AA Ain't Always The Answer

AA Ain’t Always the Answer


This post was originally published on April 11, 2014.

I’ve always been somewhat dubious about AA. Not because it doesn’t work, but because I’ve sometimes felt like it didn’t work for me. There are various reasons for that, but the biggest one is a bit cliche—that goddamn, godforsaken God thing.

I know, I know. I’ve been around the rooms long enough to have heard the “we only need to believe in a God of our own understanding” shpiel oh, approximately a zillion times. But anyone who claims that AA isn’t heavily based on spirituality—bordering on straight-up religion—is, well, delusional.

The term “God” is constantly thrown around the Big Book, as well as by members at meetings. And every single time I hear that word, it makes me shudder—and slowly feel more and more alienated from both the people in AA and the people that founded AA (who were middle-class white Christian men).

So I appreciated this blog post, “Alcoholics Anonymous: One Size Does Not Fit All.” Because though the author exclaims that “AA is, in my opinion, fucking awesome” and makes a point of emphasizing how much she loves the program. She also acknowledges what a frustratingly small number of AA-goers refuse to consider: that AA doesn’t work for everyone. It can’t. Because just like any other spiritual program or belief system, it’s incredibly personal and unique to each individual.

As blogger Nicole Knepper writes, “There are many paths to sobriety and I believe with my whole heart that people need to be aware of this truth! AA is a good way, but it’s not the only way! AA is one program that people who are addicted to alcohol can use to help them get and stay sober.”

Very true and I appreciate the reminder that AA is only one path among many. Some people can manage sobriety on their own, never needing a program at all. Some people get “dry” and miserable when they abstain without finding a community of like-minded souls. Some people require intensive treatment. Some people turn to sober coaches. Some people require interventions to get their asses in gear. Some people desperately want to put down the bottle but for some reason never manage to get there.

Regardless of the route one takes, no one should feel guilty or defensive about pursuing a different path to sobriety. To me, AA’s language in its literature can sometimes sound a bit judgey—it seems to moralize about 12-step being the only true or successful way to get sober. It even goes as far as to suggest that AA folks who don’t or can’t stay sober in the program are “constitutionally incapable” of being honest, that they’ve let their “defects of character” run rampant. I don’t agree with that line of thinking; it feels short-sighted and arrogant to me. That said, other aspects of AA have been helpful for me and I’d never tell someone not to try the program and see if it clicks for them.

What it comes to, I guess, is different strokes for different folks. When it comes to sobriety, one size never fits all.



  1. Sobriety, just like addiction, is an individual sport. It’s the same as golfers arguing about clubs, swings, and courses. AA works for some, full-on treatment for others, and there are some who will require medications and psyche help. That’s just the way it is as long as humans are involved.

  2. Pete Pollard Jr. on


  3. Chuck Sigler on

    To understand the “God thing”, read “The Varieties of Religious Experience” by William James. It’s the only book mentioned in the AA Big Book, and it lays out the spiritual, religious distinction associated within the 12 Steps. Bill W. referred to James as an additional “cofounder” of AA. In the VRE James talks about personal religion (his term for spirituality). He also says that if someone were to object to the use of the word “religion”, to use another.

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Laura Barcella is a freelance writer, editor and author from Washington, DC. She currently works as the Weekend Editor for xoJane. Her writing has also appeared in Salon, Esquire.com, Elle.com, Refinery29, AlterNet, CNN.com, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl and NYLON. Her book credits include Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.