Secret Of AA: After 75 Years, We Don’t Know How It Works

Alcoholics Anonymous

Fascinating article on the history of AA and some research on why, even though it doesn’t usually work, it does occasionally work.

Here’s an interesting social-cybernetic insight:

To begin with, there is evidence that a big part of AA’s effectiveness may have nothing to do with the actual steps. It may derive from something more fundamental: the power of the group. Psychologists have long known that one of the best ways to change human behavior is to gather people with similar problems into groups, rather than treat them individually. The first to note this phenomenon was Joseph Pratt, a Boston physician who started organizing weekly meetings of tubercular patients in 1905. These groups were intended to teach members better health habits, but Pratt quickly realized they were also effective at lifting emotional spirits, by giving patients the chance to share their tales of hardship. (“In a common disease, they have a bond,” he would later observe.) More than 70 years later, after a review of nearly 200 articles on group therapy, a pair of Stanford University researchers pinpointed why the approach works so well: “Members find the group to be a compelling emotional experience; they develop close bonds with the other members and are deeply influenced by their acceptance and feedback.”

Wired: Secret Of AA: After 75 Years, We Don’t Know How It Works

The article covers AA’s effectiveness briefly, and finds that studies of its effectiveness are inconclusive. I’ve posted before about one study that found 12-step programs no more or less effective than other treatment programs.

I have absolutely zero problem with people using religion or whatever else works to improve their lives and get over the devastating effects of addiction, court mandated 12 step programs are clearly a breach of the seperation of church and state. (And There’s evidence to suggest that mandating treatment doesn’t work anyway.)

See also John Shirley’s “The Forgotten Solution.”

Another thought: The EsoZone Protocol is similar to the structure of AA.


  1. Okay, I haven’t commented in a while but yes I am still an avid reader and I am still going to be (don’t you dare shut this place down ever.) as for this story: It’s very apparent to anyone who has studied the occult and been to an AA meeting that AA is very much an initiation. I’ve been, and I have studied (as any practitioner can say he has “studied”..)

    I would like to see an investigation by someone far more schooled then I on the occult.. into the comparisons of the AA and initiation.

    – G.V.

  2. I am a little skeptical that 12 step programs represent “church” in the church and state equation. I agree there is an element of spirituality, but despite the fact that a lot of AA members go for organized religions, a higher power is no more than it sounds like, and “your true will” or “the universe” works as well as “jesus”.

    So while I definitely see how it could seem like the government is trying to get you to go in for their spiritual agenda, I think it is a matter of terminology that is unnecessarily loaded because of the manner in which it came about (that is, including a majority of conventionally religious people). I think that what AA offers is a practice, and not a belief system. It is something to do with your brain with the hope of a result. If compulsary calisthenics in the military included yoga elements or meditation, it would be a fair analog.

    I think it is honestly only the explanation for how it works that depends on the spiritual stuff, and as your headline notes, that explanation isn’t really necessary if you are willing to use it in pursuit of results.

  3. I don’t think it really matters that the exact nature of the “higher power” one must surrender to as a part of AA is left ambiguous. It’s still a religious practice. How could an atheist such as myself complete a court ordered 12 step program? The first step would require me to change my entire belief system.

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