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.

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