I know that a lot of my readers are either in AA or have left AA and are interested in my take on what goes on within the program and also my experiences there. Still, I do wonder if there are also readers who do or have not gone to AA and are interested simply in what happens within the program. And, there are some very weird things that happen there, including inconsistencies regarding the concept that problematic alcohol and substance use is a disease.
In AA, new members are told that they have an incurable disease that is much like an allergy. Any time that they drink, they will lose full control of themselves and this allergy or disease will take over. Also, they are told that alcoholics are powerless when it comes to alcohol and do not have a choice as to whether or not they drink. Then, they are told that they must follow a spiritual program of action to get sober. But wait a second, if alcoholism is a medical disease, as is argued in AA, why is it then met with spiritual solutions? This is not the case with other diseases in our world.
When I hear this, a few issues pop up in my mind immediately. First of all, in AA alcohol or alcoholism is very much personified. This can be seen by the idea that the disease will take over when or if a persons with a drinking/drug problem drinks against a person’s will. It’s like the disease is it’s own person, capable of doing harm to oneself and others. And, this idea that alcohol is not a thing but some kind of being is perpetuated by sayings like “alcoholism is a cunning and powerful disease” and “your disease is doing push ups”. Whether or not people in AA, though, know that they are treating a substance and/or disease like it’s a person I don’t know. I just know that it’s happening and find it absurd that someone would treat a substance and disease/behavior as if it is a living being.
The issue with personifying alcohol and alcoholism is that it takes the power and control away from the person who is drinking and puts them in a state of powerlessness. Then, they feel the need to rely on things outside of themselves to stay sober. The result of this is learned helpless, which, if the person drinks, will likely result in more severe drinking than they did before an introduction to AA and these concepts of powerlessness and learned helplessness. Yet in AA people are told that this is the disease progressing while a person is sober because it is the nature of the disease. But, how can one know that this is the true reason why a person drinks when the person is being made to feel powerless over his or her drinking in AA, and loses his or her sense of personal power and decision making in many ways due to norms within the program?
Another inconsistency in AA is that although members in it and the Big Book argue that alcoholism is a disease, that at the same time not treating like a medical disease. This can be seen in the Big Book, where although alcoholism is argued to be a disease, a craving a person can’t control, or an allergy, it is then also argued to be a spiritual malady. And, if it is a spiritual malady then it cannot also be a medical disease. This, then, shows the circular arguments in AA that are made that just do not make any logical sense. And, it begs the question as to whether or not alcoholism really is a disease.
Furthermore, people are told to identify themselves with the disease, admit powerlessness, rely on God, the group, or other AA members than themselves, and find spiritual solutions to deal with this disease. If you think about it, though, no other medical disease is treated this way. With other diseases, people are encouraged not to identify with the disease or health issue but to see it as something that affects them but it not part of them. Also, they are given medical solutions, and most support groups for issues other than alcohol are very much based in science or psychology.
But, in AA alcoholism is believed to be a disease that is different than any other. There is a general idea that alcoholics are God’s “chosen people” because of their suffering. I’ve actually seen people say this out loud in meetings and they are met with agreement. Also, there is an idea that matches this that alcoholism and what alcoholics go through is worse than anything anyone can ever imagine. In other words, people believe that alcoholism is the worst disease that a person can have and causes suffering that people who are not alcoholics cannot begin to understand. And along with these ideas comes a strong elitism regarding AA and the people who get sober through it, as if these people have conquered something that is beyond belief and somehow “special”.
So it is no wonder that certain people flourish in AA with this elitism regarding how bad alcoholism is and how good and miraculous it is that people are sober due to AA. However, I think that the idea that alcoholism is such a bad disease is pretty ludicrous and actually glamorizes substance use. From my own experience, and from talking to others with severe and/or chronic health conditions, I’ve realized that people with diseases or issues other than alcoholism suffer just as much as those with problematic substance use if not more. Alcoholics are not some special group of people that go through suffering that no one else can understand, and their recovery from this is not any more miraculous or special than recovery from any illness or problem in a person’s life. They are ordinary people who happen to have problems with substance use. This is no different than someone who might have heart disease, anxiety, depression, cancer, or even asthma. Yet in AA people believe that they are a unique group of people that are markedly different than the rest of the population. And, I believe that while this provides an ego boost, at the same time it tears a person down.
It’s no wonder, then, that with this glorification of substance abuse and addiction that addiction is on the rise today. Because even though AA claims to help people stay sober, the perpetuation of the idea that there is something special or different about people who use substances simply propels substance use in our society. Thus, one might wonder how much of a positive impact AA actually is having on this world.
Hopefully through scientific research as well as personal testimonies about problems within AA and the concepts of it, our world can find a way to actually help those with problematic substance use. Until then, myself and others will continue to share our stories and ideas about this issue.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below.