National Geographic News
A bible being read by an individual struggling with addiction.

A bible being read by an individual struggling with addiction.

Photograph by Juan Carlos Ulate, Reuters

Jarret Liotta

for National Geographic

Published August 9, 2013

Science has never revealed as much about addiction—potential genetic causes, influences, and triggers, and the resultant brain activity—or offered as many opportunities and methods for initial treatment as it does now.

Even so, the grassroots 12-step program remains the preferred prescription for achieving long-term sobriety.

Since the inception of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.)—the progenitor of 12-step programs—science has sometimes been at odds with the notion that laypeople can cure themselves.

Yet the success of the 12-step approach may ultimately be explained through medical science and psychology. Both offer substantive reasons for why it works.

Climbing the Steps to Recovery

The "miracle" of A.A. can be traced to the evening of June 10, 1935, when a struggling alcoholic named Bill Wilson, fighting to stay dry while on a business trip to Akron, Ohio, met with an apparently hopeless drinker named Bob Smith in order to quell his own thirst.

It had been suggested to Wilson, through a religious organization called the Oxford Group, that talking to wet drunks about his experiences and trying to help them get sober would, in turn, help him stay dry. Smith, once a respected physician in the community, was referred to him as someone at bottom, beyond help.

Their discussion sparked the insight that the best hope for sobriety was a daily reprieve from alcohol, which stood with the singular practice of helping others.

Over the next five years, a non-denominational program emerged that drew much of its spiritual doctrine from Christian practices. It embodied an action plan in the form of 12 "steps" that are essentially guidelines for right living, including taking a personal inventory of one's strengths and shortcomings, making restitution for past wrongs, and helping others find sobriety.


The AA book and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book.

Photograph from Corbis


A.A. reports that more than two million members worldwide currently stay sober by regularly attending meetings and implementing these steps.

In recent decades, the 12 steps have been applied to other addictions—everything from drugs, food, and other substances to various compulsive behaviors around gambling or sex.

Psychic Solution

Most addicts receive less than 30 days of inpatient treatment. But they must also accept that they need ongoing outside help.

The 12-step approach, said Paul Gallant, an interventionist with 27 years of sobriety, is "so popular with treatment centers because it's proven to work. When a person completes treatment, they have a place to go.

"Self-knowledge is not a sufficient treatment for alcoholism," continued Gallant. "I've worked with people who have had years and years of psychotherapy and intensive analysis, but it's brought them no closer to ongoing abstinence."

However, experiencing what Gallant called a "psychic change," which in the 12-step world is linked to the marvel of a "spiritual awakening," often results in a distinct personality and behavioral transformation that leads to long-term sobriety.

"The not-drinking is really just a part of it," Gallant said. "It's not drinking and changing as a person. That psychic change needs to come from a program of spiritual development, and so far the greatest success has been Alcoholics Anonymous."

Community Spirit(ual)

Established treatment facilities like Sierra Tucson offer everything from traditional medicine to such alternative approaches as equine therapy and healing circles.

According to Nia Sipp, staff psychiatrist with Sierra Tucson, the goal is not just removing the substance or behavior but also facilitating self-reflection and creating social systems. "Oftentimes people feel that it's about God and other things," Sipp said. But she believes that the A.A. concept is more about "the spirit of community."

Rev. Jack Abel, director of spiritual care at Caron Treatment Centers, agreed. "When we say spirituality, we're talking about connection. People who are addicted become disconnected. And spirituality, as it's emphasized in the program of the 12 steps, is profoundly reconnecting."


Three residents of the Impact Center, a residence drug treatment center, pray during a group meeting.

Photograph by Todd Bigelow, Aurora


According to Marvin Seppala, chief medical officer at Hazelden and sober 37 years, attending 12-step meetings does more than give an addict warm, fuzzy feelings.

The unconscious neurological pull of addiction undermines healthy survival drives, causing individuals to make disastrous choices, he said. "People will regularly risk their lives—risk everything—to continue use of a substance."

Addicts don't want to engage in these behaviors, but they can't control themselves. "The only way to truly treat it is with something more powerful," he said—something, like the 12 steps, that can change patterns in the brain.

Left Brain, Right Brain

Andrew Newberg studies neurotheology—the science of how spiritual practices affect the brain.

He avoids theological opinions, noting that the positive mental and emotional effects that might come from believing in God are real to the individual. "Irrespective of whether God truly exists or not," Newberg said, "the brain is less interested in the accuracy of reality than the adaptability of how we respond."

Bill Wilson had a famous "white light" experience in a hospital room, where he was recovering from what would be his last alcoholic bender. He claimed it was a spiritual awakening that not only changed his outlook but also removed his desire to drink.

Newberg said that "large-scale, existential-type crises" such as Wilson's can bring instant changes to the brain. New neuronal pathways are activated or reactivated. This instant rewiring, Newberg said, generates a sudden and intense "aha" moment.

Newberg speculates that such an event may occur because of differences between the brain's left and right hemispheres, which approach problems differently. The left side struggles to work through a problem from an analytical, black-and-white perspective.

But the right side may suddenly kick in and apply a very different, more holistic solution. In such a moment, the neurons of the brain are immediately realigned, spurred on by intense emotion relating to the crisis.

This same experience, sometimes described as a "eureka!" moment—or a cognitive insight phenomenon—is often referenced in relation to creative breakthroughs.

One 2008 study found that when the left side of the person's brain dwells on a problem, it produces an excessive amount of obstructive gamma waves. The more the person ruminates on the problem, the harder it becomes to solve.

Conversely, when concentration is relaxed—or as Newberg said, when the person manages to quiet the left side of the brain and involve the right—the sudden appearance of new answers and insights can feel profound.

Neglected Realm

David Shurtleff, acting deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), described addiction as a mainstream medical problem suffering from a lack of coordinated efforts.

The first four years of medical school routinely provide doctors with only a few hours of instruction on addiction. Shurtleff said his agency would like to see more training for primary care physicians, including equipping them with a standardized assessment to diagnose addiction. "We do the best we can," he said, "but it's an uphill fight."

Meanwhile, brain science marches on. Understanding of addiction at the cellular level continues to yield revelations that seem to cast light on why 12-step meetings succeed.

Power of Dopamine Receptors

D2 dopamine receptors connect dopamine, a key neurotransmitter, to neurons. When these receptors are not functioning—or there are too few of them available to connect the dopamine to neurons—memory, mood, and thinking may all be impaired.

A shortage of D2 receptors, some researchers surmise, could predispose a person to addiction.

Nora Volkow, NIDA's director, led two studies that involved artificially increasing the number of D2 receptors in rats by administering adenoviral vectors directly into their brains. Viral vectors transmit their genetic material and makeup into foreign cells, in this case increasing the number of D2 receptors in the new cells to match their own.

In one study involving rats and alcohol, the increased number of D2 receptors led the rodents to consume less alcohol, compared with their baseline intake.

In the other study, the D2-receptor increase caused rats to significantly reduce their intake of cocaine.

Michael Nader, a researcher at Wake Forest School of Medicine, is investigating ways to raise D2-receptor levels naturally. One experiment he helped conduct focused on five separate groups of four monkeys. Each had been self-administering cocaine to the point of habit and were then deprived of the drug for an eight-month period. To create a picture of D2-receptor availability, the monkeys were given a radioactive tracer that competes with dopamine for receptors.

The monkeys were then randomly put in social groups of four and given the opportunity to self-administer the drug again.

Positron emission tomography (PET) imaging of the monkeys over time showed fluctuations in dopamine levels, which allowed the researchers to estimate the changing numbers of available D2 receptors. After only three months, the socially dominant monkeys in each group had naturally increased their numbers of D2 receptors.

There was no increase in the subordinate monkeys. Further, the subordinate monkeys reverted to using cocaine at much higher levels than the dominant monkeys.

"There is an interesting relationship between D2-receptor numbers and vulnerability to drug addiction," Nader said. "It appears that individuals with low D2 measures are more vulnerable compared to individuals with high D2-receptor numbers."

Why did the socially dominant monkeys show D2-receptor increases? "One hypothesis," Nader said, "is environmental enrichment." For the monkeys, it seems, being dominant was the enriching trigger.

One physiological consequence of involvement in 12-step meetings, therefore, could be an increase in the natural production of D2 receptors. "That's another whole area to be studied beyond the animal world," Shurtleff said.

Need for Attachment

Philip Flores, author of Addiction as an Attachment Disorder, said the human need for social interaction is a physiological one, linked to the well-being of the nervous system.

When someone becomes addicted, he said, mechanisms for healthy attachment are "hijacked," resulting in dependence on addictive substances or behaviors.

Some believe that addicts, even before their disease kicks in, struggle with knowing how to form emotional bonds that connect them to other people. Co-occurring disorders, such as depression and anxiety, make it even harder to build those essential emotional attachments.

"We, as social mammals, cannot regulate our central nervous systems by ourselves," Flores said. "We need other people to do that."

While it's commonly understood that early childhood attachments to parents and family are necessary for healthy development, Flores maintains that emotional attachments remain necessary throughout adulthood.

This is where a 12-step program becomes valuable.

It's not enough, Flores said, to remove the addiction, which in itself has become an object of unhealthy emotional and physical attachment. To achieve long-term well-being, addicts need opportunities for forging healthy emotional attachments.

"What A.A. does on the basic level is what good psychotherapy does," Flores said. It provides "a community for people to break their isolation and to start to connect on an emotional level with other people."

Helping Heals

Lee Ann Kaskutas, a scientist with the Alcohol Research Group, has faced skepticism from colleagues for studying A.A., in part because of the numerous spiritual references that go with the 12-step program. It puts A.A. on "the fringe" in the minds of many scientists, Kaskutas said.

Kaskutas, a self-proclaimed atheist, said that the 12 steps bear fruit regardless of one's spiritual beliefs. "If you don't believe in God, the way it weasels in is in the help and behaviors that the 12-step group inculcates."

Helping others, Kaskutas said, "is the internal combustion engine of A.A. I think that is the connection to spirituality."

People feel better about themselves after helping someone else, Kaskutas said. "So it's reinforcing—when you help somebody, I think your brain chemistry changes."

—Follow Jarret Liotta on Facebook.

Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart

This is a really good piece. It's great to see someone finally try to reconcile AA with science. 

AA itself will, of course, never do that as the programme is divinely inspired so such things are basically seen as "outside issues". 

The real problem here lies instead with this issue of Higher Power. From what we now know, there's no such thing and any suggestion that there might be is just another form of denial. 

So while group therapy is undoubtedly useful in the short term, AA seems to have cornered the market here using a methodology that is actually not a healthy way to live in the long term. 

That's possibly why there are so many sober suicides in AA and why so many people with years and years of sobriety are still clearly quite neurotic. 

I left AA after 14 years as a happy customer early in 2014 for precisely that reason and blog about my experience "Leaving AA, Staying Sober" at

Chuck Novak
Chuck Novak

That was one of the the most bias uneducated article I have read on AA.   By AA's own admission it works for less than 5% of people who attend the meetings. And it begs to ask of those 5 %, how many succeeded not because of AA, but despite AA. It is awful one-sided and seems to have been penned at an AA meeting by brainwashed AA zombies.  Yes, you Nora Volkrow and Marvin Seppala are nothing more than clueless brainwashed AA mouthpiece zombies.

Addicts don't want to engage in these behaviors, but they can't control themselves?? "The only way to truly treat it is with something more powerful," he said—something, like the 12 steps. How many people have stopped without AA or any steps? The article states there are 2 million people in AA. There are 20 million people in recovery. That means some 18 million people have done what you just said can't be done. Oh, I forgot you have a financial interest in sprouting your nonsense. You need to justify the $60,000 Hazeldum charges to advise people to go to a free program. Your statement is malpractice.

 What A.A. does on the basic level is what good psychotherapy does???" Flores said. NO! No it is not remotely the same as psychotherapy. 

What AA provides is  "a community for people to break their isolation and to start to connect on an emotional level with other people."  Exactly that 'community could just as easily and effectively be a bridge club. 

Lindsay Leimbach
Lindsay Leimbach

Good article on the Brain, addiction, and the 12 Step Program.

Pamela Hemphill
Pamela Hemphill

I have 34 years sober and I worked in the Substance Abuse Treatment field for over 30 years.  Something I heard a long time ago.. If it is working don't fix it.  

I love AA for saving my life.  I agree that no one should be mandated to treatment or a AA meeting, but I do agree that if God started this program, then no is going to be able to end it, even if they want to. 

rebecca farrell
rebecca farrell

 I'm doing research on AA. I don't know anything for those of you with your ph D's. I'm not even an alcoholic for those of you recovering. I have sat in on meetings with my Mom since I was 3. And this is just my opinion.

I live in Texas in a conservative town. I do believe in God. So maybe I am a little prejudiced in the way AA serves people. I won't go into that.

My father hated AA and that has always made me scrutinize this program harshly. I won't go into that.

AA has never improved my financial situation. But it can change the way you think and that can change your surroundings. But I'm not going into that either.

I've seen the flaws of AA.
 Flaws really do make us human. And they have good intentions for you there. But I really shouldn't go into that either...

In the end, these are just broken people. They have problems, not answers. They cry in front of others because they hurt. So it works for them.

No matter how many nasty opinions or facts you throw at AA, it doesn't change the fact that it was started by desperate people for desperate people. So put it under a microscope or beat it bloody. It still has a function. One persons opinion doesn't change any of that. Even mine.

Skip Herdon
Skip Herdon

It is nice .. it is interesting to see that people are still reading this article and interested enough to continue to comment about it.  AA continues undaunted to assist those who want to stop drinking one-day-at-a-time to do so.  Do some of you think that the hundreds of thousands of sober alcoholics in AA is a myth?  Have you attended any of the International Conventions (held every five years) and seen for yourself some tens-of-thousands of sober members? Is AA perfect? Does AA have flaws? Of course. AA can only help people who want to stop drinking do that.. The problem becomes dual-diagnosis people .. those whose real issues surface when they stop drinking and can no longer blame the alcohol and find out that the real issue is some form of mental illness.  As the AA Big Books clearly states (page 23 lines 5 and 6) the problem centers in the mind and not the body.  Sign me Four Decades and Counting ..   

William Cooper
William Cooper

I've been a grateful member of AA for 37 sober years. Alcoholism is somewhat different than other addictions. Give a 100 random people heroin daily for a month and you'll have 100 heroin addicts. Give 100 random people a 1/5 of vodka daily for a month and you'll have maybe 10 real alcoholics. What I'm saying is the true alcoholic is genetically predisposed to the disease of alcoholism. Not only does the program of AA and 12 steps work, it has changed my outlook in life. It has enabled me to show tolerance and love for my fellow man. The spiritual proof is beyond our sobriety but the mysterious and positive changes occurring in our lives one day at a time.

Rick Stevens
Rick Stevens

I started going to an AA meeting a few months ago (Back to Basics in Richmond Hill).  I have never been around such self-absorbed people in my entire life. I haven't' been to other groups but if they are all like this, than this thing is really terrible and they are screwing with peoples lives. I've seen newcomers come in there in pretty rough shape hoping to get some help, but never get any and never return after a meeting or two.  These long time members who are "supposed to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers" are way too busy socialising amongst themselves in their cliques.  Their meeting is more like a social club  and their open meeting is basically a mini dinner with lots off snacks where they host people from other groups to show off how great they are and how great their meeting is while the person who is there at his first meeting and is desperate for help never receives any and just leaves and never returns.  I've seen this week after week.  Somehow I've managed to stick around here for a couple months with these selfish people, but they are so unwelcoming that I have decided to leave.  I don't want to be like them.

Stephen Andrews
Stephen Andrews

I have read this thread and I have to say, lots of hatred against AA and NA.

All I can really say is, if you were an alcoholic, or an addict, and you're clean now, then good for you. Addiction ruins lives.

As far as the most common "problem" I've seen with AA -- "God." You know what, I'm a member of NA/ CA/ AA and I have to agree with you all. Not because I think AA really promotes "God" like you guys think he does, but because so many people really do think that's what the program is about.

It's easy to see why, too. Although I personally haven't been to a meeting where they read the Lord's prayer, I have heard of it happening. Certainly the program evolved from a Christian background. Nevertheless, the program does not necessarily need to be "Christian" or even religious. I think most people that stay clean understand this.

I heard one commentor reference AA as a program that relies on a "wish dispensing God" or something to that affect. That's not how it works. NA does a much better job of distinguishing between religion and spirituality. They don't even allow the term "God" in NA, they use the term "higher power." I think a better word for spiritual might be mental health.

Here's the nitty gritty of what the AA/ NA program really is about in this addicts view. Do you believe lying is wrong? How about theft? Murder - certainly you believe murder is wrong. Well why do people lie, steal, or (in some cases) murder? Because it fits in with their self-centered plans. "I need to make this sale, so I'll lie to the client." "I want this new movie so I'll steal it." "This bitch cheated on me, she's dead." etc.. We become addicts for the same reason. "I don't like feeling sad, I'm going to shoot up." 

"God" is really better explained as a higher power. Just as we know there to be wrong (lies, murder, etc...) we know there to be good. Helping other people, that's good. Living for each other, that's good. I once heard someone say, "If you don't like the word God, that's ok, just add an 'o' to it and make it good." It is the recognition of what is good (" a power") and that surrendering to that power ("Higher") will bring about change.

My girlfriend is a stunning, drop dead beautiful blonde that is also in the program. People try and hit on her, or manipulate me to try and steal her from me all the time. I hate it. I couldn't agree more that it's one of the really negative things about the program. I hate it, and I can't begin to explain how much I agree that it hurts the program -- not because the program CAUSED the behavior but because the behavior PREVENTS people from finding out about the program....BUT after about a year clean, as a rule of thumb people usually stop doing that kinda s***. Some never do, and that sucks. But let's be real here guys, it's not like running game on girls and having double motives is unique to AA. Nobody claims to be perfect in the rooms.

Two years ago I was shooting heroin into my arms and pimping my friend's girl out to dealers to get my fix. I had no real friends, my family hated me, and worst of all, I hated myself.

TODAY I run a successful mortgage company, I made $200,000 last year, I have a beautiful girlfriend who I love, we don't fight -- we discuss problems. I have friends that I truly love and who I know truly love me for no reason other than they enjoy my company. I workout every day and am in great shape. My business partner is my dad and twin brother and I am very close with everyone in my family. I love others, and most importantly, I love myself.

Now for all the people here that hate AA, would you suggest I go back to my old life because of how bad AA is? Or perhaps you have a different program you would like to introduce me to? My only real beef with everyone hating on the program is that I KNOW some addict is going to come on here and read all your comments and NOT go into the room because he has the wrong idea about it. So, please, if you are going to say AA is bad, tell me what is good.

jeanne Smith
jeanne Smith

If you want to discredit any ability you have at scientific reporting you did it.  Report the success rate of AA by what AA deems success. Do you see the conflict of interest there? You are citing members of a support group who can only provide anecdotal evidence which should not be confused with empirical evidence. 

The nature of the program makes it hard to measure its efficacy. How do control for variability of different meetings? How and when does the drop out rate factor in? Why would you cite Hazeldon who makes money off of a regressive addiction treatment industry? 

You can spin some drug induced spiritual awakening by Bill W. as the foundation for treating suffering addicts. Grasp at bunk science. Throw in the left/right brain simpleton logic. 

Do realize how much you are doing a disservice to further the research of addiction. This is not how we treat cancer. AA is not seeking a cure. It is endless. 

To equate a support group to professional help is utterly ridiculous and plain wrong. Why do members of AA make up the employees of treatment facilities? What are their qualifications? No offense but being a drunk does not make you an expert on anything. 

I am someone who actually seeks progress. No leaders means no accountability.  The real success rate is 5% which is the same as people who quit on their own which is 5%. 

Of course you should trade self destructive behavior with healthy habits.  That does not leave you with the AA option of endless whining and non-sensical drivel . Join a gym, learn how to play an instrument or a new language, volunteer for any group. Do something productive.  

If this works for anyone and you are happy that is great. Please do not be so arrogant to think that this is a real treatment for everyone. 

For the AA's who want to pick apart my healthy anger and question my serenity, then do what you do best judge people who are not one of you in your self righteous manner. I did not leave my brain at the door because that is not my job.

This is a shame and sham piece of garbage. 

jeanne Smith
jeanne Smith

The nature of this support group makes measuring its efficacy impossible. How can a study conducted on the success rate of AA be reported by AA? Do you see the conflict of interest in that? How can you control for the variability that occurs in meetings? Did you factor in the drop out rate? It appears that the sources cited like Hazelton make incredible amounts off the addiction industry. What is the relapse rate? What do you do when you relapse? You go to a bunk science program and back to meetings. It seems like the only people who really benefit from AA are the "sober" people who can only get jobs in AA treatment facilities. To suggest this is as good as actual therapy is forgetting the fact that support groups are not meant to replace professionals. They are for support and since there are no leaders there is nobody accountable for anything that could be legit dangerous. The success rate is 5% just like the 5% who quit on their own. You can replace self-destructive habits with healthy ones, like a gym, like a book club, volunteerism, learning a new language, playing an instrument, etc. AA is crazy people running the asylum. The awful grasping for something of any actual scientific credibility like left/right brain whatever is a disservice to the progress of real science. The science that actively does research and seeks out cures for things like addiction. The reason I have healthy anger is that people die because they are thrown into a lions den. You can spin this anyway you like but there is only anecdotal evidence not empirical so lets stop pretending this is science. If it works for you great! If you want to act like you are making a  meaningful contribution to the study of addiction you are not. I'm utterly embarrassed by whoever wrote this garbage. Go ahead AA, self righteous hypocrites and tell me how I lack serenity because that is what you do best. 

Tim Jackson
Tim Jackson

This is an excellent piece. The convergence of brain activity and social connectivity underlines what many in AA have come to understand in practice:We need company and a sense of purpose. Beating addiction alone is nigh on impossible. Believe in God, believe science or worship a rock at the park; AA works and all you need to to be a member is a desire to stop drinking.

Mike Kercher
Mike Kercher

Excellent article on the 12 steps.  I very much agree on their assessment of it centering on right brain/ left brain phenomenon, but I believe it is opposite of what they theorize.  And nothing in this article changes my personal opinion of that.  Still an excellent article though!

Tiffany Lakoda
Tiffany Lakoda

My sister was in bad shape, we tried a few different methods of helping her but eventually we just had to send her to a drug rehab in arizona. We didn't know what to expect but she is now clean and sober 8 months, and I have my sister back! Thank you

Aaron Allen
Aaron Allen

Rehab Centers help a large number of people to abstain from drinking. This should be the thing which should come in mind first if anybody is looking for getting over his/her drug addiction.

Peter Bayh
Peter Bayh

It has worked for me for the past 12 plus years, but what you get out depends upon what you put in, like anything in life.

You usually get what you give

Skip Herdon
Skip Herdon

Thanks Jarret Liotta for your article.  I really enjoyed reading it.  Whether people like your article or not .. you seem to have stimulated a vigorous climate for many varied opinions.  As member of AA for over three decades I love to stimulate debates within the fellowship myself.  I will give back to AA all that I have to give BUT I WILL NOT GIVE BACK MY SOBRIETY.  Doctor Bob himself is quoted in the AA Book .. Doctor Bob and the Good Oldtimers .. as follows: IF you love everyone in AA you have not been going to enough meetings!     

Isaac Joyner
Isaac Joyner

AA only works if and when you work it I personally know this to be true for the 12 Step programs

Skip Herdon
Skip Herdon

Why all of this angst and anger and hostility and vitreol against A.A. I ask myself.  What exactly is wrong with hundreds of thousands of alcoholics staying sober in A.A. and not driving drunk and killing people?

danny j schwarzhoff
danny j schwarzhoff

For over 70 years now clinicians not been able to catch up with  AA and continue to hold disgraceful "failure" rates for recovery (Even going so far as to create the myth that it is not even possible to recover from alcoholism)

Meanwhile, AA’s "Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program..." [1] of the 12 Step method remains, uncontested.

"Rare failure" is pretty darn good! And I can attest for the accuracy of the statement as it hold true to this day.

As this article once again shows, scientists will forever be trying to explain away Spirituality, God and miracles as "physiological consequences" or philological phenomenon.

It used to be simply ”the power of positive thinking" or "psychosomatic" projection and now as the nomenclature of their own secular, "findings" continue to expand, becoming even more complicated and top heavy with secular, non-solutions, real human experience such as "Spiritual awakening" are written off as being mere symptoms of "Dissociative Disorders" - abstinence the "natural production" of D2 (dopamine) receptors accompanying "Fellowship."  God lord!. Giving God credit for nothing? Oh boy! 

In presenting real, enduring solutions to addictions and alcoholism, Twelve Step fellowships that offer spiritual presentations to induce spontaneous spiritual experiences (miracles) are light years ahead of science and the Twelve Step approach remains the granddaddy of all recovery plans ever conceived.

Despite many attempts to capture and market its essence, the "Twelve Steps" has never been successfully commercialized without spoiling its effectiveness—a fact, which makes it the competitive, envy of the alcohol and addictions treatment industry - to this day. Trying to do what only God can has proven to be quite impossible.

~ dannyjschwarzhoff – RLRA
Real Live Recovered Alcoholic

[1] “Alcoholics Anonymous”, 4th edition, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 58:0

Paul Peterson
Paul Peterson

Another federal appeals court ruling finding 12-step based treatment to be religious, and finding that an atheist who refused 12-step treatment on religious grounds (and thus had parole revoked and returned to prison for 100 days) is entitled to compensation.  Hah!

Say Jarett, I bet the atheist's D2 dopmaine receptors went way up on hearing this verdict that agains  upholds the Constitution of the United States of America (Establishment Clause of the First Amendment) against theocracy.

Fritz Miller
Fritz Miller

The Paradox of Powerlessness

When I give up and realize how powerless I am over alcohol, or relationships, or food, then I have access to a power beyond my rational mind and then that power helps me to conquer addictions easily and effectively over alcohol, cigarettes, food, and even helps me to improve relationships. Today I am happier and healthier and even wealthier (because of fewer medical problems) because of the AA  program.

Let the naysayers enjoy their rants and their lofty intellectual superiority as I move my life from away from struggles to more and more fun and ease.

What is cool about the AA program it give me the  opportunity to meet interesting people who are moving ahead with their lives rewiring their brains for success. I meet them in my home town, at the beach, in foreign countries, or on cruises. It is all so much fun.

"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation."

Skip Herdon
Skip Herdon

@William Cooper  I LIKE your comment .. somehow when I checked LIKE under your comment it registered as Unlike .. so much for technology .. I feel bad to see the Unlike up above .. because your comment is great .. Skip

Rick Stevens
Rick Stevens

@Stephen And

It'sa spiritual program yet you don't sound very spiritual to me bragging about how much money you make and your "drop dead beautiful blonde" girlfriend, etc.  Just sounds like ego-talk to me. Many of us are not so lucky that daddy will help us out with a cushy high paying job if we just stop taking drugs.  If anything you just proved to the real addict/alcoholic who are sick and/or have lost so much that AA is full of narcissistic people who only really care about themselves.

Stephen Andrews
Stephen Andrews

@jeanne Smith 

I understand the difference between anecdotal and empirical. I also understand that science runs on empirical, repeatable data and experimentation. 

With that said, I am a recovering addict. I regularly work the Step's and attend meetings. Like all addicts, I know many other addicts. Some are clean, most aren't. In my experience, if someone isn't "working the steps," then they are not clean. Period.

I understand that in the scientific sense my own observations don't "prove" anything. I am not saying that AA/ NA is the ONLY way; I'm quite sure it isn't. It doesn't claim to be; I hear people in the rooms say all the time, "we don't have a cornerstone on recovery." I heard a story of a "friend of a friend" getting clean via a Buddhist recovery center. 

In short, I am a reasonable man. I don't believe in the Zodiac or any hogwash claims that generally fool our impressively stupid population. I have a Psy. D, am a CAC III (highest level of addiction therapist in Colorado) and when I want to verify something, I usually look to peer reviewed journals. But even with my credentials, when I meet someone in my personal life, I NEVER say, "Go to a Therapist." I say, "Come to a meeting with me."

You can tell me all day that an experiment reduced all extraneous variable and has established a causative link between PIzza Hut's Cheese Pizza's being the best tasting Pizza out there (I'm not an idiot and I do understand that this would never happen), but all the data in the world won't convince me as thoroughly as eating a slice of pizza.

AA/ NA works. I think AA in particular relies on the notion of "God" a little too much, but oh well. The idea of a psychic change is really what it is all about.

Ray Watters
Ray Watters

@jeanne SmithYour last two statements say it all.  No AA person dares question your comment since you have already judged them to be self-righteous by your own self-righteousness.

That is the true shame.

Ray Watters
Ray Watters

@jeanne Smith "It seems like the only people who really benefit from AA are the "sober" people who can only get jobs in AA treatment facilities."

Sorry to disappoint, but I have been sober for 18 years and do not work in an AA treatment facility. 

 "Go ahead AA, self righteous hypocrites and tell me how I lack serenity because that is what you do best. "

And you call people in AA judgemental??

Jeanne, clearly something happened in your life that has caused you to be angry with AA.  That is too bad.  I hope you get over your anger before it causes you any further harm.

Jack Shuman
Jack Shuman

@Skip HerdonSuperficially it might sound like you're making a valid argument.

"Our real purpose is to make ourselves of maximum use to God". (The Big Book, 3rd & 4th Editions, page 77.) 

So is AA's purpose to keep people sober or to make themselves of maximum service to God, the one and only God, the AA God?

Was Bill W. making himself "of maximum use to God" when he 13-stepped newcomers?  If so, what kind of God is that AA God of yours?

Just curious.

And Danny expects to be taken seriously.  Amusing.

Darryl Keith
Darryl Keith

@Skip Herdon 

If you read all the comments I think you might  get an idea why.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that it would be good to have hundreds of thousands of people driving drunk and killing people - sober by AA or any other method - or even a "non-alcoholic" driving drunk.

Jack Shuman
Jack Shuman

@danny j schwarzhoffDanny said:  "Meanwhile, AA’s 'Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program...' [1] of the 12 Step method remains, uncontested."

 Danny, after dropping a load like that how do you expect anyone to take you seriously?  I can give you countless numbers of failures, including those of AA members committing suicide (or were they not "thoroughly following 'our' path"?), and AA members killing people in auto accidents.

Real scientists (as opposed to real alcoholics) do not use faith healing to cure disease, any disease, including cancer or the fictitious disease of alcoholism.

Bill Wilson "captur[ed] and market[ed] its essence" long ago.  The guy milked it for all it was worth, and the AAWS and the GSO, as well as countless rehabs, continue to do it today.  And it was as ineffective back then as it is today.

Dude, they're sucking every dime they can out of your disease as well as your belief in that AA God.

Something that you left out was that Scientology has produced millions of "clears" but science has not succeeded in reproducing a single one.

Also, if God were really on your side you'd have a much better command of comma placement.  If I were you I'd talk to your HP about that and ask him what the problem is.


@Paul Peterson 

Why would the inmate be afraid to try a religious treatment if it helped him get over alcoholism (possibly saving his life) and got him out of jail sooner? Is atheism a religion? Atheists behave like it.

Felona Nepal
Felona Nepal

@Fritz Miller "What is cool about the AA program it give me the  opportunity to meet interesting people who are moving ahead with their lives rewiring their brains for success. I meet them in my home town, at the beach, in foreign countries, or on cruises. It is all so much fun"

This sounds like an old Army ad.

Happy you are doing well and are happy in life.

Now, on to the other 95%. They might like to get well and travel the world, too, and AA doesn't work for them. Taking an honest look at treatment methods isn't so much about you, personally, as it is about the rather large population of alcoholics out there who need something else. They do matter.

Jack Shuman
Jack Shuman

@Fritz Miller "... lofty intellectual superiority" sounds like a quote directly from Bill Wilson.

Reminds me of that old saying, "One man's savior is another man's (insert shyster, slug, or troll here)."

You might research even the origins of the allegedly Herbert Spencer quote you used toward the end of your blog.  Incidentally, I wouldn't call accepting AA's definition of itself honest investigation.  It's rather like asking the fox who's been stealing the chickens.  They seldom own up to being the thieves themselves.

Those who are most likely to end up in "everlasting ignorance" are those who accept a totally subjective definition of an organization. Get information from out side of AA if you want another side.  That's exactly what AA does not want you to do.  According to AA advocates, you need an AA or Alanon involved spouse, AA involved children if possible, etc.  That pretty well closes the loop and keeps you in a tight AA circle where those around you can control your thinking.

And all the parrots say is, "AA saved my life.  AA saved my life.  AA saved my life.  SKRAAAAWWWWKKKK!"

Also, for some strange reason, AA may have helped you.  It has harmed others.

Darryl Keith
Darryl Keith

@Fritz Miller

I know someone in AA. Yes he stopped drinking, but is obese, gambles, smokes cigarettes and is generally not a nice person. While asking his higher power for help why didn't he slip in these vices also? Does god/higher power only answer what you ask for? If I was in the program I would be like you and go for broke - I would ask for everything and become the healthy person you became.

I am unsure why you attribute "The Paradox of Powerlessness" to becoming happier, healthier and wealthy. I would think that happened when you made the decision to stop being drunk (or maybe your D2-Receptors increased).

By the way - There are many interesting people who are successful (who never had their brains rewired) outside the program – they can also be fun!

Anyway - good for you - I don't think this would work for me since my rational mind would get in the way. Sean Sean

@William Cooper The thing is, you've been brainwashed for 37 years (it happens very fast) so you are blind to see all the fanatics that fill the rooms of this borderline cult.  But hey, if it helps you hopeless drunks (apparently only 5% stick around) then good for you.  And society is also much better with less winos stumbling around on our streets.  I hope I did not offend - but you A.A.'s are models of spirituality with love and tolerance after all so I'm sure I didn't.  Hahaha yeah right!   

Philip L
Philip L

@Rick Stevens 

It's easy to point your finger at anyone's faults.

Do you expect someone to be perfect after two years of recovery, after a life of shooting dope?

How about congratulating them on rebuilding their life and wishing them well in progressing further in the future.

Paul Peterson
Paul Peterson

@Ray Watters - Maybe Jeanne is tired of the self-righteousness of many A.A. groups and certainly the literature that they parrot:

"Unless each A.A. member follows to the best of his ability our suggested Twelve Steps to recovery, he almost certainly signs his own death warrant" - Bill W., 12X12 (Trad 9) p. 174

And the We Agnostics chapter that calls agnostics and atheists and other kinds of non-believers: 

"Cynically Dissecting Spiritual Beliefs" (p. 48), "Handicapped By Obstinancy" (p. 48), "prejudiced" and "unreasoning prejudice" (p. 48) "Rather Vain" (p. 49), "No Reasonable Conception Whatever" (p. 49), "Biased And Unreasonable" (p. 51), "Prey To Misery And Depression" (p. 52), "Couldn't Make A Living" (p. 52), "Full of Fear" (p. 52), "Our Ideas Did Not Work" (p. 52), "We Couldn't Quite Step Ashore" (p. 53), "Leaning Too Heavily On Reason" (p. 53), "Abjectly Faithful To The God Of Reason" (p. 54), "Whirling On To A Destiny Of Nothingness" (p. 54), "Fooling Ourselves" (p. 55), and on and on. 

Is Jeanne being anymore judgemental than that crap?

Mirek Lobasz
Mirek Lobasz

@Jack Shuman You need to read the Steps.  It's God "as you understand God. " There is no AA god.  Making yourself of maximum use to God "as you understand God" could be as simple as helping the next alcoholic and, thereby, helping yourself to stay sober, however that works.  

If you are against "helping" as a general principal, they I can see why you would be so vehement in your objections to AA.

One of the great things about the program is that AA does not judge if we are saints or sinners. AA lets you join if you are ready to quit drinking. If you want to drink again, there are no AA goons out there to prevent you, but there will always be someone to welcome you back if you decide to try giving up again.

Skip Herdon
Skip Herdon

@Jack Shuman Jack .. it does seem to be a fact .. that like it or not .. AA does help a large number of people to abstain from drinking.  I can agree with the detractors right-down-the-line as to their points.  Was Bill Wilson a 'saint'? NO!  Was President Clinton or Kennedy (as regards to the female population).  Bill Wilson acknowledged himself he was not. Is AA the only way?  How could it be because there was no AA when Bill Wilson got sober.  Does AA work for everyone?  NO!  Is AA for everyone? NO! Do the 12 steps work for everyone? NO! 

But it does work for some!  So why not just let-it-be?  This entire discussion is outside of AA's 10th Tradition.  AA boils down to this .. one alcoholic working with another alcoholic.  There was NO book and NO steps until the late 1930s.  Yet people were getting and some staying sober sans todays methods.   


@Jack Shuman@danny j schwarzhoff

Cite facts and/or give your opinions. Get rid of the snarky comments. It lessens your credibility tremendously. Please note, the statement that God is helping AA treat alcoholics does in no way imply that he is their grammar resource.

danny j schwarzhoff
danny j schwarzhoff

@Jack Shuman@danny j schwarzhoff

Oh,one more thing Jack. No need for concern about anyone sucking anything out of of "my disease."  I dont have a disease.

Alcoholism isn't a disease. It's a Syndrome. A bundle of symptoms, mental and physical, indicating underlying  "spiritual disease," and I have been cured  of it.

danny j schwarzhoff
danny j schwarzhoff

@Jack Shuman@danny j schwarzhoff

How can I expect to be taken seriously? Here is how Jack. By basing all I say upon personal participation and verifiable, firsthand experience– observations seen repeated over and over for two decades. Not only my own but also those observed working with hundreds of alcoholics, drug, food and sex addicts, who recover - all over the world.

The results are universal and believe me THOSE people, in my realm of experience, who have recovered from alcoholism (and other obsessive conditions) and who likewise have their own direct experiences with still more full recoveries, would attest to the same.

I understand it is not YOUR experience, but it is that of many others and mine as well and to characterize my experience, thought verifiable and proven,  as a “load,” without facts is . . . well . . .  close-minded to say the least.

Here's why Jack: Since its first publication in 1939, AA’s “Big Book” that presents its recovery method has sold more than 30 million copies and has been translated into more than forty languages, with its Twelve Step principles now used as the model for more than sixty active recovery programs. This isn’t because it doesn’t work.

There are legions of recovered alcoholics who take their lead from the co-authors of that book: “One hundred men and women” who had established a relationship with God. They shared a common problem, discovered a common solution and wrote all about it.

The problem, they discovered, was caused by spiritual dysfunction. The solution they found came quite simply, by means of a spiritual awakening. The method they used themselves and propose in their book is designed to replicate that experience in those who adopt it. And it does.

It can be astounding to witness. (We are not talking about folks who merely “go-to meetings” now – those folks hardly EVER recover - I am refereeing solely to real alcoholics who actually follow the Spiritual Awakening plan delineated by those original "AA" co-authors.

One hundred somnambulant, obsessive miscreants discovered that upon a spiritual awakening, the obsession to drink was lifted—removed permanently. The experience placed them onto a moral path leading to the discovery of God.

Getting there took some simple acts of “human” will—just a smidge—but it was the only act of will that they would ever need to make for the rest of their lives. I have worked with many people over the years and I can say that without this spiritual awakening, no alcoholic (or drug addict) recovers.

Yet with it, no one with whom I have personally worked with has failed to recover. ZERO. Not a one. I know it is hard to believe Jack, but it is true.

Of course, by their own admission, AA has no monopoly on recovery from alcoholism and its approach to God is rather drastic – certainly not for everyone. Still, AA has earned my respect and I approve of AAs Twelve Step Program.

If someone can have a spiritual awakening, whether as the result of the 12 Steps, by divine vision or even a blinding bolt of lightning striking them in the head, (does it really matter?), then they would also have experienced a complete overhaul and major repair of being, where a once sniveling, fearful, boorish person full of anger is transformed into a completely new person that not only does not drink, but also has a completely new attitude toward people, life, God and his role in the universe.  The 12 steps do just that – all the time.

As doubtful as you are, (based on your inexperience with the spiritual aspects of the 12 steps, I am certain, surely not intelligence – judging by the way you write) your cynicism does not alter the history,  and that back in the 1930s nearly a hundred alcoholic men and woman adopted some specific procedure and a spiritual lifestyle that endowed them with a spontaneous, enduring spiritual awakening. Through that experience, they were relieved of their desire to drink.

They decided to spread the word about the effective recovery method they used—through the wholesale distribution of a book delineating precisely how they recovered from alcoholism. “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism” endeavors to tell readers where to find God and how to find Him. It is one of the twentieth century’s greatest “How To” spiritual works. And millions have recovered through it, like it or not.

So Jack, that’s how I can drop that “load” as you call it, and how I am already taken quiet  seriously by thousands of my readers all over the world, despite your view – PLOP. And if that “load” has landed on your head, please accept my apology. I really had no idea you were there when I wrote it. ~djs

Follow dannyjschwarzhoff on Facebook:

Paul Peterson
Paul Peterson

@ELIZABETH BUTLER - How would you feel if you were sentenced to a fundamentalist brand of Islam?  Well, to some people, A.A.'s proselytization about a prayer-answering favor-dispensing deity is as utterly preposterous as fundamentalism Islam is for solving life problems.  

Besides, its a violation of the U.S. Constitution for government to coerce anyone into a religious program.


@Jack Shuman@Fritz Miller 

How has AA harmed anyone? Do you mean alcoholics committing suicide? What proof is there that it was because of AA, not because of the alcoholism which undeniably destroys a person's quality of life.

Stephen Andrews
Stephen Andrews

@Jack Shuman @danny j schwarzhoff 

I don't understand what your Beef is Jack. Danny is being perfectly reasonable. At no point is he saying, "you must believe like I do." He is merely saying, "It works for me, I see it work for others. Maybe it will work for you, maybe not."

You seem to take issue with the fact that AA doesn't necessarily have a 100% success rate. Great! By all means, if you have a program and/or treatment plan that will cure 100% of addicts then be my guest and share it with us. 

The truth is anyone in the program can tell someone that has "thoroughly followed the path." It's hard to put exact words to it, which I have no doubt you'll harp on, but it's obvious to anyone in the program. Some people come to AA because they were forced to. They never get clean. Some people come to AA because they have faced a complete failure in life. I'm not talking about getting a DUI. I'm talking about pimping out their girlfriend to buy drugs while robbing stores, literally watching your best friend die from an overdose right next to you. Those people tend to want to get clean and AA works for them. They "surrender" to the program.

So maybe there is a better way science will discover in the future. I hope so, that would be awesome. In the meantime, why would anyone harp on a program that literally SAVES lives?

Jack Shuman
Jack Shuman

@Darryl Keith @danny j schwarzhoff Lol.  Good luck under the care of Dr. Danny.  He's been called "Cheesecake Danny" in certain Internet circles (by Raysny I think?).

He's 100% AA with a unique twist.

And yes, I noticed the comma placement.

"We're all miracles."

Darryl Keith
Darryl Keith

@danny j schwarzhoff

Danny - I am very interested in the hearing that you have been cured. I thought AA believed that this was not possible. I have so many questions.  

Are you a special case?

Do you have a book to sell me so I can find out how?

Does AA mention this technique at meetings? I would think they would like the members to know all options available.

Once cured does the “cured alcoholic” still need to go to meetings?  (I suppose they still do since there is still Step 12 – Carry the Message)

 I read on the “Step Eleven Comes Alive” website you have been able to bring down your cholesterol levels using 12 Steps in combination with your techniques. This interests me personally, since I hate taking my medication.  I am going to have to consult my doctors about this.

 (Lastly – I see since your first post you have much better command of comma placement – It’s a Miracle!)

Paul Peterson
Paul Peterson

@ELIZABETH BUTLER - I read and hear A.A. horror stories all the time.  I've been to A.A. myself and seen the coercion and the aggressive 13th stepping and sponsors pressuring sponsees to do humiliating and harmful things


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