I’ll start by saying this: Alcoholics Anonymous is the sole reason I am not dead. So I’m biased as hell.
It seems every few years a new study comes out saying how Alcoholics Anonymous isn’t effective, or is a cult, or that something else has come along that is better. I’m not going to link to them, but they’re easily found online. I’m only here to share my own experience, since that’s the only thing that I can speak on with any authority. YMMV and all that.
To say I was a mess when I arrived in AA would be an understatement. If you’re interested in what got me to AA in the first place, you can read it all here. So any amount of hope was a welcomed change of pace. And I got that hope in AA. The hope that maybe I wouldn’t die drunk in the streets, or worse yet crud away like one of those old drunks you see. “But isn’t AA a cult?” you ask? It might be. I’ve never been in a cult. I will say that AA doesn’t fit the full definition of a cult, in that the requested behavior isn’t what I would call “deviant”. They ask that I not drink, turn my life over to god as I understand god, and help others do the same. Let’s look at their own description for a minute:
Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements. Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.
Oh yeah, the god thing. This is the hangup I most often see. Yes, AA asks that you believe in a higher power. I call that higher power god because that’s what works for me. Not a Protestant god. Not a Catholic god. Just a god that loves me unconditionally. It took me a little while to get to that point, but I could get with that idea. My concept is simple: There is a god, and I’m not it. That’s the construct I came up with shortly after I arrived, and it’s still serving me well today. My god and your god aren’t the same. And that’s totally fine.
The funny thing about AA is that nearly everyone gets what they want when they show up. The problem is, not everyone wants to get sober. Many folks want to get rid of some consequences from their drinking. Maybe a job is forcing them to get help. Or their spouse kicked them out. Or they got a DUI and had to go to a certain number of meetings as part of their sentence. That’s why I get angry when I see people cite studies that include “success” rates. There are many people who go to AA that have absolutely no intention of getting sober. None. They want to get out of trouble. So if they get out of the temporary jam that they’re in, then leave AA, are they considered a “success”? Or how about the 19 year old who gets sent there because he got caught with a bag of weed? He’s not an alcoholic. He shouldn’t be there to begin with. So when he leaves (and he will), is he marked against this rate?
Don’t forget about the “anonymous” part of Alcoholics Anonymous. No official statistics are ever put out. Every few years Alcoholics Anonymous does a survey of its members, but it’s a small snapshot of the groups that participate. I’ve never “registered” anywhere in my nearly 12 years in AA. Not once have I been asked to provide information towards some data calculations. And until now, I’ve rarely made mention publicly that I’m even a member of AA. So any study is doomed from the start. And if you read them, you’ll see a common thread: former members who are unhappy, or people who have a vested interest in something else succeeding. Even if they don’t have an agenda (and almost all do), they’re still flawed in their construct. They aren’t studies. They’re surveys.
Now I do want to make one thing clear: AA is by no means the only way to get sober, or even the best. There is no “best” way.
The best way to get sober is how you got sober.
That’s for me, for you, for anyone who is giving it an honest try. Kicking booze and drugs is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done, which includes having to re-learn how to walk at the age of 20 due to a major leg surgery. Some people go to church. Some people go through therapy of some kind. And some people just decide one day that they’re done, and they quit. Those people are rare. I’ve met 2 of them my entire life, and both were miserable as hell. Don’t know if one had anything to do with the other.
My point is this: unless you’re an alcoholic in AA, you have no experience with it. So telling someone else it’s bad / a cult / a waste of time is at best worthless, and at worst could be lethal. AA doesn’t need me to be a cheerleader for them. They did just fine before I walked in the door. They’ll do fine when I’m dead and buried. But while I’m still on this planet, I’m going to be protective of AA because my other alternative is the life I used to lead. And my life has become pretty damn awesome, so it’s not something I’m willing to give up.