If you think we aren’t apes, how do you explain the popularity of Alcoholics Anonymous? Lance Dodes takes a sobering look at the data behind the success of 12-step programs. The short answer: they don’t work, and they do harm.
There is a large body of evidence now looking at AA success rate, and the success rate of AA is between 5 and 10 percent. Most people don’t seem to know that because it’s not widely publicized. … There are some studies that have claimed to show scientifically that AA is useful. These studies are riddled with scientific errors and they say no more than what we knew to begin with, which is that AA has probably the worst success rate in all of medicine.
It’s not only that AA has a 5 to 10 percent success rate; if it was successful and was neutral the rest of the time, we’d say OK. But it’s harmful to the 90 percent who don’t do well. And it’s harmful for several important reasons. One of them is that everyone believes that AA is the right treatment. AA is never wrong, according to AA. If you fail in AA, it’s you that’s failed.
I was most entertained by the commenter on that article who attempted to rebut those claims. Read this, and wonder:
I’m a recovering addict/alcoholic with over 5 years of continuous sobriety. I attend AA meetings regularly, and I take exception to Dr. Dodes statement, “AA is never wrong, according to AA. If you fail in AA, it’s you that’s failed.” I have never attended a meeting where this sentiment was expressed. The AA Big Book says, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” It does not claim any infallibility on the part of the 12 steps. I’ve heard it said around the tables many times that the success rate is around 5%.
So he’s actually confirming exactly what Dodes said: low success rate, and AA says the 95% failures don’t count because they didn’t “thoroughly follow” the path.
AA should be a subject of great interest to atheists, because it demonstrates a common phenomenon: vast numbers of people gladly and even desperately following a pattern of behaviors that do nothing to help them, and are even proven ineffective. Sound familiar?