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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 21.3 > Does AA Work?

Does AA Work?

Alcoholics Anonymous, 12-Step Programs, and What We Really Know About Substance Abuse Treatment

“For every complex question there is a simple answer, and it is wrong.” —H.L. Mencken

Illustration by Simone Rein

IN THE MID-90S I HAD A SEVERE ALCOHOL ADDICTION. When I decided I needed help, the only alternative offered to me was Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I was told this was the best approach—the most successful way to sobriety. At the time I knew nothing about AA. This is what I soon learned: AA was established in the 1930s based on the experiences of 100 white men. It has remained unchanged since then.

The road to recovery involved identifying myself as an alcoholic (i.e., “My name is Cathy, and I am an alcoholic.”), admitting to powerlessness, and turning myself over to a Higher Power, defined as God, capitalized. People are often told in AA that their higher power can be anything—the group itself or nature, etc. But in the Big Book (the AA bible), the pronouns for god are He/Him, both with a capital “H.” It is also is not uncommon for AA meetings to end with the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Sounded pretty Christian to me.

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INTERNET PORNOGRAPHY SPECIAL SECTION: IS PORNOGRAPHY BAD FOR YOU?; How Porn Is Messing with Your Manhood; Skeptical of Porn Skeptics; Hazards of Herbal Medicine: Lessons from Aristolochia; What is Sexual Orientation?; Did a Teenager Discover an Ancient Mayan City on Google Earth?; Paleo Diets and Utopian Dreams; Does AA Work? Alcoholics Anonymous, 12-Step Programs, and What We Really Know About Substance Abuse Treatment; The Clash of Eschatologies: The Role of End-Times Thinking in World History; Nightmares from the Id: The Neurophysiology of Anomalous Psychological Experiences; Terror Attacks that Never Were; Electromagnetic Fields and Parental Panics: A Case Study in How Science Can Bring Comfort; REVIEWS: Who Invented Science?; Science and the Creation of the Modern Mind; Heaven Is Not For Real; When Scientific American Put Psychics to the Test; JUNIOR SKEPTIC: MammothMysteries! Part One. The Hidden History of Mammoths and Mastodons