feedbackEach Friday, LA Progressive presents a comment we editors find to be most profound, insightful, or just plain irritating.

This week, Robert Illes, who also publishes articles with us, addresses Kevin Gray’s “Does AA Really Work?

Here are Robert’s comments:

What is really left out of this article is that in fact the main premium of AA is NOT really abstinence, but the rest of the 11 steps. Quitting drink or drug is just the first step. Then the real work begins,

These 12 steps are deliberately simple, developed nearly 80 years ago, so that they are approachable to people to aid in self awareness (why am I doing this destructive behavior?) and how to be happy NOT doing it, by getleading a spiritual (NOT religious), selfless lifestyle. Of course there would be no statistics of success per se because that is the very nature of AA – no rules, no records. And every single AA member works their own “program”; none are precisely the same (i.e., some members don’t have a sponsor, some go to 20 meetings a week, some go to 20 meetings a year, some sponsor others, some don’t. Some may well have learned how to drink “normally” etc.) But ask any member of AA who has made it through, say, 5 years or 1 year or 21 days, and they will assure anyone, on an anecdotal basis, of course, how incredibly successful it is for themselves or others they have observed, and the relief they feel. AND it’s absolutely FREE but for voluntary donations.

drinkingOf course there are those who don’t “get it”, those who are around for many years and then “go out”. Invariably, those cases can be accredited to, as Dr. Sack says in the artcile, not “working it” – which means not mere abstinence; that’s just the first step. There are 11 more steps of absolutely equal importance for the program to work. And the principles can be applied (and have been) to many many addictions (overeating, smoking, living with an alcoholic, being a child of an alcoholic, hell even screaming in traffic).

There may well be other forms to relieve the destruction of drugs and alcohol – whether psychiatry, group therapy or just plain old “white knuckling it” because one is sick and tired of being sick and tired. But, whichever one it is, few human endeavors work better than when one has a support system, and reliable tools. And just about every alternative therapy gets right back to those same tools that AA has refined.

And all of this I just “heard from a friend.”.


  1. Willravel says

    The fact this system is 80 years old shouldn’t be considered a positive but a negative. Where was psychology as a science 80 years ago vs. today? Think about that for a second. Add to that sabotaging concepts like admitting powerlessness, appealing to an outside authority for strength (especially God, in most cases), calling alcoholism a ‘defect of character’, and worst of all the fact that AA disallows studies on it’s members, and you have a recipe for pseudoscience.

    With all due respect, we can make a far better system. Based on what little data is actually available on AA, it doesn’t seem to be a particularly effective program, and that makes perfect sense because AA doesn’t change or adapt with new information. With the better understanding we have today of substance abuse and psychology, we can make a better program, a program based on double-blind-tested processes that can be independently verified and that are predictive. We can go back and test the program periodically and make necessary changes as our understanding of the human mind and substance abuse go forward. We can help a lot more people. We can make a far better system.

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