The Professional AA Basher Gets Serious Backlash
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The Professional AA Basher Gets Serious Backlash


It’s the question to end all questions: Does Alcoholics Anonymous really work given the fact that there’s (allegedly) no hard evidence that it keeps drunks sober? Is it pseudoscience? Is it religion? Is it antiquated, sexist, dogmatic and dangerous? Is it Satan’s lair?

Click Bait

In her polemical Atlantic article, “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous,” which garnered a mouth-dropping 13,755 comments and never-ending chatter as she promoted the hell out of it, Gabrielle Glaser (a woman who has made a career out of bashing AA) was up to her usual shit. She adds a sprinkle of objectivity and a dash of substantiation to what otherwise reads as a reactive opinion piece. It’s worth noting that The Atlantic’s April 2015 cover story “Is It Time For The Jews to Leave Europe? received half the comments (6,742) as Glaser’s article on AA. Apparently, a free 12-step addiction program is more hotly contested than how to solve the tenuous fate of the European Jewish diaspora, which means it’s a wonderful way to beget publicity when you’ve got a book to plug.

Prove It

The main argument of Glaser’s article (and it’s a bit tough to suss just one out of the 8,200 words) is that AA is not a science-based treatment for alcoholism so it logically follows that the entire program is ineffective, potentially dangerous and ultimately utter horseshit. Though it’s quite true that AA isn’t science-based in that the program isn’t run by medical professionals or researchers (although its co-founder Doctor Bob was, in fact, a doctor), this obviously doesn’t render it useless.

Glaser also insists that moderation, or controlled drinking, is a safe and evidence-based solution for alcoholics who have hitherto only known excessive drinking, adding that the medical community and all alcoholics at-large have been brainwashed by AA into believing total abstinence is the only way to curb the insidious alcoholic cycle. This, despite the fact that Moderation Management founder killed two people during a drunk driving accident and later committed suicide.

Though (allegedly) neither alcoholic nor doctor, Glaser has proven (to herself) that moderation can be achieved through a miracle pill called naltrexone, which curbs alcohol cravings by blocking opioid receptors in the pleasure center of the brain. She’s experimented on herself by taking the drug, and, after doing so, she discovered a crash in her libido for booze. Now she’s convinced that alkies can sip alcohol like ladies, despite their physiological predisposition to drink themselves into blackouts once a drop of ethanol enters their bodies. But not if they have her miracle pill in their system!

Sticking it to the Facts

Among the many articles countering Glaser’s piece is a write-up in, of all publications, Scientific American. The author, John Horgan, states that “Glaser’s article is embarrassingly shallow and one-sided. She cherry-picks data and anecdotes to make AA look bad and alternatives look good.” He adds that “Glaser faults the zero-tolerance tenet of AA and touts programs that seek reduction rather than elimination of drinking. But a 2012 Cochrane evaluation found no rigorous studies of so-called “managed alcohol programs.”

Horgan is also wary of Glaser’s love affair with naltrexone, writing that a Chochrane report on the drug noted that only “one out of nine patients was helped” by it. He adds that even this”modest effect was not supported by a double-blind study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2001. Those authors found no difference between naltrexone and placebos for treating “chronic, severe alcohol dependence.”

A Tale Told by an Idiot

Glaser makes some valid points in her essay, but they are overshadowed by her reductive assault on a free recovery program that has saved many lives over the course of its 80 years of existence. Though advocating for pharmacological research and awareness of alternative treatments for alcoholism (such as CBT) is an important and helpful effort, knocking AA is just the opposite; if anything, it comes across as misanthropic and somewhat suspicious given the book sales Glaser stands to gain from the ensuing controversy.

That a prestigious publication like The Atlantic would publish such a specious essay on a matter as life-threatening as addiction is wholly irresponsible (though they’re certainly not alone; Glaser has wormed her way into none other than The New York Times more than once). What these publications and Glaser don’t seem to realize is that 2.5 million people die from alcoholism every year so to rail against something that saves as many lives as AA leaves the bashers, not to be dramatic, with blood on their hands. It’s worth noting that you never see pieces from people whose lives have been saved by AA spending 8000 words telling the world that other treatments are reprehensible. Rageful attacks come only from those with serious axes to grind. And so I beg of you, Glaser: can’t you grind in a way that will only impact yourself?

Yes, it’s important to maintain a critical mind and be willing to consider new treatments. Yes, it’s important to critique antiquated elements of AA as we move forward in the 21st century. And it’s crucial to understand that AA doesn’t work for everyone and there are in fact plenty of alcoholics who have found other ways to combat the issue. But it’s equally important that long form journalistic pieces on addiction treatment be presented in an unbiased, measured and statistically correct manner.

But that wouldn’t get the 13,755 comments and a shit-ton more ad sales.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.