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    Twelve-step Swan Song

    Of all the remedies that have been prescribed for alcoholism — and
    there have been some doozies — Alcoholics Anonymous’ self-help
    regimen for do-it-yourself dry out reigns. Even though only
    one-third of AA members will stay dry long-term, after sixty y ears
    the program’s 12-step system still attracts nearly 2 million
    alcoholics worldwide.

    But while AA’s numbers remain high, its tenets are under attack
    from within. Some observers say that too many members —
    particularly the newer ones — see themselves as victims and
    alcohol as their alibi for acting out. This flies in the face of
    AA’s core dictum of accepting total responsibility for bad behavior
    and, moreover, seeking amends. As Andrew and Thomas Delbanco report
    in The New Yorker (March 20, 1995) some cranky New
    Jersey AA vets have even taken to yelling ‘Stop whining! Stop
    drinking!’ to would-be victims at meetings.

    AA’s key teaching of providing service to other members is also
    slipping, notes AA enthusiast Ann E. in The
    (June, 1995). AA’s famed buddy/sponsor system,
    which pairs members to ‘work the steps’ and see each other through
    3 a.m. t emptations is on the wane. The increasing number of
    attendees who appear only because of court orders are not, needless
    to say, signing up as buddies. And when you take into account
    secular members’ dissatisfaction with AA’s ‘Let Go and Let God’
    mandate, as well as many women’s dislike of what they see as a
    patriarchal tone to the program’s structure, it’s little wonder
    that many have defected to thriving splinter groups such as Secular
    Organization for Sobriety and Sisters in Sobriety.

    At the same time, AA’s strict abstinence rule is under question.
    A growing number of treatment programs now preach that controlled
    drinking — say, cutting 20 drinks a day to 5 — reaches those who
    reject AA. But this better-than-nothing stance is belittl ed by
    many. In a recent debate in the newsgroup alt.recovery, the typical
    anti-moderation participant responded thus: ‘Every drinker would
    love to be a social drinker, but it doesn’t work.’ Nonetheless, the
    trend continues, perhaps, as Alcoholism & Drug Abuse
    (June 19) notes, because the moderation programs are
    markedly cheaper, and find favor with health care cost cutters.

    Published on Oct 9, 2007


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