The Absolutism Of AA

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 17 2014 @ 8:29am

Brian Palmer explores how proponents of chemical therapies for alcoholism conflict with the abstinence-based approach of support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous:

Many patients and doctors have grumbled for years about the religion inherent in the Alcoholics Anonymous process: Half of the 12 steps involve God or “a Power greater than ourselves.” In recent years, however, the complaints have turned scientific. Some doctors who specialize in treating alcoholism have leveled a pair of accusations against the organization. First, they claim that AA has obstructed the spread of medications to treat alcoholism. Second, they claim that the group stubbornly resists evidence that some alcoholics are better suited to a life of moderate drinking than to complete abstinence. Domenic Ciraulo, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and an advocate of the medication and moderation approach for some alcoholics, said in 2010, “We have nothing against AA, but they have something against us.” Writing in the Washington Post earlier this year, National Institutes of Health clinical researcher Markus Heilig attacked AA’s “uncompromising” philosophy of “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.”