Beliefnet
For well over three decades, it's been common for the court and penal system to coerce drunk drivers and others convicted of alcohol-related offences into A.A. and/or 12-step treatment programs. Many others are coerced into 12-step treatment by employers, employee "assistance" programs, and professional licensing agencies.

A.A.: The Biggest Religion You Never Hear About

  • The Stealth Religion
    By Gregg Easterbrook
  • It's Not a Religion, It's a Gift
    By Thomas Lynch
  • In all, roughly a million Americans are ordered into treatment every year, and almost all of this treatment is based on the "spiritual" 12-steps approach. Most centers offer clients no alternatives to A.A. or the 12-step approach. Given the overtly religious nature of 12-step programs, this is a serious threat to religious freedom--and freedom from religion--that has so far received little attention.

    Obviously, drunk drivers should be kept off the roads, and some of the individuals coerced into treatment do need help; but research indicates that A.A. is not only ineffective, it may actually be worse than no treatment at all.

    There have been only two studies of A.A.'s effectiveness conducted with the proper scientific controls. Both of these studies indicated that A.A. attendance works no better than, and perhaps not as well as, no alcoholism treatment at all. One of the studies showed that a secular approach, Rational Behavior Therapy (now known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy), worked much better than A.A.

    In the first of these studies, conducted in San Diego in 1964-65, 301 "chronic drunk offenders" were randomly divided into three groups, which were assigned to A.A., to treatment in an alcoholism clinic, or to no treatment. Within a year, 69% of the group assigned to A.A. (and 68% of the clinic group) had been re-arrested, compared to only 56% of the untreated group.

    The second study was carried out in Kentucky in the mid 1970s. This time, 260 subjects who were "revolving door" alcoholic court cases were divided into five groups: one assigned to A.A., a second to nonprofessionally led Rational Behavior Therapy (RBT), a third to professionally led RBT, a fourth to professionally led Freudian therapy, and the fifth group to no treatment.

    The results of this study were again startling. All four of the other groups reported more decrease in drinking than the A.A. group--that is, A.A. did the least to reduce subjects' drinking. In addition, the A.A. group had by far the highest dropout rate--68%--of any of the groups, more than 50% higher than any other group. And the A.A. group reported four times as much binge drinking as the no-treatment group and nine times as much as the lay-led RBT group.

    A.A.: The Biggest Religion You Never Hear About

  • The Stealth Religion
    By Gregg Easterbrook
  • It's Not a Religion, It's a Gift
    By Thomas Lynch
  • Meanwhile, a study conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in the early 1990s surveyed more than 4,500 formerly alcohol-dependent individuals and found that those who had not participated in A.A. or attended treatment had a higher rate of recovery than those who had.

    As a strictly voluntary choice, 12-step programs can work--for those who like and respond to their religious approach. But the research shows no grounds for forcing individuals to attend when 12-step religiosity offends their belief (or nonbelief) structures.

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