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Alcoholic Musings, Part 2

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The fact of the matter is…

“The Program works.”

Unless you look at Alcoholics Anonymous’ 1989 Triennial Membership survey, which explained that only 5% of newcomers continue past the first year, and 50% drop out within 30 days.

The fact of the matter is, though, that there are times when facts don’t matter that much. If “The Program works” for you, then you should pursue that avenue with all your power.

It’s arrogant to look at statistics alone and say that the path that someone else is taking to find wellness in their life is bullshit, but it’s difficult to step back and bite your tongue when A.A. is explained as the only plan that works. “I’ve never heard of someone who has gotten sober without it.”

The fact of the matter is that the percentage of people who actually suffer with some sort of alcohol dependency or “drinking problem” is huge compared to the percentage of people who actually seek recovery through rehab, in-patient programs, or even A.A. How huge?

According to the 1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey, a national household survey, approximately 7.5 percent of the U.S. population (about 14 million Americans) abuse and/or are dependent on alcohol (Grant et al. 1994). Furthermore, according to the 1993 National Drug and Alcoholism Treatment Unit Survey, more than 700,000 people receive alcoholism treatment on any given day (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [NIAAA] 1997).

About 20:1, huge.

From this point on is where statistics become a little hazy in identifying what “the fact of the matter is.” How many of those 14 million Americans stop drinking? How many are able to moderate their drinking? How many continue abusing alcohol? It’s impossible to know.

To say that The Program of A.A. is the only method that works when seeking recovery from a dependency on alcohol is downright silly, but the perspective relies heavily on which side of the equation the burden of proof is on. If you can’t provide an example of someone who’s quit drinking on their own, A.A.’s rhetoric becomes vindicated. “I’ve never heard of someone who has gotten sober without it,” becomes a valid argument.

So, here’s an example:

One recent study found that 80% of all alcoholics who recover for a year or more do so on their own, some after being unsuccessfully treated. When a group of these self-treated alcoholics was interviewed, 57% said they simply decided that alcohol was bad for them. Twenty-nine percent said health problems, frightening experiences, accidents, or blackouts persuaded them to quit.

This excerpt is from a widely-quoted section in The Harvard Mental Health Letter (Volume 12, Number 4, October 1995). In brief, this example suggests that a process of seeking sobriety through spiritual enlightenment that was created by a drunkard in the ’30s isn’t actually the only way to pursue sober living.

All of this is to say that there’s a lot of confusion that I see built into the recovery process based on simple disregard for either side of the argument. The fact of the matter is that some people do get sober through A.A., living their lives within a powerful “fellowship” of like-minded individuals. The fact of the matter is that many other people get sober on their own, without the necessity of working steps, finding a sponsor, and turning their lives over to a “Higher Power.”

The fact of the matter is that whatever tools you can pick up along the way, be it a little bit of one philosophy and a little bit of another, to help serve you in your journey toward a better life should be utilized to their fullest potential. The fact of the matter is that once you can clear away a lot of the ignorant and misleading “facts” and “truths” which litter the path toward wellness, the better off you’ll be for it.