What if there was an alternative to AA?
Talk about a monopoly. When it comes to groups to help you stop drinking, there’s AA and then there’s…well not much.
Everyone knows what AA stands for. Most people know someone who goes to meetings. Many, many people have been helped by Alcoholics Anonymous.
Personally, I found that AA wasn’t for me. I went looking for a group of like-minded people, and what I found was a group telling me that I had a problem.
I don’t think it’s me or you that have a problem — alcohol is the problem, and our entire society has to deal with it.
For those of you familiar with AA, it is a fairly complex methodology and there are many elements to it.
Some of them are bits of accepted wisdom, like that some people are just naturally alcoholics and some are not, or that you have to surrender to a higher power in order to address your drinking problem.
Some are strategies, like the 12 steps you have to work through, attending meetings regularly, getting a sponsor, diligently tracking how long it’s been since you had a drink and, before sharing, to say out loud that you are an alcoholic.
Obviously, some of this stuff works for some people. But, in my humble opinion, there is a great deal about AA that is troublesome, unscientific or straight up wrong.
Two of the things that bother me the most are both the words in the name — Alcoholics Anonymous.
What is an alcoholic?
First of all, the idea that some people are “alcoholics” and some are not doesn’t make sense to me.
Alcohol is an addictive substance. The fact is, anyone can get addicted to alcohol.
Sure, some people may have a higher or lower tolerance than others. Some people were exposed to alcohol earlier in life, developed more entrenched habits, had role models in their formative years that led them down a bad path, etc.
Everyone is different.
But no one calls someone who is addicted to heroin a heroinaholic. That person is just addicted to heroin.
Genetics can put you at a higher risk of becoming addicted, but even without those genetics, one who is exposed to enough alcohol will become addicted. That’s how drugs work.
Thinking that some people are just born alcoholics and some are not takes away the responsibility of choice.
As an addictive substance, the amount and frequency that one drinks can be very difficult to control. The more you drink, the more your body builds a tolerance and the more you will want to drink. You can weigh the pros and cons of drinking at all and choose not to drink without being an “alcoholic”.
Drinking is unhealthy for anyone. Some may drink less than others, but drinking in any amount is still not a good thing for your health.
I believe in personal choice — if you choose to drink, you should be able to. But that doesn’t mean there’s such a thing as healthy drinking. Alcohol is literally a poison. Just because you can moderate it doesn’t make it good for you.
AA tells you there is no choice involved — that either you are an alcoholic or you are not. If you are, you need to stop drinking. If you aren’t you can keep drinking.
I would argue that not drinking is the healthier choice for everyone, but that everyone should get to make that choice on their own based on what’s right for them.
Don’t be anonymous
I also take issue with the Anonymous part of AA’s name.
Why does the fact that you want to stop drinking have to be hidden? What is so shameful about choosing not to consume alcohol?
Society tells us that drinking=fun, and that there are some people called alcoholics who can’t have the fun and need to stop. AA reinforces this by saying that if you are one of those people you need to be anonymous. If anyone found out that you were an “alcoholic” and wanted to quit drinking they’d judge you.
The truth is, they’re probably right. Alcohol is the only drug with which there is a stigma associated with not consuming.
At least, in the US and many parts of the world like England and Australia.
In plenty of other cultures, people don’t drink or don’t drink often and they still manage to dance, laugh, sing and have fun at parties for hours on end.
What those of us who choose not to drink need to do is be open. Don’t be anonymous.
I don’t mean you should brag and be preachy. That’s the best way to piss people off and getting them to stay away from you.
I mean that those of us who don’t drink need to show the world that plenty of fun and enjoyment can be had without drinking.
The mind is a powerful thing. If we tell ourselves that we have a “problem” and we “can’t” drink, of course we’re going to be miserable. Nobody likes to be told what to do or be limited in their choices.
If we view sobriety as a lifestyle choice that makes our lives better, we will be happy with that choose. We are empowered, because we made a difficult choice that goes against the grain in order to improve our own lives.
Normal people, people who aren’t “alcoholics”, who haven’t “hit rock bottom”, can decide not to drink.
That’s another thing that I dislike about conventional wisdom with regard to alcohol addiction — the concept of rock bottom.
That people don’t decide to stop drinking until they hit some kind of bottom limit to how far they can sink.
To me, the only rock bottom is death. Unless you’ve drank yourself to death, there is not such thing as rock bottom. Things can always get worse.
And it will, because addiction is a progressive disease. It gets worse over time if untreated, not better.
Even people who drink “in moderation” generally drink more as time goes on.
Rock bottom tells you that, until things get really bad, you shouldn’t decide to stop drinking or else it won’t be effective and you’ll just start drinking again.
Until you admit to being an “alcoholic”, there’s no reason to stop drinking.
Both of these concepts keep people from stopping drinking alcohol, which is the opposite of their intent.
So why does AA work?
First of all, it doesn’t always work. Since members are anonymous, any accurate study is difficult, however some estimate that as few as 5% of people who begin AA remain sober. About 80% drop off after the first few meetings.
Some people do find success however, so I’m going to focus now on analyzing what I think is effective about the program.
The thing that is most important about AA is the community that people become a part of when they join.
Communities are incredibly powerful. People are not solitary creatures. They need companionship and support. Together, people are able to accomplish truly amazing things.
Especially with something like drinking, that dulls our emotions when we are sad or lonely, it can be difficult to accomplish anything without the support of a community.
It’s pretty difficult to find a community outside of AA that is centered around sobriety.
But guess what — communities that aren’t centered around alcohol can help you stay sober as well.
It’s important to tell your friends and family that you are not drinking and ask for their support. If they truly care about you, they will provide that support and help you along in your journey.
Also, communities that center around sober activities like athletics, art, dance, knowledge acquisition, or basically anything that doesn’t directly involve alcohol can be helpful.
Finding a passion and sharing it with other people is one of the best things you can do to maintain a sober lifestyle.
Reddit has an amazing online community called r/stopdrinking that I highly recommend for anyone who wants to carry around a support group in their pocket. The people there are wonderful.
In short, we need to rely on each other to be successful at anything, whether it’s to stop drinking, run a business, be a successful athlete, etc. No man is an island.