Exposing the Myth of Alcoholics Anonymous

Steven Mohr

If you have had a serious drinking problem in the United States of America, you might also have had serious troubles connected with that problem. You might have a drunken driving conviction or landed in a hospital or detoxification facility by court order.

If any of these things have happened to you, it is almost certain that you have been introduced to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, otherwise known simply as AA. If you have been fortunate enough to have avoided jail or hospitals but have, on your own, sought professional help to stop or to moderate your alcohol consumption, the odds are still very, very high that you have been advised to attend meetings of AA.

The program of Alcoholics Anonymous, known as a twelve-step program, is the number-one treatment for alcoholism in the United States imposed by the courts and supported by the medical community for the last forty years. Very few health insurance companies will cover alcohol or drug addiction treatment that is not twelve-step based. It would be reasonable to assume therefore, as most people do, that AA is not only a successful treatment for the alcoholic but is probably the best available today.

Both assumptions are completely unfounded and unsupported by scientific or historical evidence. The truth is that the available evidence strongly suggests that AA treatment provides very little or no long-term help for active alcoholics. Further, there is ample evidence that long-term repeated exposure to this program is actually dangerous to many alcoholics who would fare better if left on their own.

This is a truly appalling and frightening state of affairs for millions of alcoholics and their loved ones. It means that the medical profession and the court system in the United States are each year directing thousands of sick people into a program that has little or no merit as a treatment for their illness. It also implies that few serious alternatives are routinely brought to the attention of the troubled alcoholic.

What is Alcoholics Anonymous? Who are its adherents? What are its methods? How has AA become so deeply entrenched in public—and professional—thinking vis-á-vis the treatment of alcoholism? If it doesn’t work, as I have suggested, why not? What in the world could actually make it dangerous? Is there medical, therapeutic, or psychological treatment involved? Is it based on religious beliefs? Is it a religious cult?

Alcoholics Anonymous claims to be: “. . . a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. . . . Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety” (A Brief Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous, 1972). These words sound positive and hopeful, but they do not describe the true workings or intent of AA.

To be plain, there is ample evidence that AA is in reality a religious cult masquerading as a self-help group. Its adherents actively indoctrinate newcomers to their way of thinking using overt and subtle misinformation, intimidation, and false promises. They routinely prey on a population subset of sick people at their weakest, namely desperate alcoholics. Through ancillary groups like Al-Anon and Alateen, AA also attempts to bring the families of alcoholics into their cult. Unless AA offers something tangible, verifiable, and repeatedly helpful to these people, it is not just deceitful but dangerous.

This might sound like an astounding accusation to anyone who has not been maltreated by AA—or studied it carefully. Likewise, you may know seemingly happy recovering alcoholics who swear by the allegedly benign and benevolent nature of the AA program. You may be one yourself.

Those who believe they remain sober solely by strict adherence to the AA program—and there are thousands—generally have nothing but praise for the program. But if thousands have recovered when millions have tried, then the best that can be said is that the success rate is low. The worst that can be said I have already written: for every happily recovering anonymous alcoholic there are hundreds who have found the program at best worthless and at worst a curse or even a death sentence. Ironically, I have often heard it said in AA meetings that to be successful in one’s recovery, one must “. . . step over the bodies.”

The first thing one is asked when initiated into AA is to keep an open mind. I agree wholeheartedly. If you are currently trying to remain sober through AA or are of the opinion that it is a good and necessary support program for alcoholics, I implore you to keep an open mind to the premises already mentioned and the following substantiated facts. They may save your life or that of someone you know. At the very least, this knowledge may save you a lot of time and let you find real help sooner.

A Brief History of AA

AA is a largely decentralized organization—a random collection of smaller groups—cofounded in 1935 by Bill Wilson, an unsuccessful stock trader, and Bob Smith, a surgeon. Wilson suffered for years with ever-advancing and debilitating alcoholism. He lost all ability to earn a living and was repeatedly institutionalized for detoxification to save his life. By his own account and that of his wife and others, he was a hopeless case destined for death by prolonged alcohol poisoning or commitment to an insane asylum for alcohol-induced dementia known medically as Korsakoff’s syndrome, or wet brain.

One day, an old friend and self-admitted fellow drunk, Ebby Thatcher, visited Wilson at his house. Thatcher was clean and sober and told Wilson that he overcame his alcoholism by finding religion. Specifically, he joined a small sect of evangelical Christians called the Oxford Group, founded by Frank Buchman. Though skeptical, Wilson attended some church meetings but lapsed back into destructive drinking.

During a last-ditch effort to save him, his wife and his brother-in-law sent Wilson to a medical sanitarium to dry out and receive a multiple-drug treatment common in the day that involved the administration of various sedatives along with the psychotropic, even hallucination-inducing, drug belladonna. While under the influence of strong psychotropic drugs, Wilson had a vision of a bright light and the revelation that he could be saved only by giving his life completely and fully to God—and that an important part of his recovery would be to bring the news of his epiphany and recovery to other suffering alcoholics. By all accounts, he never drank alcohol again and spent the rest of his life building and advocating AA. He is known to have suffered massive depressive episodes during his life but remained sober. He died in 1971 at the age of seventy-five.

Wilson is credited with authoring the eponymous fundamental text of Alcoholics Anonymous, generally called “The Big Book” (1939). In The Big Book, Wilson told his story of recovery and outlined twelve steps by which he believed any alcoholic can recover. In a second book, titled Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (1952), Wilson elaborated greatly on the twelve steps and added twelve principles for maintaining the organization of AA. The steps and some of the traditions will be presented here as we examine AA’s methods.

Wilson met Smith early in his recovery. Smith had also successfully found sobriety by giving his life to God and particularly to Jesus Christ through the Oxford Group. These two men regarded their personal recoveries as nothing short of miraculous. They set out immediately and with great urgency to spread the word to other alcoholics. As they gathered recruits to their method of alcoholic salvation, regular attendance at highly ritualized meetings of their fellows became an essential aspect of AA’s doctrine.

Their recruitment success rate was nearly zero at first. By the time of the writing of The Big Book around 1938–1939, they claimed an active membership of roughly a hundred. There is scant evidence for the general success of the early adherents, other than that they regularly attended meetings and kept trying the program when they relapsed. Still, it appears that there was a substantial dropout rate, requiring Wilson and Smith to constantly recruit new members.

By 1939, The Big Book had been published, and both Wilson and Smith were vigorously promoting their program in other cities with the income from book sales. A glowing account of their efforts by Jack Alexander appeared in an article in the Saturday Evening Post in 1941, after which they began to receive national attention. Around this time, they also found support in the person of John D. Rockefeller Jr. With his enormous resources and influence, Rockefeller did much to help keep the fledgling organization alive.

Evidence and Propaganda

These historical facts are not in dispute. The same basic story is available from AA’s literature or on its Web site, http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org. What is not mentioned there but is noteworthy is that the medical community at large rejected the AA “cure” for alcoholism at the start. This is understandable because, as we will see, the supposed cure involved appeals to a supernatural agency, and all reports of success were entirely anecdotal. Nonetheless, The Big Book opens with a ringing endorsement by Dr. Robert Silkwood, who had worked with alcoholics for years and knew Wilson personally.

Silkwood was duly impressed with Wilson’s recovery and contributed the only medical opinion in the book. He also developed a personal theory that alcoholics had acquired an allergy to alcohol—something that is still offered as fact within AA but has never been endorsed by the medical community. There seems to be no evidence at all to support the allergy theory of alcoholism. Alcoholism was not even medically recognized as a disease until the American Medical Association declared it so in 1956.

Today, AA boasts two million adherents in over 120 countries worldwide; this is a figure cited in the fourth edition, sixteenth printing of The Big Book (2005) as well as AA’s Web site. How AA arrived at this number is unclear, as is its reporting of its rates of success in getting and keeping alcoholics sober.

Reliable statistics are notoriously difficult to come by when dealing with drug addicts.One has only the word of users as to whether or not they have remained sober, unless there are records of incarceration, users are caught in the act, or there are firsthand accounts from associates or reports from forced chemical testing. AA also does not keep track of those who pass through its meeting doors because attendance is anonymous. Still, in order to find support in the medical community, AA needs to compile some form of statistics on success rates.

Starting in 1964, the Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Organization (GSO) began conducting its triennial surveys of its current population and compiling the results. The 1983 report claimed to be the first to use scientific statistical sampling techniques. In that year, AA finally employed a professional consultant who introduced the statistically valid stratified sampling technique. Though AA had never before 1983 used valid statistical methods, it regularly reported success rates from 25 percent to 50 percent or even higher. Thus, for the first forty-eight years of its existence, AA members were simply inventing numbers. Ironically, AA describes itself as a program of “rigorous honesty.”

Still, the introduction of valid statistical methods (if properly applied) could have yielded reliable data beginning in 1983. I have had no luck finding continued surveys after 1989, but in that year AA reported that on average, after six months 93 percent of new attendees had left the program and that after one year only 5 to 7 percent remained. It is unclear whether or not this takes into account those who leave and rejoin the program repeatedly over a span of years.

The 5 to 7 percent reported for a steady year of sobriety is usually counted as the short-term success rate of the AA program. Taken out to five years, it is exceedingly difficult to estimate. Members with decades of sobriety are hard to find and greatly valued as speakers at meetings. Some travel extensively to promote the cause. Others become licensed addiction counselors and work in facilities that include twelve-step initiation. In this way, the intra-program perception of having many old-timers is perpetuated.

Independent Investigation

Their own unfavorable statistics do not, however, dissuade AA from continuing to claim great success for their program. Wilson wrote in The Big Book: “Rarely, have we seen anyone fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are those who cannot or will not give themselves completely to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.” On his deathbed, he is reported as saying he wished he had written never instead of only rarely. The argument is that many may come through the doors of AA and most may not come back, but those who truly practice the twelve steps always succeed. This is, of course, an argument that can be neither proved nor disproved. It is in no way scientific and, as we shall see, the methods of AA are nonrigorous and subjective because the “cure” involves appeals to supernatural agencies.

With a brief history of AA now in place, we turn to the obvious question of independent attempts to validate the success of the treatment scientifically. There have been surprisingly few over seventy years. Still, more and more evidence has come to light that AA simply does not help alcoholics. In 1995, the Harvard Medical School reported evidence that a significant number of problem drinkers recover on their own. Researchers wrote in the Harvard Mental Health Letter of October, 1995: “One recent study found that 80 percent of all alcoholics who recover for a year or more do so on their own, some after being unsuccessfully treated. When a group of these self-treated alcoholics was interviewed, 57 percent said they simply decided that alcohol was bad for them. Twenty-nine percent said health problems, frightening experiences, accidents, or blackouts persuaded them to quit. Others used such phrases as ‘Things were building up’ or ‘I was sick and tired of it.’ Support from a husband or wife was important in sustaining the resolution.”

It is most useful here to present evidence from one of the first large reliably validated scientific studies of its kind, which targeted AA’s program directly and exclusively. It was performed by Dr. George Vaillant, M.D., a Harvard psychiatrist and noted authority on the disease of alcoholism and an open proponent of AA. Dr. Vaillant is the author of The Natural History of Alcoholism, a seminal work in the field published in 1983.

Dr. Vaillant conducted a study whereby he followed 100 alcoholics consecutively admitted for detoxification to an alcoholism clinic in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with which he was associated. The subjects were followed for a period of eight years with status obtained annually after discharge from the clinic.

Though he expected great success through the AA program, he was instead greatly disappointed. His honesty and candor, though, are commendable. Dr. Vaillant wrote:

It seemed perfectly clear . . . by turning to recovering alcoholics [AA members] rather than to Ph.D.’s for lessons in breaking self-detrimental and more or less
involuntary habits, and by inexorably moving patients . . . into the treatment system of AA, I was working for the most exciting alcohol program in the world.

But then came the rub. Fueled by our enthusiasm, I and the [clinic] director, tried to prove our efficacy. Our clinic followed up our first 100 detoxification patients . . . every year for the next eight years. The clinic sample results [were] also contrasted with three studies of equal duration that purported to offer no formal treatment. After initial discharge, only five patients in the clinic sample never relapsed to alcoholic drinking, and there is compelling evidence that the results of our treatment were no better than the natural history of the disease….Not only had we failed to alter the natural history of alcoholism, but our death rate of three percent a year was appalling.

Note carefully that in this study of 100 subjects, 3 percent of these individuals died every year for eight years while actively participating in AA. This means that at the end of the eighth year, only seventy-six of the original test sample remained alive—twenty-four had died. The random population sample used in the experiment should have been little different than that of the general U.S. population of adults in which approximately 1 percent die a year from all combined causes (roughly 900 deaths per 100,000 people in 1985). Even taking into account that chronic alcoholics may be in poorer health than the average citizen, twenty-four dead in only eight years, or over three times the national average, is an extremely depressing statistic.

Note also that when Dr. Vaillant refers to AA as being no better than the natural history of the disease, he means that his studies and others have shown that chronic alcoholics left to their own devices with no intervention still recover at the rate of about 5 percent a year. Interestingly, and what I find confounding, Dr. Vaillant is a secular (nonalcoholic) member on the board of trustees of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Despite his failure as a scientist to prove any efficacy for the program, he remains an ardent supporter of AA.

Misdirection, Mind Control, and a Higher Power

But the doctor’s attitude is really quite typical of the AA supporter. There are undeniably thousands of individuals within AA at any given time who used to drink chronically but are at present clean and sober. We have seen, though, that many of these would probably have recovered with no help at all. Recovering alcoholics are taught by AA to give all credit to God and AA. They generally oblige, regardless of any other external or internal factors that tend to keep them sober, such as an honest desire to be healthy again or the love and support of their families. AA denies these influences, and The Big Book even admonishes AA devotees to put family third after God and AA and to put everything else in life last.

It is a flawed argument to use a snapshot of the reported success of a population sample to claim overall long-term success for the larger population. The more rigorous approach of Dr. Vaillant and others has repeatedly provided scientifically sound statistics that belie any claims made by those with a vested prejudice for the program.

This brings us to the next set of fundamental questions. Whether or not AA has ever been shown to work reliably or repeatably, how is it supposed to work? Could it be a religious cult instead of a cure for alcoholism?

AA claims to be a spiritual, rather than a religious program of alcoholic recovery. It claims that the disease of alcoholism is one of body, mind, and spirit. But it focuses entirely on the spirit. Since the twelve steps are essential to understanding the AA philosophy, I present them here as taken directly from The Big Book.

The 12 Suggested Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

I will not attempt to analyze each of these steps in detail. Taken as a whole, they are offered as a “suggested” program of recovery. It is often said to newcomers in AA that they should take what they can use and leave the rest; at least they are told that at first. There is no doubt, however, that the teachings of the twelve steps are intended to be a complete and wholly necessary set of instructions (dare I say Commandments?) for the alcoholic to achieve a lasting sobriety. It is completely obvious that the steps are a recommended path to theological enlightenment, not just sobriety.

These steps are a direct expansion of the principles taught by the Oxford Group founded by Frank Buchman, of which Bill Wilson and Smith were devoted members. The Oxford Group, incidentally, had no affiliation with the University of Oxford and later changed its name to Moral Re-Armament and later again to Initiatives of Change.

The Oxford Principles

To seek Divine Guidance in all aspects of life

To humble oneself to God and surrender completely to Him

To acknowledge any offenses against others

To make restitution to those sinned against

To promote the group to the public in an evangelical manner

By examination of the existing evidence, if not by its own admission (AA insists it is not a religious program), AA seems to be a religious sect. It encourages members to actively seek a personal relationship with God. It advocates intercessory prayer, the confession of sins, and promotes evangelicalism. I and others have gone further and called AA a dangerous religious cult. How do we justify this interpretation?

A Doctrine of Hopelessness

Remember that those who come to AA are in trouble. Those alcoholics in the worst shape have become physically and emotionally debilitated. Some are on the verge of literally drinking themselves to death or going insane. Others have been court-ordered to attend because they committed a crime under the influence. In between are those who are just sick of the life of alcohol addiction. They have tried to stop on their own and failed. They have been told there is hope in the fellowship of AA. And, very important, they have found that society offers little else by way of help. They seem to have few options left.

People in this state are depressed and desperate. They are ready to be given hope, which AA claims to offer if they will “just follow a few simple rules.” But the hope offered by AA begins and ends with indoctrination to a set of religious beliefs. Much time could be spent examining the details of this indoctrination, as there are many subtleties. The methods are typical of other mind-control cults, so it is useful to summarize them here.

Newcomers (tellingly referred to in the program as &ld
quo;pigeons”) are told that their only hope of survival is to accept complete defeat and powerlessness over alcohol. They are initially told that if they will only open their minds to the concept of a power-greater-than-oneself, they have a chance. They are told that the Power can be whatever they wish. In a ridiculous example, I have heard of a man who chose a doorknob as his Higher Power and stayed sober by praying to the doorknob until his death. All-powerful pieces of hardware notwithstanding, the usual progression is that under the guidance of the AA fellowship, whatever power the pigeon may have originally conceived shortly becomes a traditional Judeo/Christian/Muslim God—a God of prayer, intercession, and ultimate salvation.

Notice in the twelve steps how being powerless over the disease of alcoholism quickly becomes a nondescript form of insanity. Then pigeons must take moral inventory before they can continue on the road to recovery (how the insane can be expected to take moral inventory is never addressed). Next, pigeons are told they have not just an illness but profound defects of character (sins?). They must confess their sins. They must plead with God to remove their character defects. They must surrender their wills to God and pray to God ceaselessly. Finally, they must realize that they will never be entirely free of this horrible, deadly illness. They can only keep it at bay by involving themselves with other alcoholics—that is, by bringing more pigeons into the program. They are encouraged to attend AA meetings as often as possible for the rest of their lives.

The message is very clear. Alcoholics have one chance and one chance only—personal knowledge of God through AA’s program. But what happens if they relapse? Relapse is very common in and out of AA, though exact figures are, again, elusive. The point here is that the alcoholics have been told repeatedly and quite forcefully that they can never drink alcohol again. If they do, they will be worse off than they were when they last stopped. They are forcefully told that their disease grows whether or not they are actively drinking. There is a mantra repeated at most AA meetings, “Without AA, the alcoholic is doomed to one of three fates: Incarceration, Insanity, or Death.” There is a deep nihilism to such a doctrine, but AA thrives on such nihilism, and its members suffer the hopelessness implicit therein.

When the recovering alcoholic does relapse, as most do, there is a tendency toward fatalism. “I am powerless. I can’t stop and God has not answered my prayers, therefore I am inferior—even worthless.” If a person is truly powerless over alcohol and if he or she has failed even with the help of God, why not just keep drinking?

Having spent time in the AA program myself, I found the most difficult stories to understand were those of, say, people with twenty years’ sobriety relapsing and shortly thereafter drinking themselves to death. What kind of program could only offer one day or even one moment of recovery and call itself successful? How could someone still be an alcoholic after twenty sober years? The answer I invariably received was that these victims let their guard down and their “baffling,” incurable disease got them. It sounded too much to me like a Christian who must be forever on guard against Satan, not a man or woman with a medical condition undergoing treatment.


The next crucial questions from societal, legal, and health-care points of view are: How has AA managed to inculcate itself into the addiction treatment industry and court system so thoroughly? And how does it get away with it? There are many twelve-step spin-offs of AA, such as Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous . . . the list goes on. They all follow mostly the same steps and doctrine of AA and they all work equally poorly. Apparently, many sick people are not getting better, and some are suffering terribly under the present twelve-step-based system of addiction recovery.

As I have already mentioned, the great majority of alcohol and drug rehabilitation facilities (up to 90 percent) in this country use twelve-step indoctrination, and the U.S. court system regularly requires AA meeting attendance for those convicted of alcohol- or drug-related crimes. Many are forced to attend AA or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings while in prison, as if being in jail weren’t punishment enough. In tracing the circumstances by which AA has risen to become the major treatment of choice in the United States for alcoholism, we must recognize that devout AA members are ardent crusaders for their cause.

It has already been noted that U.S. medical insurance companies regularly refuse to cover any treatment that is not twelve-step based. This is the beginning of an answer. Alcohol and drug treatment has grown into a multibillion dollar industry. The cost of a twenty-eight-day inpatient rehab stay typically ranges from $10,000 to $35,000. Inpatient treatment for the severe cases is considered essential by many professionals in the field, although such treatments generally have little better long-term success than AA alone. The business is self-perpetuating in this way. We have all heard of celebrities who relapse again and again after inpatient treatment, even at the most prestigious clinics. Robert Downey Jr. comes to mind. Since relapse is common and alcoholism is medically considered a disease, a continued supply of sick people is assured. AA members are surely getting a share of this money.

But wait. Isn’t AA a nonprofit organization? Along with twelve steps, AA as an organization has twelve traditions. Don’t these include refusing outside contributions? The answer to both questions is ostensibly “Yes” though in reality dubious. Consider three of the traditions:

Tradition 6: An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

This tradition is violated every day. Consider an excerpt from the advertising literature of a very successful South Florida rehab center (I spent twenty-eight days as a voluntary patient there myself). “The Beachcomber is geared towards the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-Anon, with meetings on the premises. An A.A./N.A. contact is made for each client before leaving as well as a schedule of A.A. and N.A. meetings.” I should add that even when not attending AA/NA meetings, the twelve steps were pervasive and a large part of my treatment.

Tradition 7: Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

It is very common for members of substantial resource to donate property and services to AA.

Tradition 12: Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

Anonymity is a powerful tool by which AA promotes itself to the public. Many AA members occupy positions in government and the health-care industry. Even if we assume that their motives are pure, failure to identify themselves as adherents to a God-based organization that requires proselytization by its membership is strictly unethical.

AA has no proscription against its members starting independent companies and using them to promote the AA agenda. Again, such members have the distinct advantage of remaining anonymous in their business dealings. AA members do not, except on rare occasions, use their full names. Even the AA cofounders are still referred to often as “Bill W.” and “Doctor Bob.” AA members on the Board of Trustees and the General Services Organization of AA are required by law to have their full names recorded, but it stops there.

Let us say, for instance, that the president of insurance company XYZ Corporation, “Steve Alkie,” has been an AA member for years. He accepts and practices the twelve steps. In all direct associations with AA, he is known simply as Steve A. The fact that he is an admitted alcoholic and active member of AA may never be known in his role as president of XYZ. This is correct in the sense of his personal privacy under law. But remember that Steve is a member of a religious cult. He has been indoctrinated into the belief system that AA is the only path to alcoholic recovery and that path requires devotion to God. Steve further believes, as I have often heard even from medical professionals, that the twelve steps are a wonderful way to live one’s life—alcoholic or not. (Given the twelve-step nihilistic vision of human nature, I would certainly beg to differ.)

Being in the insurance business, Steve’s fundamental belief that AA is good for alcoholics and that he is compelled by God to promote the AA doctrine would surely influence his decisions about which types of rehabilitation clinics his company will support. Because AA is recognized by the U.S. government as a nonprofit self-help group, there is no conflict. The truth, as we have seen, though, is that AA is a religious cult. Insurance companies are not supposed to pay for religious treatment, but they routinely do. The results are that AA continues to flourish and some of its members continue to make a lot of money, while few alcoholics get the long-term help they need. Remember, they might even have a higher mortality rate than the general population.

The other big problem is in the legal system of the United States. While it would be perfectly legitimate for courts to sentence alcoholic offenders to a medical and proven program of rehabilitation routinely, it is flatly illegal and, in fact, unconstitutional for them to sentence said offenders to a religious program. Yet they do. The benefit of the doubt would be given if one concluded that the courts have been duped by the AA cult. And probably this is true to some extent. The more exacting argument would be that legislators have been extensively lobbied by AA proponents and that AA members hold important positions throughout government and the court system. They have included senators, congress members, and judges.

The evangelical cult of AA has deliberately sought proliferation of its religious conversion agenda by infiltration of the medical community and the legal system of the United States of America. It has used its principle of anonymity to disguise itself in these efforts. Though, admittedly, many AA members are well intentioned, believing deeply in their cause, AA has lied to the American public for seventy years. AA has no cure or even hope to offer suffering alcoholics. Americans need to recognize the true nature of AA, its abysmal failure, and inherent dangers.

The Greater Seattle Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous features an online collection of brief histories called “High and Dry: Oldtimers’ Stories Online.” One of these old-timers, Lloyd B., an AA member of forty years, writes, “In about 1964 [sic] an article came out in Harper’s magazine titled ‘AA: Cure or Cult?’ There was a big controversy about it. Should we string this guy up or what? As it turned out he had gone through treatment and AA meetings and was not happy with the Higher Power end of things. We found out at that time the best thing to do was let it be. And of course, it went away.”

The February 1963 Harper’s article Lloyd refers to was indeed titled “AA: Cure or Cult?” and written by Dr. Arthur H. Cain, Ph.D. Dr. Cain was then a practicing psychologist and a graduate of Columbia University and the Yale School of Alcohol Studies. The article’s clear conclusion was cult not cure. Lloyd B. writes it off to Dr. Cain being “not happy with the Higher Power end of things,” as though the Higher Power belief is a minor aspect of AA when, in fact, it is the primary point, as we have seen. Lloyd’s attitude is telling in that he dismisses as trivial the central tenet of the AA program as almost incidental while wishing that the controversy stirred against his favorite cult would just go away. Well, I’m sorry, Lloyd. Though you and others of your fellowship may choose denial and ignorance of the facts, the truth has a funny way of hanging around. It won’t just “go away.”


  • A Brief Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous. 1972. Accessed at http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org/en_pdfs/p-42_abriefguidetoaa.pdf.
  • Beachcomber Family Center for Addiction Recovery. Vision Statement. No date. Accessed at http://www.thebeachcomberrehabilitation.com/vision.html.
  • Cain, A. H. “AA: Cure or Cult?” Harper’s Bazaar Magazine, February 1963.
  • Comments on A.A.’s Triennial Surveys. New York, N.Y. : Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1990.
  • Orange, A. No date. Accessed at http://www.orange-papers.org/orange-effectiveness.html.
  • “Treatment of Drug Abuse and Addiction: Part III.” Harvard Mental Health Letter 12 no. 4 (1995): 3.
  • Vaillant, G. “The Natural History of Alcoholism: Causes, Patterns, and Paths to Recovery.” Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1983.
  • Wilson, B. Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism. 4th ed. new and revised. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous, 1939/2001.
  • Wilson, B. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous, 2003

Steven Mohr

Steven Mohr is an engineer and technical writer living in Satellite Beach, Florida. His first encounter with Alcoholics Anonymous came after he was admitted to a threeday detoxification program for heavy drinking. He has attended hundreds of AA meetings. This article is adapted from an earlier version that appeared in the Winter 2007 and Spring 2008 The Skeptic (UK).

If you have had a serious drinking problem in the United States of America, you might also have had serious troubles connected with that problem. You might have a drunken driving conviction or landed in a hospital or detoxification facility by court order. If any of these things have happened to you, it is almost …

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