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Hazelden Treatment Center and AA Statistics

Belief versus Fact: What is the truth about AA's success rate?

Hazelden Treatment Center and AA Statistics

In the process of living we all develop opinions about everything with which we come in contact. It is an integral part of our being. That is to say that we "can't not" have an opinion. Opinions are interesting things because opinions can be developed through empirical data or by way of tradition with no supporting evidence, or from misinformation, or out of thin air. Regardless of the basis for any one particular opinion, what each individual believes, like everything else in life, is merely a choice. Beliefs, however, are not the same as opinions. Opinions arrived at by way of empirical data tend to be factual. Thus, belief is not required to hold a proven opinion. To believe in something is to accept something as truth in the absence of proof, even if it isn't true. For example, there exists today an organization that goes by the name "The Flat Earth Society." (To get to their homepage go to

The people that belong to and/or support The Flat Earth Society are not absurd, nor are they stupid, simply because they have chosen to believe that the Earth is flat, not round.

Members of the Flat Earth Society, to believe as they do, must ignore numerous facts that refute the most fundamental basis for their belief (e.g. time zones, the Prime Meridian and the International Date Line, airplane flights from Moscow, Russia to Seattle, Washington over the North Pole, etc.) The point is that there are many instances where people accept certain ideas as fact in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Many Fundamentalist Christians believe that God made the world approximately 4000 years ago putting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Before that time, they contend, there was nothing except God, Himself. In support of their beliefs, they argue that the dinosaurs are mythical creatures that never actually existed. They contend that the skeletons of these creatures which have been found on all seven continents are a world-wide hoax created by the "evil-one" to lure people away from God's truth in the Book of Genesis.

In the extreme (and in some not so extreme) these belief systems that fly in the face of common sense and scientific evidence are horribly destructive. Consider the belief system of Heaven's Gate. When the Hale-Bop Comet came close to the earth most of the members of Heaven's Gate, 39 out of 41, committed suicide. I, of course, cannot know for sure whether or not the souls of the members got picked up by the comet. But what I am sure of is this: the members of Heaven's Gate must have believed that their souls would be picked up by the extraterrestrials who, according to the beliefs of Heaven's Gate, were accompanying the Hale-Bop comet.

With that brief explanation of belief systems, you may be able to take an introspective look at your beliefs. You may say, "I still believe that a disease..." And if you do think that, you would be absolutely correct. Specifically, you did not say "alcoholism is a disease;" you said that you "believe" alcoholism is a disease. Your statement is correct because you are stating a fact about yourself and not about whether alcoholism is or is not a disease. You, of course, are free to believe whatever pleases you as an individual. And, like the Flat Earth Society, and others, you have chosen a belief which is contrary to the empirical evidence and scientific method. To wit, you have chosen to ignore the facts in favor of a belief that better fits your personal wants or needs. A personal choice such as this needs no justification unless it in some way affects another negatively. By you and others around you buying into the absurd notion that drinking or drugging is a disease, you are constantly reinforcing the idea in your mind that you have this disease for which you are no longer responsible. If you have been "brainwashed" to the extent that the "disease of alcoholism" is firmly implanted in your psyche, then your chances of moderating or stopping drinking or drugging forever is minimal. Conversely, if you become willing to take full responsibility for your behavior, then your chances of stopping forever go up dramatically.

What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

According to its Preamble:.

"Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety."

Let us save the most obtuse for last and deal with some of the more mundane aspects of who Alcoholics Anonymous says it is. It contends that: "The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking." Untested that sounds great, but is it true? For several years we tested the claim that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. We found several other requirements that AA overlooked when writing the preamble. Most notably, to be a member one must conform to the proper protocol. When called upon at a meeting one must say, by way of introduction, "I am your name [first name only] and I'm an alcoholic [or a drunk, or a dipsomaniac, etc.] Suppose you were to say I'm Bill and I used to be a drunk?" The group usually responds to this sort of introduction with boo's and hisses. This sort of response doesn't lend itself to making one feel welcome or a member of the group. On other occasions the group's old-timer may approach you after the meeting and advise that you not come to AA meetings because your claim that you "used to be" an alcoholic is dangerous for newcomers to hear. And while most sensible thinking people would think that overcoming their abuse of alcohol is good news for the newcomer, it is inconsistent with AA's rhetoric that "once an alcoholic; always an alcoholic." The point is that there are many requirements for AA membership, not the least of which is that "you completely give yourself to this simple program." The real requirement for membership is to follow like sheep; that is, "say what they say;" "do what they do;" and "think what they think."

What about AA's claim that: "There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions." According to Alcoholics Anonymous' Annual Reports if AA had to survive on the "contributions" from its membership, there would be no Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous' revenues come primarily from commercially run alcohol rehabilitation programs. The rehabilitation programs, here in the U.S. pay Alcoholics Anonymous for books, other printed materials and AA paraphernalia. The real Alcoholics Anonymous is a not-for-profit money maker that reports to have $10,000,000 as a "prudent reserve." Based on its own annual report the bulk of Alcoholics Anonymous' annual revenues come from the profitable relationship with commercial alcohol rehabilitation programs. Thus, claiming that it is self supporting through its own contributions is at least, disingenuous, if not outright fraudulent.

Next AA claims that: "AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution…" Is there any truth to this claim? In a word: "No!" The word "allied" means related, connected, linked, similar or aligned. "Sect" is another word for "cult." Thus AA claims it is not "related with any cult;" it is not "connected with any cult;" it is not "linked with any cult;" it is not "similar with any cult; and it is not "aligned with any cult." Yet, the founders of AA and the first people to get sober with the founders all got sober in the Oxford Group, a fundamentalist First Century Christian Movement headed up by a cult leader named Frank Buchman. Case in point, "Bill Wilson was once quoted as saying that even though he did not want the connection to the Oxford Group and its religious teachings associated with Alcoholics Anonymous, he had incorporated most of their ideals and precepts in the Steps and in the writing of what was to become the A.A. Recovery Program." (By Mitchell K. from his book on Clarence H. Snyder Cleveland Ohio AA Pioneer)

As for AA's assertion that it is not allied with any denomination, the fact remains that it is a fundamentalist Christian organization according to Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, the alleged founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Specifically, Alcoholics Anonymous is not based on Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. As for its claim of no political affiliation, both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith were employees of the National Council on Alcoholism. This government subsidized organization was founded on its political agenda to promote the disease theory. And finally AA's claim that it is not allied with any organization or institution, such a claim would have to ignore years of documented history in order for it to be true. In its earliest days one could not tell where AA left off and Works Publishing, Inc. began. Today AA has members in key positions in Federal and State governments to continue to promote itself. Point of fact, Alcoholics Anonymous is allied with a sect, a denomination, politics, organizations and institutions (and always has been.)

Furthermore and although AA claims that it "does not wish to engage in any controversy," its actions in this regard speak much louder than its words. Alcoholics Anonymous has a long history of being involved in, and in many instances, being the instigator of major controversies. For example and despite what AA says and what you may have read or heard about Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (AAWS) is perpetually involved in controversies such as litigious matters; the truth is AA has a long history of litigious controversy. Since 1985, AAWS has been actively involved in court cases as plaintiff against companies and individuals who AAWS perceive as violating certain intellectual property rights claimed by AAWS (copyright/trademark.)

Despite AA Tradition warning against owning property and having money matters diverting AA from its primary purpose, AAWS does own property and spends hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees in order to keep this property and punish those who wish to differ from the "official party line."

The current case in Germany involves an individual AA member and an AA Group that has taken it upon themselves to print and distribute at no charge, books containing the first 164 pages of the AA book. These translations are in several different languages including English, Spanish, Swedish, Russian and German. These translations are in fact; virtually identical to the original version printed in 1939. ( The 1939 version of the book entitled Alcoholics Anonymous was not copyrighted by AAWS. AAWS could not copyright the first version of the book because it was initially published by Works Publishing, Inc. and was fraudulently copyrighted by Bill Wilson, personally.

That, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. There are 66,700 separate websites discussing the litigious controversies of Alcoholics Anonymous.

While AA may appear to "neither endorses nor opposes any causes," as a practical matter and throughout its history AA has been very much an activist organization with respect to promoting its agenda and the agenda of its members. Notably, the "recovery" community's adoption of the disease concept began with an early AA member named Marty Mann. Her efforts, combined with a somewhat dubious scientist named E.M. Jellinek, began national acceptance of the disease concept. It was Jellinek's "scientific" study that opened the door for the medical community's support. E.M. Jellinek's study was funded by the efforts of Marty Mann and R. Brinkley Smithers. And, like so many other circumstances involving Jellinek and Marty Mann, the study was bogus, if not outright fraudulent.

The surveys Jellinek based his conclusions on were from hand picked members of Alcoholics Anonymous. The data for the research was collected by AA's Grapevine. "In 1942, Grapevine periodical published a survey to examine the stages in drinking history of alcoholics. The survey, published on the first page of the magazine was sent only to members of Alcoholics Anonymous. At the time of the survey's publication, Grapevine was circulating approximately 1600 copies [and a few years later became the official periodical of AA.] The analysis of the Grapevine survey was compiled and analyzed by Dr. E.M. Jellinek, Sc.D. at Yale University's Section of Studies on Alcohol under the umbrella of the School of Physiology, and published in the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol." (Christine Malino, Doctoral Candidate, Yale University, Research Paper funded by Baldwin Research Institute, Inc.)

There were 158 (less than 10%) questionnaires returned, 60 of which mysteriously disappeared and were not included in the study. Jellinek's conclusion was based on less than 100 hand picked alcoholics chosen by Marty Mann. The fact that both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith (the alleged founders of AA) were employees of Marty Mann's National Council on Alcoholism in its earliest days not only provided AA's endorsement to the controversial "disease theory," but clearly was an alliance with a highly political organization. Further, AA's affirmation that "Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety" is AA's public shield to conceal it real purpose. As it is with all cults, AA primary purpose is its own survival. For those who have carefully studied AA's history and activities, it doesn't really matter much how they disguise their cult building activities, "a rose by any other name…" "To stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety" the AA way is to sell the AA program to others thereby increasing meeting attendance and ultimately increasing the size and strength of the cult. There is an entire chapter in the book entitled Alcoholics Anonymous describing exactly how to recruit others into the cult.

Does Alcoholics Anonymous Work?

In its opening sentence of its preamble Alcoholics Anonymous' claims that it "is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism." While this may be a good marketing strategy does it really help people? How effective is "sharing experience, strength and hope" in helping someone else and if it really is effective, where is the empirical data that proves the method? First, can sharing anecdotal information with someone else with similar problems be helpful? Please keep in mind that the entire program of Alcoholics Anonymous is based on anecdotal data, while the Saint Jude Program is based entirely on 20 years of research. With that in mind consider the following:

While anecdotal accounts of individuals' successes and failures make for interesting reading, such reports can actually provide those attempting to change their lives with excuses for failure. These excuses come into play by way of a whole variety of thought processes (albeit unsound), however all the excuses emanate from a common source: comparisons. Stories about other substance abusers, unintentionally but inevitably, challenge the still using drug abuser to rationalize why he or she is not like the person in the story. Thus, if the Saint Jude Program did rely on anecdotal reports, the substance abuser could firmly put in place the argument that the Saint Jude Program may have worked for the person in the story, but I (the still using substance abuser) am different so there is no reason to believe that the program would work for me.

These rationalizations abound: I'm older; I'm younger. I'm male; I'm female. I'm white; I'm black. I'm from the city; I live in the country. I'm Irish; I'm German; I'm Russian; I'm Japanese; I drank a quart a day; I drink a pint a day; I drank at home; I am a bar drinker. I am a periodic; I drink daily. I'm a plumber; I am an engineer; I am a physician, I'm a truck driver. I am rich; I am poor. I had a good childhood; I had a horrible childhood, and so on, and so on. As you can imagine the number of permutations approaches infinity. Alternatively, substance abusers that are still using readily accept general information so long as the information is not personalized. This, then, is the methodology used in the Saint Jude HazProgram. The participant is presented with certain facts which allow him (her) to discover for themselves the nature and extent of their problem(s). The process of discovery is non-comparing and non-confronting.

In addition to the comparison problem, there exists a body of knowledge that definitively demonstrates the lack of success of anecdotal accounts as a method of helping substance abusers eliminate their substance abuse problem. Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, is a program based on its members' personal stories. The book entitled Alcoholics Anonymous is, on the whole, a regurgitation of AA members' stories. Actually, personal stories, autobiographical anecdotes, comprise 71% of the book. Twenty-nine percent of the book is claimed to provide a description of the "program of recovery." However, 54 of the 164 pages that claim to be the description of the program are, in fact, anecdotes (personal stories) to convince the reader of the effectiveness of the program. To wit, 33% of the program description is actually an anecdotal sales effort to get the reader to buy into the program. Thus and in aggregate, 80% of the book is anecdotal reports to convince the reader that the program works (or to sell books, which is not the same thing.)

So, what then, are the results achieved by anecdotal accounts of successes and failures. For that answer we turn to Alcoholics Anonymous General Services Office (AA GSO.) In 1990, AA GSO, the governing organization overseeing all "autonomous" meetings, published an internal memo for the employees of its corporate offices. It was an analysis of a survey period between 1977 and 1989. The results were in absolute contrast to the public perception of AA: "After just one month in the Fellowship [meaning AA,] 81% of the new members had already dropped out. After three months, 90% have left, and a full 95% have disappeared inside one year!" (Kolenda, 2003, Golden Text Publishing Company)

Based on this information it is reasonable, if not compelling, to conclude that anecdotal information given to substance abusers for the purpose of helping them stop drinking and/or drugging is ineffective and most researchers have since concluded that it is actually harmful.

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