• Problems with A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous)

Problems with A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous)

Alcoholism runs in my mother’s side of the family. My mother’s father, one of her older brothers, and my two siblings are alcoholics. I have always been a teetotaler.

My sister seemed to drink too much to cope with the stress of life. She later stopped drinking on her own.

My sister never joined AA or any other programs, nor did she seek any sort of medical treatment for her drinking problem. To this day, she will occasionally drink moderately at social functions, but she no longer gets drunk as she once did.

My brother joined AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) while he was in his 30s and was a member for at least several years, possibly longer.

I am not sure if my brother feels that AA helped him with his drinking problem or not, because I never asked him.

I did notice that after my brother joined AA, some of his attitudes or communication methods changed, and not always for the better.

The troubling, negative changes in my brother led me to research AA online to see if I could understand how or why AA had changed him so.

I spent a few weeks reading articles about AA, as well as visiting blogs and forums by ex-AA members.

What I discovered from reading this material was that AA was ineffective for most who used it; sexual abuse took place by AA members of other AA members or of those member’s children; the program itself is ‘addictive,’ (in a manner of speaking) which is not good; and, AA fosters a very victim-blaming mentality in some of its members.

Another thing I learned from ex-AA members is that AA is very cult-like. I read that if one should ever say anything the least bit critical of AA, one can count on a current AA member to pop up to leave a negative comment chiding the person for daring to say or write anything critical about AA (I have found that to be very true).

A lot of people who have been in AA themselves, or who have had a friend or family member utilize AA, will insist that AA is wonderful, because it helped them cope with drinking or helped them to stop drinking (or, they say, AA helped someone they knew).

While I am sure AA has helped some people in the past, the fact remains it is not effective for a high number of people, and it has or creates its own set of problems.


I have known members of spiritual abuse blogs who get very irate with me because I am not fully supportive of AA.

I find this odd, given that the same blog they are posting to regularly run exposes on how churches are naive about, and cover up, child sex abuse cases committed by preachers, church staff, or other church members.

Well, AA has its own form of sex abuse, called “13th Stepping” that goes on by AA members who prey on new AA members, sometimes adults, but sometimes teens, or sometimes, the children of the adults.

Why would the same members of Spiritual Abuse blogs who are generally highly critical of Christian churches for being lax in protecting child sex abuse victims of pastors want to brush this same phenomenon under the rug when conducted by AA participants, and pretend as though it is inconsequential?

Why do these individuals on spiritual abuse blogs and forums attack churches or Christians for being lenient or irresponsible in protecting child sex abuse victims in churches but turn around and protect AA on child (or adult) sex abuse charges?

It is not consistent to demand accountability of churches for misconduct regarding child or adult sex abuse crimes but not Alcoholics Anonymous groups or members.


While I can appreciate any addiction treatment program asking its members to take responsibility for their own lives and choices, AA manages to foster a very victim-blaming mindset in some of its members, as I was to read about on ex-AA forums and blogs, and as I evidenced in my brother.

When I would talk to my brother about any issues and problems I was facing in life, even ones I was not responsible for creating, expecting him to be empathetic and offer an encouraging word, instead, he would ask me, “What role did you play in that?,” and he would tell me that was one question his AA sponsors would frequently ask him. The question seems to imply if something bad or disappointing happens to you in your life, it must be due to some fault or mistake of your own.

For one thing, even the Bible says that sometimes bad things happen to good people through no fault of their own (see John 9 and Luke 13:1-5 and the entire book of Job in the Old Testament), but AA apparently denies this, if the attitudes of their members are any indication.

Secondly, I am a teetotaler, not an alcoholic. I don’t think AA logic or tips are necessarily applicable to someone such as myself who is a teetotaler, not an addict. I do not know why any AA member would find it appropriate to offer a non-AA person AA-based tips.

I was startled by my brother’s new-found tendency of victim blaming. I found it disturbing he was getting this sort of idea from a treatment program, and it made me want to research AA more. I got online and looked up resources on AA; this would’ve been several years ago, and I did not save all the web pages I found at that time.

One page I visited, an ex-AA member linked to an audio file of an AA member describing a rape report he saw on TV, where a little eight year old girl was shown discussing having been raped.

The man said she was crying and showed resentment and other negative emotions over having been violated, and as he spoke, this AA man mocked this little girl! He used a mocking voice to describe her comments, and said she was crying over having been raped, when she needed to accept her role in having been raped.

I was absolutely revolted to hear a grown man – to hear anyone – ridiculing a little girl who had been raped for her understandable reaction of anger, fear, or shame of having been sexually attacked.

I then researched further and found out that AA material states (or some of its members teach, based on their understanding of AA material) that rape victims are to be blamed for having been attacked, such as:

Alcoholics Anonymous Blames The Victim Of Sexual Abuse

This [link to You Tube video, now removed] is just heartbreaking and typical AA mantra of the “what was your part in it” line. It is not an uncommon line when you are sexually harassed at meetings and complain.

Alcoholics Anonymous does nothing to prevent sexual abuse by their members.
They actually invite sexual predators to meetings along with children and teens!

Of course, not only are sex abuse victims blamed for having been violated, but anyone who cannot live up to the criteria of AA is blamed for having failed…

Victims & Lies: The Paradox & Betrayal of 12-Step “Recovery” Culture

Blaming the victim operates at every level of AA culture. The most obvious of which is if someone doesn’t do well in AA, and 95% of the people that try AA don’t do well in it, it is the fault of the individual and not the fault of the Program. This is the idea behind the AA slogan “It works if you work it.”

Spiritual Abuse and Spiritual Bullies in Alcoholics Anonymous?


 to articles about the problems with AA, or to blogs or forums by ex-AA members:

From The Atlantic:

The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

by G. Glaser, April 2015

Its faith-based 12-step program dominates treatment in the United States. But researchers have debunked central tenets of AA doctrine and found dozens of other treatments more effective.

Psychologists have found that our drunk personalities aren’t actually that different from our sober personalities

The conclusion [of the study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science] Turns out we don’t completely transform into different people after a few drinks. And while we might behave a little differently, it’s probably not as drastic as we think it is.

We’re Addicted to Rehab But It Doesn’t Even Work


By Bankole A. Johnson, 2010

For decades, Americans have clung to a near-religious conviction that rehab — and the 12-step model pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous that almost all facilities rely upon — offers effective treatment for alcoholism and other addictions.

Here’s the problem: We have little indication that this treatment is effective. When an alcoholic goes to rehab but does not recover, it is he who is said to have failed. But it is rehab that is failing alcoholics.

The therapies offered in most U.S. alcohol treatment centers are so divorced from state-of-the-art of medical knowledge that we might dismiss them as merely quaint — if it weren’t for the fact that alcoholism is a deadly and devastating disease.

…Although AA’s emphasis on anonymity makes it difficult for outside researchers to determine its success rates, some have tried. What they have found doesn’t inspire much confidence in AA’s approach.

A recent review by the Cochrane Library, a health-care research group, of studies on alcohol treatment conducted between 1966 and 2005 states its results plainly: “No experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or TSF [12-step facilitation] approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems.”

AA itself has released success rates at times, but these numbers are based only on voluntary self-reports by alcoholics who maintain their ties to AA — not exactly a representative sample.

Even taken at face value, the numbers are not impressive. In a 1990 summary of five membership surveys from 1977 through 1989, AA reported that 81 percent of alcoholics who began attending meetings stopped within one month. At any one time, only 5 percent of those still attending had been doing so for a year.

Review Sees No Advantage in 12-Step Programs

Twelve Things that Alcoholics Anonymous Doesn’t Want You to Know

2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is About Twice as Successful as 12-Step Programs at Helping People to Quit Drinking.
As mentioned above, two-thirds of patients assigned to 12-step therapy dropped out of the Brandsma (1980) study. Only one-third of those assigned to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy, or the control group dropped out.

Those treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and those treated with Psychodynamic Therapy both did significantly better than the control group at improving their drinking—and the retention rate was twice as good as the 12-step group.

…If you like AA and find that it helps you, then fine, more power to you, keep on going. But if you don’t find AA helpful, or if you find it to be harmful, then don’t let anyone try to coerce you into going. There are better ways to deal with alcohol problems that have a better proven success rate

AA is Faith-Based, Not Evidence-Based

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.

Problems with Alcoholics Anonymous

From Psychology Today:

Alcoholics Anonymous, Depression, and Suicide

by K. Anderson, Aug 2014

…In actuality 12 step programs forbid anger, forbid confronting the past, and emphasize the fact that one is to blame for all bad things which have happened to one in the past.

Anger is never permitted; the AA Big Book Says, “If we were to live we had to be free of anger (p. 66).” In the step 4 inventory people are expect to list their resentments, list the names of people, institutions or principles with whom they are angry, and ask themselves the following questions: Why am I angry? Where was I to blame? What is the exact nature of my wrong (4th step workshop with Dallas B).

Even if someone was raped as a child, AA asks the victims to blame themselves for being raped and to make amends to their rapist. There is no exorcism of demons of the past through confrontation. This schema of self-blame is a highly depressogenic aspect of 12 step programs.

Author Gabrielle Glaser:

Her Best Kept Secret by Gabrielle Glaser

Glaser reveals that, for many women, joining Alcoholics Anonymous is not the answer—it is part of the problem. After all, two of A.A.’s key messages—that you are powerless over drinking and must relinquish your ego to stop it—are messages designed by A.A.’s male founders for men in the 1930s

…While Alcoholics Anonymous is endorsed by many doctors, our judicial system, and is used in more than 90 percent of U.S. treatment facilities, study after study shows that it doesn’t work well for women.

Here are some of the reasons why:

  • A.A.was developed by men. Studies show that men feel more powerful when they drink. Women, by contrast, feel calmer and less inhibited.
  • The program urges members to surrender egos to a higher power. This might work for men, but women don’t typically suffer from an excess of hubris in the first place. Many of them are drinking because they feel powerless in other areas of their lives.
  • The logic is off. Sponsors in A.A. need only be in the program themselves, not doctors or experts at treating a condition like alcohol dependence. This was understandable when A.A. was developed in the 1930s, but our understanding of brain chemistry has evolved a great deal since that time.
    It is irresponsible to imbue them with such power, and it can often lead to one of the more sinister aspects of A.A. for women: sexual exploitation. A.A. has become a breeding ground for predatory behavior, and its prevalence in A.A. is an open secret, often referred to as “The Thirteenth Step.”
    The dynamic is toxic for women, who often drink because they are trying to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, disorders which strike women at twice the rate they do men.
    Many even have a history of sexual abuse or eating disorders, causing self-esteem issues that make them especially susceptible.
  • [List of Alternatives for Women Alcoholics]

From Pacific Standard:

After 75 Years of Alcoholics Anonymous, It’s Time to Admit We Have a Problem

by M. Savitz, Feb 2014

…For much of the past 50 years or so, voicing any serious skepticism toward Alcoholics Anonymous or any other 12-step program was sacrilege—the equivalent, in polite company, of questioning the virtue of American mothers or the patriotism of our troops.

If your problem was drink, AA was the answer; if drugs, Narcotics Anonymous. And if those programs didn’t work, it was your fault: You weren’t “working the steps.”

The only alternative, as the 12-step slogan has it, was “jails, institutions, or death.” By 2000, 90 percent of American addiction treatment programs employed the 12-step approach.

In any other area of medicine, if your doctor told you that the cure for your disease involved surrendering to a “higher power,” praying to have your “defects of character” lifted, and accepting your “powerlessness,” as outlined in the original 12 steps, you’d probably seek a second opinion.

But, even today, if you balk at these elements of the 12-step gospel, you’ll often get accused of being “in denial.” And if you should succeed in quitting drinking without 12-step support, you might get dismissed as a “dry drunk.”

Fortunately—just in time for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that substance misuse be covered in a way that is equivalent to coverage for physical illnesses—a spate of new books is challenging the 12-step hegemony. Last year, the bestselling author David Sheff published Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, which includes a chapter aimed at debunking the idea that AA is the only way.

…And the journalist Gabrielle Glaser came out with Her Best Kept Secret, which illustrates, among other things, how forcing AA attendance on women makes them easy prey for sexual predators.


The latest salvo comes from Dr. Lance Dodes, the former director of Harvard’s substance abuse treatment unit at McLean Hospital, who weighs in with a book called The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry.

…Dodes doesn’t pull his punches. “Alcoholics Anonymous was proclaimed the correct treatment for alcoholism over seventy-five years ago despite the absence of any scientific evidence of the approach’s efficacy,” he writes in his introduction, “and we have been on the wrong path ever since.”

Dodes shows that much of the research that undergirds AA is a conflicted mess that confuses correlation with causation. It’s true that people with alcoholism who choose to attend AA regularly drink less than those who do not—but it’s not proven that making people attend works better than other options, including doing nothing.

In fact, some studies find that people mandated into AA do worse than those who are simply left alone. (If true, that would be no small problem.

…Contrary to popular belief, most people recover from their addictions without any treatment—professional or self-help—regardless of whether the drug involved is alcohol, crack, methamphetamine, heroin, or cigarettes.

…But it is awkward to posit addiction as a disease while simultaneously promoting AA’s non-medical and moralistic course of treatment. For what other medical condition does 90 percent of the treatment consist of meetings and prayer?

(read the rest here)

From Salon:

The pseudo-science of Alcoholics Anonymous: There’s a better way to treat addiction

by Lance Dodds

AA and rehab culture have shockingly low success rates, and made it impossible to have real debate about addiction

….There is only one problem: these programs almost always fail.

Peer-reviewed studies peg the success rate of AA somewhere between 5 and 10 percent. That is, about one of every fifteen people who enter these programs is able to become and stay sober.

In 2006, one of the most prestigious scientific research organizations in the world, the Cochrane Collaboration, conducted a review of the many studies conducted between 1966 and 2005 and reached a stunning conclusion: “No experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA” in treating alcoholism.

….there are indeed better treatments for addiction—but the issues with AA’s approach run far deeper than its statistical success rate. While it’s praiseworthy that some do well in AA, the problem is that our society has followed AA’s lead in presuming that 12-step treatment is good for the other 90 percent of people with addictions.

…AA has managed to survive, in part, because members who become and remain sober speak and write about it regularly. This is no accident: AA’s twelfth step expressly tells members to proselytize for the organization: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these

[Partial critique of AA’s 12 Steps]

Step 10: “Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”

People suffering with addictions as a rule tend to be well aware of the many “wrongs” they have committed. Awareness of this fact doesn’t help the problem.

...The consequences of bad treatment

I have been treating people suffering with addictions in public and private hospitals, in clinics, and in my private practice for more than thirty years. In that time, I have met and listened to a very large number of people who have “failed” at AA and some who continue to swear by it, despite repeated recidivism.

[He discusses one of his patients, Dominic]

…Dominic was deeply depressed by the time someone in his life recommended that he try something other than a 12-step program. Maybe talk therapy was worth a try.

It took eight months of psychotherapy before Dominic stopped drinking for good. Although he remained in therapy for several years after that, the key that unlocked his addiction was nothing more complex or ethereal than an understanding of what his addiction really was and how it really worked.

[Because of therapy, Dominic understood why he felt he needed to use alcohol to cope, which helped him to stop drinking]

..He [Dominic] developed enough awareness into what was beneath these urges that he could take a step back and deal with those issues more directly and appropriately. Over time, he was also able to work out the underlying narrative forces that had led him to feel so helpless throughout his life. He had, in other words, supplanted the notion of a Higher Power with something far more personally empowering: sophisticated self-awareness.

….Alas, the effect [of rehab] is temporary at best. Many patients begin using again soon after they emerge from rehab, often suffering repeated relapses. The discouragement that follows these failures can magnify the desperation that originally brought them to help’s door.

What’s especially shocking is how the rehab industry responds to these individuals: they simply repeat their failed treatments, sometimes dozens of times.

From Slate:

Alcoholics Anonymous vs. the Doctors by Brian Palmer, 2014


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.”

‘Alcoholics Anonymous saved my life, but now I’ve lost my faith’

Nov 2015

Last year, retired Harvard psychiatry professor Lance Dodes released The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry.

In his book, Dodes examines data surrounding AA’s success rate and concludes that the programme is effective for as few as 5-8% of people. We’ll probably never know the real figure, but it’s certainly less than that of naltrexone. In 2001 Sinclair reported a 78% success rate in reducing and, sometimes, cutting out patients’ alcohol consumption altogether.

AA’s apparent ineffectiveness isn’t the only aspect of the fellowship now being called into question.

This year Monica Richardson, an American filmmaker and ex-12-stepper who was sober in AA for more than 30 years, won best documentary at the Beverly Hills Film Festival with The 13th Step – a feature-length critique of hidden sexual predation in AA, and the fellowship’s apparent inability to do anything about it.

“Thirteenth stepping” is AA slang for seducing a fellow member. This is usually, though not exclusively, practised by men who take advantage of their immediate access to vulnerable women. There is no formal safeguarding in AA, and everyone is anonymous so there’s no vetting process.

Consequently an innocent young women trying to come to terms with a drink problem can find herself sitting in AA next to a man with a serious criminal history, whose record might include violent or sexual offences, and who has in some cases even been court ordered to attend meetings.

…I quit AA when I realised that, for some people, the 12 steps are perhaps no longer the most reliable route to sound long-term mental health. My last meeting was in early January 2014.

…Fourteen years earlier, a medical professional had suggested that I needed AA. Now one was insisting that it was damaging my health and, what’s more, that I should leave.

Soon after, I discovered cognitive behavioural therapy. Whereas AA actively encourages obsessive thinking, CBT challenges it. I finally realised the extent to which AA had in fact been nurturing my anxiety.

From ProPublica:

Twelve Steps to Danger: How Alcoholics Anonymous Can Be a Playground for Violence-Prone Members


Karla Brada Mendez thought that she was getting a second chance on life when she started going to AA meetings. But instead she met Eric Allen Earle, an AA old-timer with a violent past.

….By the time he [Eric Allen Earle] and Karla crossed paths, judges had granted six restraining orders against him.  The 40-year-old sometime electrician had been convicted on dozens of criminal charges, mostly involving assault and driving under the influence. He had served more than two years in prison.

Unlike Karla, Earle was not attending AA meetings voluntarily. A succession of judges and parole officers had ordered him to go as an alternative to jail.

In that regard, Earle was part of a national trend.

Each year, the legal system coerces more than 150,000 people to join AA, according to AA’s own membership surveys. Many are drunken drivers ordered to attend a few months of meetings. Others are felons whose records include sexual offenses and domestic violence and who choose AA over longer prison sentences. They mingle with AA’s traditional clientele, ordinary citizens who are voluntarily seeking help with their drinking problems from a group whose main tenets is anonymity.

….So far, AA has declined to caution members about potentially dangerous peers or to create separate meetings for convicted criminals.

…Friends and family members say that Earle gained little lasting medical or spiritual benefit from AA. “On the way home from meetings, he’d stop at the liquor store and buy a pint of vodka,” said his father, Ronald Earle. “He’d finish that thing in an hour.”

…But Earle figured out something at AA. Friends and his former wife say he learned to troll the meetings for emotionally fragile women whom he impressed with his smooth mastery of the movement’s jargon and principles. Mertell says he met four of his most recent girlfriends by doing just that.

….In recent years, some critics have pressed AA to do more about the combustible mix of violent ex-felons and newcomers who assume that others “in the rooms” are there voluntarily. “It’s like letting a wolf into the sheep’s den,” said Dee-Dee Stout, an Emeryville, California alcohol and drug counselor who offers alternatives to traditional 12-step treatment.

…Internal AA documents show that when questioned about the sexual abuse of young women by other members, the organization’s leadership decided in 2009 that it could not do anything to screen potential members.  

From NPR:

Critic Faults Alcoholics Anonymous For Lack Of Evidence


March 2015

But not everyone’s a fan. In a recent critique of AA, author Gabrielle Glaser writes in the April issue of The Atlantic that, “Nowhere in the field of medicine is treatment less grounded in modern science.”

…[Question] On the idea that some key aspects of AA — peer support, spirituality, personal transformation — don’t lend themselves to scientific metrics

Right. … That’s a benefit that people do get from being in a group such as AA, but there are also many other [programs] that are free and peer-led and they happen to be rooted in evidence-based treatment. Many of them use cognitive behavioral therapy as their backbone. One is Smart Recovery. Moderation Management is another one. Women for Sobriety is a third.

…[Question] On the criticism she’s received that questioning AA is irresponsible, when so many people say 12-step programs are the only thing that enabled them to quit drinking

I get those messages all the time. My response to that is that this treatment actually can be just as damaging and dangerous for the people for whom it’s failing. AA doesn’t refer anybody out. It doesn’t tell anybody that AA is not for them.

It’s very unlike professional organizations, which refer people to second opinions.

AA tells people that if they don’t benefit, it’s basically their fault. This has produced, really, a lot of tragedies.

I hear about them weekly. Someone sent me an email this morning about a younger brother who committed suicide last night with the [AA] Big Book and a glass of scotch next to his bed.

From Newsweek:

Critics Say Washington Area AA Chapter is Cult-Like


by Nick Summers, 2007

But something about Midtown was not right. After a few months, the group’s embrace of May began to feel like a chokehold. She says the sponsor assigned to give her moral support and help keep her sober pressured her to cut off ties to anyone outside the group.

Another member snatched her cell phone and deleted names in the directory.

She says she was pressured to stop taking the medication a doctor had prescribed to manage her bipolar disorder: group members told her she couldn’t be sober if she was taking any kind of drug.

There was a hierarchy to the group. Younger members were sometimes expected to wash cars, clean houses and do other menial chores for more senior members.

May says she was especially uncomfortable with the emphasis on dating within the group and sex between members. She would listen as girls her age compared notes on the men in the group they had been encouraged to sleep with, some of whom were decades older.

Her suspicions were confirmed when she left Midtown and began attending a different AA meeting. She was surprised—and relieved—to find that many of Midtown’s common practices were exactly the opposite of what Alcoholics Anonymous literature teaches.

May’s story isn’t unique. Now 16, she is one of hundreds of recovering alcoholics who are taking sides in a bitter, unprecedented dispute among Alcoholics Anonymous adherents that pits members of Midtown, who insist the organization has saved their lives and kept them sober, against angry former members, who charge it is a coercive, cultlike group that uses the trusted AA name to induce young alcoholics into a radical fringe movement that has little resemblance to traditional AA.

It is a fight that has been largely waged in private.


I do not have a link available now, but years ago, when I was first researching AA online, I found a few articles by former women AA members who said that men they met at AA used their AA connection to form a bond with them to have access to their children.

That is, some AA male members are pedophiles – they will rape or molest the children of adult AA women.

If you are an adult woman with children or teenagers and are considering getting involved with a man from AA, or attending mixed-gender AA meetings, please be aware of this possibility so you can avoid it.

Here are a few pages that discuss the sexual harassment or rapes that have taken place due to AA:

Drink advice service confronts sex abuse

AA acts on rising reports of attacks by volunteers

How 12-Step Programs Perpetuate Rape Culture

Unless you confine yourself to women-only groups, I can assure you that 12-step meetings are generally not safe spaces for women.

Stop 13 Stepping in AA

Inside the World of “13th-Steppers,” People Who Prey on Recovering Substance Abusers

It’s not uncommon for 13th-steppers to use their time in the program as a way to establish themselves as mentors for newly sober people, all the while disguising their less-than-honorable intentions. In Hayleigh’s case, the man who invited her to the baseball game had a reputation as a 13th-stepper and had been accused of sexual assault in the past.

“There is so much rape [in 12-step programs],” Monica Richardson, a former AA member and documentary filmmaker, said in an interview with Mic.

Richardson was in AA for 36 years before she left the program. In 2015, she released a documentary, The 13th Step, to “[expose] the criminal and sexually predatory behavior that occurs systematically within Alcoholics Anonymous,” according to the film’s website.

The Sober Truth 

A woman turns to AA for help battling her addiction – her family says she was exposed to a killer

Exposing the Shocking Truth About “13th Stepping”  

What is the 13th Step?
The act of “13th Stepping” is when a more experienced member of a 12-Step group – man or woman – pursues a romantic relationship with a new group member.

In early recovery, new members of a 12-Step group should always look for and use the strongest foothold to remain sober. Needless to say, the 13th Step rarely offers that stable footing.

…In 2007, Newsweek wrote an exposé on an AA group in Washington, D.C. accused of systematic 13th Stepping.

Accusations included young women being encouraged to sleep with older group members, coerced to cut-off ties with family and friends, and being assigned to exploitative sponsors (sponsors are chosen, not assigned).

Have You Been Sexually Harassed, Assaulted, Molested or Raped by an Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous Member – Leaving AA Blog


Recovery from Recovering (Leaving AA)

Stinkin’ Thinkin’

Crime in AA 

Why I Left AA Stories

The Cults Within the Cults of Alcoholics Anonymous

Leaving Alcoholics Anonymous

Whatever may be your story, we understand. Many of us were in “the rooms” months, years and decades. We know. Welcome to a site and a community that tolerates no AA bullsh_t! You are free now.

You are amongst hopefully mostly sane individuals that have walked the walk and have “fled the insanity and dogma” of 12 step culture and it’s meetings.

Years of horror. Years of being belittled, harassed, and told what to do by some member who knew less then us and still was unemployed and insane after decades in AA.

We sat in smoky rooms, cleaned coffee cups when we didn’t even drink coffee, experiencing abusive crazy batsh_t 13 stepping older creepy men and women for far too long.

Why I Left AA Stories (Forum), via Leaving AA

When They Tell You To Keep Coming Back, Run For Your Life! Escape from AA

Are There Any Resources for People Leaving AA?


Oddly enough, while maintaining alcoholism is a disease, AA and other disease proponents ignore the standard therapeutic requirement that people be told of the alternatives and be allowed to govern their own health care decisions.

Why I Left AA After 12 Years—UPDATED by L W Leonard, 2014


As AA is by definition full of addictive people, I was in a veritable candy land of danger, surrounded not only by addicts—but by sex addicts. What an array of addicts to choose from—partners I wish in retrospect that I had never even met. And even friends were were not always as they seemed.

One man I dated, and loved, eventually revealed he was married; then he came out as a sex addict and insisted I attend 12-step meetings for the partners of sex addicts—shifting the blame from himself as a betrayer to me as someone who “liked to go out with sex addicts.” Another man I was in a relationship with turned out to be in organized crime, confiding to me that he had once had someone’s legs broken.

…The second thing I heard [from AA members] was “no dating in the first year.” Did I follow this? Absolutely not. Did anyone I know follow this? In Connecticut, maybe, in uptown Manhattan, possibly—but in downtown Manhattan, where I spent the majority of my sobriety, absolutely not.


If someone finds Alcoholics Anonymous helpful, I don’t think I would discourage them from using it (but I would ask women members to be very cautious and to educate themselves about the rape and sexual pressure placed on women members in “13th stepping” before ever going to another AA meeting or associating with others in AA).

It remains, though, that not everyone who has tried AA has found it effective or useful, and no, it’s not their fault; they did not fail the program.

Other than the sexual abuse that goes on among members, my other large concern with AA is that it encourages victim-blaming. AA somehow gets its members to run far past accepting personal responsibility for their own choices to blaming any misfortune that befalls on anyone to that person, even if that person is not to blame, which is unfair and very insensitive.

Not that I stay in touch with my brother that often anyway, but sadly, once I saw his AA-influenced victim-blaming stance at work, I realized I could no longer ever be vulnerable with him, open up to him, and tell him what is really going on in my life, lest he perversely attempt to blame any bad incidents on me (“What role did you play in that”).

One thing my brother never did realize is that I am codependent, and I was the target of a lot of verbal abuse from our sister, more so than he – and the books I’ve read by therapists and psychiatrists have explained to me that I am not to blame, and never at fault for my sister’s verbal abuse, no matter the cause she may cite.

Abusive people will sometimes seek to justify their mistreatment of you by saying you deserve it on some level, that you provoked it, and they may seek to justify their abuse of you by saying they had a bad day at work, they are having relationship troubles with their spouse, they are having health issues, that they were victimized in the past, or what have you.

I was educated by reading material by professionals who have years of clinical practice that nothing justifies someone else’s abuse of another person (one does not “deserve” or “provoke” abuse), and this concept is at odds with the victim-blaming doctrines of my brother’s AA meetings and literature.

This is also another indication that AA members, such as my brother, should not be applying AA concepts to non-drinkers such as myself – but some of them do.  

From what I saw in my reading, AA assumes all its members have anger problems or, at the very least, should refrain from showing anger.

My mother, who was also very codependent, brought me up to believe that girls and women showing anger was wrong, so I rarely showed anger. I kept my anger repressed.

In the books and articles I read about codependency by psychologists and psychiatrists, I was taught the opposite by psychiatrists from what AA teaches its members: I was taught I had been repressing anger too long and needed to start showing my anger and being assertive, if I ever hoped to conquer codependency.

Some AA advice is simply not applicable to people who are codependent or recovering codependents, such as myself.

The pages I’ve researched indicate there are more effective, safer forms of treatment for alcoholism than AA.

From what I have learned of AA, I would not feel comfortable recommending anyone use it, and I am certainly turned off by its victim-blaming ideology.

I do not appreciate former or current AA alcoholics advising me that if I am mugged in the city, or fall off a ladder and break an arm, that I somehow “played a role” in such situations, which coming from an AA member, strongly implies blame.

More on this blog:

Victimhood, Compassion, and Time Limits

Victimhood, Victim Blaming, and Moving On

‘My Therapist Won’t Let Me Break Up With Her!’ By Lori Gottlieb

Understanding Grief, by Jane E. Brody

Please Stop Treating Mental Illness Like It Has A One Size Fits All Solution by H. Gladwell

Be Cautious: Faux Niceness, Victim-Bullies, and Survivor Abuse Blogs

Not Exactly Always Hospitable for Non-Liberals: Ex or Liberal Christian Sites and Spiritual or Abuse Survivor Blogs & the Christian Trump-Bashing Infatuation 

Topics and Concerns Under-Reported by Christians or Abuse and Survivor Sites

The Left Should Just Admit it: Victims Aren’t Always Good People by Deborah Orr

2 thoughts on “• Problems with A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous)

  1. Man! That makes me want to think twice about joining an AA group. The 12 steps were originally pretty good, but it sounds like they’ve been skewed and perverted. Accepting responsibility for your own bad deeds is a good thing–a healthy thing. But accepting responsibility for someone else’s bad deeds against you is not. That’s false guilt, and inflicting it on a rape victim is unconscionable.

    There’s also the problem of sobriety not fixing the real character flaws. From what I know about mind-altering drugs, I’ll bet there are folks who make nicer drunks than they do sober individuals.

    I knew a woman who swore by AA. She was down on internet dating. She got her dates by 13th stepping. She would flirt with newbies to the program if they were attractive men with jobs. This was legal since the men were over 30. But AA should have held her accountable for breaking an important rule, starting relationships with emotionally vulnerable people. Not good for anybody’s sobriety!

  2. Wow, that is some serious research. I have no experience with alcoholism. But now the opioids crisis in my state crosses all sociology economic lines, I am learning more about addiction. The experiences I have heard about Rehab are not good.Nor the 12 steps that seem to attract the worst of society who prey on the vulnerable and struggling. I am becoming less and less impressed with the approaches for a horrible epidemic that is decent taxpayers a fortune. We even have a drug court that is constantly back logged!

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