The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

May 29, 2018

By Gabrielle Glaser

J.G. is a lawyer in his early 30s. He’s a fast talker and has the lean, sinewy build of a distance runner. His choice of profession seems preordained, as he speaks in fully formed paragraphs, his thoughts organized by topic sentences. He’s also a worrier—a big one—who for years used alcohol to soothe his anxiety.J.G. started drinking at 15, when he and a friend experimented in his parents’ liquor cabinet. He favored gin and whiskey but drank whatever he thought his parents would miss the least. He discovered beer, too, and loved the earthy, bitter taste on his tongue when he took his first cold sip.

His drinking increased through college and into law school. He could, and occasionally did, pull back, going cold turkey for weeks at a time. But nothing quieted his anxious mind like booze, and when he didn’t drink, he didn’t sleep. After four or six weeks dry, he’d be back at the liquor store.

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2 comments on “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

  • The fallacy behind much of the “logic” at work with AA and all the other “anonymouses” is that they are selective in their canonical absolutes. In AA there is offered a single path to recovery: lifelong abstinence from alcohol. What about “sex addicts”? Should they abstain forever? Or should the mission be to get them to gain some control over their lives? Of course it’s the latter. And thus the divide. So why is alcohol deemed the one vice that must be forever be banished while other vices must merely be controlled? Here’s an interesting excerpt from this excellent article:

    AA truisms have so infiltrated our culture that many people believe heavy drinkers cannot recover before they “hit bottom.” Researchers I’ve talked with say that’s akin to offering antidepressants only to those who have attempted suicide, or prescribing insulin only after a patient has lapsed into a diabetic coma. “You might as well tell a guy who weighs 250 pounds and has untreated hypertension and cholesterol of 300, ‘Don’t exercise, keep eating fast food, and we’ll give you a triple bypass when you have a heart attack,’ ” Mark Willenbring, a psychiatrist in St. Paul and a former director of treatment and recovery research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told me. He threw up his hands. “Absurd.”



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  • Steven007

    The “hit bottom” idea that is promoted by AA and other related 12 step programs is blatant unethical harm to those suffering from addiction. At the present time in the US, addicts of alcohol and drugs are routinely court ordered into AA as part of their probation and parole requirements so this antiquated, outdated program has the power to affect many lives. This is no small potatoes we’re talking about.

    While it’s true that recovery would come about in a direct path more easily if the addict really wants the help, they often can’t see the forest for the trees when deep in their cups or living on the street selling themselves for the next high and stealing everything that isn’t nailed down. When someone is suffering to that degree, how can they find the energy to drag themselves into a rehab? How can they go to their family and face the fury, accusations and mountain of guilt that inevitably waits for them there?

    This is the cruelty of the ‘let them hit bottom” idea. If we kick our kids out of the house due to an addiction, we get to watch them walk down the sidewalk with their belongings in a garbage bag and wonder if we will ever see them alive again or if we will get a call in the middle of the night asking us to come to the coroners office to ID them. You see how easy it is for others to say, “You need to just kick that kid out!” Let’s see if they can kick their own kid out. Of course, they can’t.

    What if a different saying works better here? How about – Nip it in the bud. Sounds better to me.

    If only we had state of the art treatment centers and universal health care to take away the financial burden (note that in US many treatment centers charge families thousands of dollars for several weeks stay) and a treatment program that includes methods that have been scientifically proven to work then we’d move this problem ahead drastically.

    We can NOT pray away an addiction as AA claims we can. Medical science is our best and only hope for managing addiction. We have some new tactics in the fight and I believe many more will follow.



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