I’m glad that Norcross found sobriety, but his frantic defense of AA is unfortunate. I say this because there are those who want help with their addiction and are not getting it from AA. Often these people are being told that they are the problem and that they just need to try harder or have more faith.
Alcoholics Anonymous is flawed for a number of reasons. Here’s two: It works like a religion. I’m not talking about the higher power thing, which can, indeed, be a deterrent for some. No, I’m talking about the unspoken requirement of having to buy into the program of AA itself. If someone can put her full trust and faith into AA, then there is a decent probability that she will stay sober (and yes, there are studies showing that), but not everyone will be able to do so. If AA members were more educated about other treatment programs, then the folks who aren’t getting help from AA could be directed to other treatment options and get some help. Another problem is that AA doesn’t allow for new information to update its program. Thus, it cannot reach full potential, even though some helpful aspects of AA could be made to be more effective. As it exists today, AA is positioned to remain outside the influence of addiction science, and it will likely become more isolated in the future as a consequence.
Studies that show the lack of AA effectiveness or that show that other types of treatment can be effective will not cost lives. These studies will save lives.
Norcross asks some good questions about how to measure success and who should be categorized as such. But success has often been determined by AA criteria, which is complete adherence to AA and no relapse. AA’s own surveys showed that most people drop out in the first year. Norcross is correct to ask whether those who drop out are treatment failures, because what if someone stops going to AA and reduces or quits drinking or using altogether? Wouldn’t that be considered successful? But alas AA has set the bar, so to speak, and anything but meetings and abstinence are considered fails, when I would argue that something like reduction in use or fewer binges should be considered progress. That’s what AA claims, right? Progress not perfection?
Alcoholics Anonymous may be right for some, but there is a troubling idea in AA that if it doesn’t work for a person then it is that person’s fault. That’s a shame, and it is more likely the fault of a treatment program that remains rigid and dogmatic. It works like a religion, and as someone who deeply cares that people with addiction get the help they need, I will continue to advocate for more awareness of other treatment options as well as criticize flawed treatment paradigms like AA.