Alcoholics Anonymous is bullshit (revisited)

Thanks to The Thinking Atheist, I’m not the only one who makes this claim.

And now to heap praise upon EllenBeth! (Times are approximate.)

2:22 “And when you turn to AA, you have to turn to God.”

Oh yeah. I can’t even begin to corroborate how true this is.

But I’ll try…

During my time in the 12-step programs, which was about ten years or so, I heard all about God (of your understanding) and spiritual, and all the like. Keep in mind that I was a theist for most of this time, so it didn’t bother me. But when I started to question my faith, I also started to question the program. One of my questions I thought was simple. What does this “of my understanding” mean? My parents and other adults (I was a minor at the time) told me that it simply referred to a higher power. I asked what a “higher power” was. I never got a straight answer, but one answer I did get was “It could be your mom, God, Santa Claus, a doorknob.”

What, then, was the point?

If I’m turning my life over to a doorknob, that’s obviously ridiculous. And if that’s what I’m doing, why don’t I just call it what I’m actually doing, which is taking care of my problems myself?

But no.

Whenever I made that claim, I was either met with “It has to be a higher power” or “It works for other people.” To the latter I ask, well, even if it seems to, why should that be the umbrella doctrine for all, especially considering the “higher power” doctrine has such a broad definition as to render it meaningless?

Never any straight answers.

2:30 “…If you are not spiritual, you are not sober.”

I didn’t feel such a hard line of this, but I definitely saw the tendency. The talk of sobriety and spirituality went hand in hand. Never the one without the other.

2:48 “What I saw in AA was people being told they have to surrender to win. That they are powerless over their own choices. That they have to turn their will and their life over to the care of God as they understand Him. That they are not responsible for what happens in their own life. And I see that as incredibly damaging.”

I couldn’t agree more. The central point here is personal
responsibility. In effect, there’s very little difference between “The Devil made me do it” and “It’s in God’s hands.” Both relinquish ownership of responsiblity and place it onto an unverifiable entity.

3:21 “I will be sober for 26 years. Without the help of any god.”

The same for everyone else.

I’m often asked what my objections to AA are. They are simple, straight-forward, and they are these:

1. 12 Step Programs, in part, rely on an unverifiable, theistic doctrine for which they provide no evidence.

2. In many states, as a consequence for DUIs and other crimes, people are often compelled by courts to attend AA. Given 12 Step Programs’ theistic doctrines, this is an indirect, but official, endorsement of a theistic doctrine by the state. It is therefore a church/state separation violation, illegal, immoral, and unethical.

3. The automatic reverence granted to 12 Step programs is unmerited. I can’t tell you how many times, when I claim that AA is bullshit, that I’m given the defense “it works for a lot of people.” First, that’s an unproven claim. Second, even if it were proven, “a lot” is unquantifiable. Third, even if a lot were 1,000 or 1,000,000, that doesn’t equal everyone, proving that the lack of a 12 Step Program leading to sobriety is at least as likely as a 12 Step Program doing so, and therefore that 12 Step Programs are more a lifestyle choice than a system of sobriety no more valid in seeking sorbriety than simply quitting drinking. And yet, when we hear about someone simply quitting drinking, we rarely hear the universal praise heaped upon AA.

AA may be popular, revered bullshit, but bullshit it remains.

10 Responses to “Alcoholics Anonymous is bullshit (revisited)”

  1. Lisa Smith Says:

    I will pray for you to have a more open mind and to be happy “atheistasshole”. Seeing isn’t believing… believing is seeing. It was proven that flight was impossible, but the Wright Brothers believed, and well… look where we are now. Everything happens for a reason. People come into your life at exactly the right times, whether you realize it or not. You have the answers within you, you just don’t want to see them.

    • Anton A. Hill Says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for dropping by. Thanks for your willingness to pray for me, and please see my post on that here. What do you want me to have an open mind on that I don’t have an open mind on? Do you have an open mind with regards to any claim made without evidence? If you were referring to my feelings on AA, then you may not have seen that I have decades worth of direct experience with the 12-step programs, so I think it’s safe to say that my mind was plenty open. I am happy. Thanks for your concern.

      You know, I agree with you. Seeing isn’t necessarily believing. Which is why it’s so nice that we have so many ways of testing claims beyond merely looking at things. Hell, if that were the only way, we’d know very little about very little at this point. However, I disagree that believing is seeing. Depending on the belief that you’re alluding to, it can often be directly demonstrating that believing in something doesn’t make one see it at all. But this part of the conversation, lacking further concrete detail, amounts to little.

      How was it proven that flight was impossible? By whom? When? It may have been hypothesized, but I’m sure you’ll agree, a hypothesis isn’t proof. You’re right, the Wright brothers believed and they hypothesized and they experimented and they failed and they experimented again and so on until they succeeded. They din’t blindly believe that flight was possible with no data upon which to bold their hypothesis. They’d also had plenty of predecessors who had also attempted and failed at flight. So it wasn’t like the Wright brothers’ activities occurred in a vacuum completely cut off from other human thought and experience. and it’s funny that you mention flight as it’s something for which we hypothesized, experimented, and finally discovered the process of and laws for. Ironic that the model you’d choose to demonstrate your point on faith used the scientific method to be demonstrated.

      I’d challenge you to prove that everything happens for a reason. Even child cancer? Even billionaires who cheat their employees out of their life savings escaping justice? Even victims of floods and earthquakes? Even the Transformers films making hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office? But please feel free to go ahead and prove it.

      It may seem that people come into one’s life at the right times, but even the notion of “right time” would have to be proved. And seeming isn’t evidence of reality. If that were true, President Obama “seeming” to millions of conservatives to be ruining the country would make such a thing so.

      I don’t know what you mean by I have the answers within me. What answers? To what questions? Within me? Like in my mind? You seem to be operating on some odd assumption that my atheism is based on anger or disappointment. I’ll tell you what I tell everyone. I’m an atheist for one reason and one reason alone. No evidence. Provide some, and, unlike you, I’ll consider it.



      • Deborah McGrath Says:

        Anton, I will pray for you too, that you go to the fire pits of hell for doubting 12 steps. FYI airplanes are a myth, not a real thing.
        I’m sorry God let you down but I’m sure he had a good reason.
        Maybe you had impure thoughts or a gay friend. Didn’t you know God hates fags. That’s what the bible says. The bible was written by God, Einstein and Steven Hawkings. Seriously, I hope you’ve seen Religulous and if so see it again. It is brilliant and hysterical. I’ll say it again, religion is retarded, Islam is evil.
        Religion is a set of beliefs and behaviors not an immutable human characteristic and as Bill Maher said (god I hope he doesn’t sue me over intellectual property, he is half Jewish )
        an accident of birth. There is a passive aggressive aspect to Lisa’s post (hey shout out to Lisa did we go to school together )
        With all due respect Anton, you do need to be more open minded to answer all those unasked invisible questions.
        Real disappointed in you buddy. I still don’t hate you, hate the sinner not the sin. I don’t hate anyone, not even Hitler who was misunderstood. Once again, I am praying for you. You’re welcome.

  2. My father is an alcoholic, and he has tried AA many times. He keeps waiting for this “higher power” or “sign.” He is beginning to give up and is in deep trouble.. Basically AA seems to be setup to convince alcoholics that something is going to magically help them quit. This method will work for some people, just as placebo pills work for some people to cure mental illness. He no longer believes in religion (maybe due to his lack of “sign”.. not sure.)… but for people that don’t believe in religion…isn’t telling them that they are “powerless” a total road to disaster when the “sign” will clearly never come? Unfortunately he seems to buy into the “powerless” portion! I have advised him to try another method, or to just flat out tell AA that the “higher power” method does not work for him and that he needs to try something else.
    Anyway, thanks for the thoughts on this, what do you suggest as treatment? He is well beyond helping himself…but is also unwilling to create an imaginary force in his head and pretend that it is curing him.

    • Anton A. Hill Says:

      Hi Jack,

      Sorry for the delay. I only have so much time in any given week to turn my full attention to this site. Sorry, too, to read about your father. I agree with your assessment on the utility of telling people they’re powerless and no signs coming. Unfortunately, I don’t believe there’s any cure-all method. What would he do if he wanted to quit smoking or eating too much? I’ve heard from atheist alcoholics that sharif with each other is effective. Seems good to me. The fact is, as with lots of things in life, not everyone has your father’s experience and so not everyone can relate to what he’s going through, thus he may need to find like minds to share with. To that end, there are a few secular sobriety organizations, or he could start a Meet Up group. IN the end, he may be stuck with the terrible reality that he just needs to quit. 🙂



      • Deborah McGrath Says:

        Anton, Thanks for your holiday salutations. Based on study and observation ( I’m not a Dr.but I play one on TV ) this seems to be compulsive behavior and an unhealthy coping mechanism.
        It is not an absolute and does not define you or the reality of
        your circumstances and functioning, Does it help, no. Is it potentially better than powerful psych. meds ? I think it is..
        Life can be painful and impossible. Best Wishes Deborah

    • Deborah McGrath Says:

      Hi Jack, there are alternative treatment models. Unfortunately they are a minute percentage of the “treatment ” landscape.
      There is Smart Recovery, Hams I think that focuses on harm reduction though abstinence is not excluded if that is a person’s goal and desire., Rational Recovery, check out these names, Dr.Stanton Peele, Jack Trimpey (don’t quote me on that spelling)
      and Steven Slate. You can get non 12 step treatment on line.
      Competent trained talk therapy ( I think a PhD psychologist
      is your Dad’s best bet ) is probably the way to go. Your Dad
      needs to identify and resolve emotional conflict and trauma
      as well as rectifying life circumstances that are causing him the pain that drives his drinking. On a practical level, healthier lifestyle habits like, for example, diet and exercise as well as harm reduction ( what he drinks, when and how he drinks )
      is a good starting point. Bring him healthy food. Encourage him to eat well and hydrate. I wish you and your Dad all the best !
      You’re a good son, that’s a strength your Dad has on his side.

  3. deborah mcgrath Says:

    I don’t even know where to start Anton please reprint the many posts regarding this very important issue in whatever venue you
    deem influential. I hope you are well, I’m not. Best wishes.

  4. hans greser Says:

    The flaws in AA are staggering and would take volumes to articulate. From a religious standpoint, for example, the so called approved AA literature-I am using the term loosely – tells its deceived followers that they may construct a Higher Power of their own understanding. Furthermore this “Higher Power” has the capability of relieving, not healing, alcoholism, which they still believe to be an allergy (a laugh able idea since trashed by medical science) and a disease (an unproven allegation). In other words they claim you can have a god of your own understanding but this nebulous god is LIMITED since the absurd Big Book says that only ” God could relieve alcoholism” but that an alcoholic will remain an alcoholic permanently. Now if I believe that God is unlimited, and this is my understanding, God can heal not just relieve alcoholism. And to continue to call myself alcoholic is a slap in the face to my God, as He is depicted in the New Testament. You see the obvious contradiction. And this is just the beginning of the nonsense that AA destructively promulgates.

    • Deborah McGrath Says:

      How is this insane fraudulent idiocy presented as a real treatment model, presented as mental health care (drinking to excess has it’s self perpetuating aspects but it’s a symptom )
      being financed by health care and public funds. The foundation of the “success” of this scam lies in made up claims that started with Bill Wilson and continue with the brainwashed bullying (and unfortunately bullied naive ) members of this evil cult. There is real data about drug and alcohol use that contradicts all the
      absurd bullshit Bill Wilson made up as he went along. This bullshit was conned and bullied into our healthcare system and based on that, our legal system. It is a national disgrace and tragedy for the well being and healing of many lives,very sad.
      “God ” is not health care or science (you can use that Anton,right up your alley ) Great post Hans. You really get how extreme the aa scam is. Not only is it fairy tail nonsense, it is
      punitive and very psychologically abusive. It is also wildly irresponsible in respect to medical ethics, the 38 billion dollar rehab industry is not a non profit entity. There are no enforceable confidentially laws in the “rooms ” or the idiots in your rehab groups, confession to arbitrary parties, not a good idea. 12 step based rehabs are an ineffectual, expensive,
      traumatizing revolving door. This must be out of our society.

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