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AA is Faith-Based, Not Evidence-Based

Posted in Science Based Medicine by Skepdude on May 19, 2009

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT “SCIENCE BASED MEDICINE”

Alcoholics Anonymous is the most widely used treatment for alcoholism. It is mandated by the courts, accepted by mainstream medicine, and required by insurance companies. AA is generally assumed to be the most effective treatment for alcoholism, or at least “an” effective treatment. That assumption is wrong.

We hear about a few success stories, but not about the many failures. AA’s own statistics show that after 6 months, 93% of new attendees have left the program. The research on AA is handily summarized in a Wikipedia article.  A recent Cochrane systematic review found no evidence that AA or other 12 step programs are effective.

In The Skeptic’s Dictionary, Bob Carroll comments:

Neither A.A. nor many other SATs [Substance Abuse Treatments] are based on science, nor do they seem interested in doing any scientific studies which might test whether the treatment they give is effective.

In the current issue of Free Inquiry, Steven Mohr has written a thorough and incisive article “Exposing the Myth of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Mohr characterizes AA as a religious cult. The founder, Bill Wilson, had a religious experience while under the influence of strong psychotropic drugs.

He had a vision of a bright light and the revelation that he could be saved only by giving his life completely and fully to God – and that an important part of his recovery would be to bring the news of his epiphany and recovery to other suffering alcoholics.

The 12 steps of AA refer repeatedly to God. They require admitting you are powerless, accepting that only a Higher Power can help you, turning your will and your life over to God, taking a moral inventory, admitting your wrongs, being ready to let God remove your shortcomings, making amends to those you have harmed, improving your conscious contact with God through prayer and meditation, and spreading the word (proselytizing).

Criticism of the religious orientation led AA to switch emphasis from “God” to any “higher power.” One member allegedly designated a doorknob as his higher power and believed that praying to the doorknob helped him maintain sobriety.

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT “SCIENCE BASED MEDICINE”

Alcoholics Anonymous Not As Helpful as Secular Alternatives

Posted in Friendly Atheist by Skepdude on February 4, 2009

I’ve written about the topic before: Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs which require participants to submit to a higher power (PDF).

You would think that, because AA is so famously known and its program so widely used, it would at least be effective… right?

New research says otherwise.

So what works better than AA’s 12 steps?

In last month’s Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, University of New Mexico addiction specialist William Miller and his colleagues presented findings from two controlled trials in which patients underwent drug treatment. Some of the patients received spiritual guidance as part of the treatment — learning such practices as prayer, meditation and service to others, all of which are central to 12-step programs. Others received secular psychotherapy. Because of the enduring popularity of AA and similar programs that involve a spiritual component, Miller and his team expected the patients in the spiritual group to do better than those in the secular group. They were wrong — at least in the short term.

While both groups eventually benefited relatively equally from their treatment — abusing substances on fewer days — it took longer to see improvement among those in the spiritual group. What’s more, those who received spiritual guidance reported being significantly more anxious and depressed after four months than those who got secular help. Those problems abated at about the eight-month point, but because substance abusers are at high risk for suicide, some worry that it may not be a good idea to put them through demanding spiritual calisthenics in the early months of their recovery.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT THE FRIENDLY ATHEIST