Why Alcoholics Anonymous Matters

On January 14, 2004, I first admitted I had a drinking problem.

More accurately, on January 14, 2004, I admitted I was drinking a lot. I didn’t think it was a problem. However, when I was woken up on the morning on January 15 by my wife, I finally realized I did, indeed, have a problem.

On January 23, 2004, I attended my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and identified myself as an alcoholic.

At that first meeting, I read the poster of the 12 Steps and convinced myself I was already on Step 10. I thought, “Wow! This is going to be easy!”

(My sobriety date is July 2, 2005, so that might give you an indication as to how “easy” my journey actually was.)

We have lived in three states since then. I have attended meetings and developed a relationship with a sponsor in each one. I have attended meetings in places where I was just visiting for a day or two. I have since started attending and leading Celebrate Recovery meetings, as well.

12 Step support groups, especially AA, have provided me with resources and relationships that have been vital in my ongoing recovery from my addiction.

This week, Gabrielle Glaser of the Atlantic released a scathing article about AA and its lack of scientific research. Shortly after, Jesse Singal of New York Magazine released an article critiquing the shortcomings of Glaser’s work.

Glaser refers to scientific studies that, according to her, debunk the 12 Step model. Singal points out Glaser’s research is quite limited and even inconsistent. So one scientific article says 12 Steps are good; one says 12 Steps are bad. What is one to believe?

These two articles have had me thinking: what is the point? Why have I continued to attend meetings? (Admittedly, my attendance has declined recently due to scheduling conflicts but I still attend periodically.) Why do I still identify as an alcoholic, albeit a recovering one?

I have spent the last year writing about the 12 Steps and lessons churches can learn from groups such as AA. I stand behind all that I have said and written. But when a challenge arises, it does cause me to pause, step back, and ask myself if what I have believed, practiced, and encouraged for the past decade matters.

And I believe it does. For these reasons:

Alcoholics Anonymous matters because it is one of the few places where people can go and admit their greatest faults, weaknesses, and failures and not be turned away.

Alcoholics Anonymous matters because no matter how much science and medicine can develop, no pill can provide community.

Alcoholics Anonymous matters because success is not measured in long-term sobriety; success is measured in the courage it takes to stand up and admit there is a problem.

Alcoholics Anonymous matters because it recognizes each person is different, each story is unique, yet there is a common bond among all its members.

Alcoholics Anonymous matters because everyone is welcome.

Alcoholics Anonymous matters because it is not perfect, it is made up of imperfect people, and the suggested steps are not intended to bring about perfection; rather, the purpose of AA and the 12 Steps is progress—just move forward.

I am not opposed to science. I welcome mental and physical health interventions that can help people who suffer from addictions.

But no medical advance will remove the power and importance 12 Step groups have had, still have, and will continue to have.

Alcoholics Anonymous still matters.

One thought on “Why Alcoholics Anonymous Matters

  1. I used to follow the substance abuse literature better than I can now, as I once worked in related research. Studies have mostly involved retrospective interviews, problematic as problem drinking tends to distort memories and there is so much rationalization and denial involved. My favorite work was done by Dr George Valaint (sp?), who followed groups of men for decades, before, during, and sometimes after alcoholism developed. He found some relevant trends: of those with depression and alcoholism, in 1/3 of cases depression came first, as found in retrospective studies. In 2/3 of cases, the alcoholism came first, and many folks imagined they were drinkijng in response to stressors that seem more likely to have resulted from the drinking. Secound, he found that a significant group of alcoholics evolved over time into stable, moderate drinkers. I doubt any treament model applies to all people, but AA certainly seems to help an awful lot of folks, and alternatives are limited and often not available.

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