Is AA the Answer to Alcohol Recidivism?

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Alcoholics Anonymous has become the byword for alcohol treatment. It has entered the modern lexicon since the time it was founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio. And people associate that with the success rate. But how effective really is the treatment?  

AA proponents would probably be the first to admit the limitations of the program. For one thing, it’s heavily rooted in God’s teachings, which can be a challenge to non-theists. It’s the ultimate surrender to the higher being in order to remove your own defective nature.

As of January 2018, there were 1.4 million members of the AA all over the United States and Canada. If you count the number of people who drop in for a session or two, the number balloons to around 5 million worldwide each year.

AA and Alcohol Relapse

In his book, “The Sober Truth,” Dr. Lance Dodes claimed that the rate of success for the AA program doesn’t even exceed 10 percent. That means 1 in 15 of individuals with alcohol abuse disorder walks away clean for good after attending the sessions.

That’s a very sobering thought, is it?

To be fair, the AA conducted its own internal survey in 2007 to very contrasting result. The internal survey said that more than 3 in 10 of their members have been clean for more than 10 years, more than 2 in 10 have been sober for 1-5 years, and more than 3 in 10 have not touched alcohol for under 1 year.

The figures for alcohol recidivism is really high in the country. According to a 2014 study, the relapse rate for alcoholism is between 40 and 60 percent in the first year.

The magic number seems to be 5 years. When the individual reaches that milestone, the rate of relapse significantly drops to almost zero. To give that perspective, after 5 years, a former alcoholic is more likely to relapse as the average person will develop alcohol abuse disorder.

The prison system is full of individuals who can trace their problems to alcohol. A survey of 267 inmates by the Alcohol and Crime Commission in the UK showed that 7 in 10 prisoners admitted to being intoxicated when they committed the crime.

Even the prospect of punitive action doesn’t really deter alcohol recidivism. In fact, it’s a good predictor of behavior for drunk drivers. A 2010 study titled “Risk of Alcohol-Impaired Driving Recidivism Among First Offenders and Multiple Offenders” showed that first time DUI offenders are more likely to commit the same offense the second time around.

And you know how state governments have attempted to crack the whip on DUI cases by amplifying the punishment. The offender will likely spend some time in jail in addition to the fines he has to pay. However, it doesn’t really scare anybody from getting behind the wheel after a few rounds of drinks.

Stigma of Addiction

The stigma of addiction is ever present in society. In fact, people accept the saying “once an addict, always an addict” as the truth.

Indeed, there’s a certain truth in that statement considering that addiction is a disease. Prolonged exposure to alcohol and drugs will change the chemistry in your brain, which impairs your ability to think logically.

This is the reason why you see intelligent people waste away their lives, break apart their families, lose their jobs because they lose all control due to alcohol or drugs. This risk-taking behavior could never be understood by somebody who has no experience with substance abuse.  

In terms of social standing, the “addicts” are right below there with the muck you stand on. They are alienated, judged, and shunned on.

It takes an enormous amount of will-power for the recovering patient to not go back to his destructive ways after leaving the AA program or rehab treatment centers. Also, for long-time alcoholics, the bottle has become a default coping mechanism for any kind of stress or trigger.

In this context, it makes sense that they gravitate toward the AA program. Perhaps not necessarily to finish the session but rather to be with other individuals who can relate to their experiences and feelings of alienation.

This is probably the reason why countless members drop in every now and then. They are probably not seeking treatment but rather companionship and understanding.

So, What’s the Answer to Alcohol Recidivism?

While it may seem that this article is trying to knock down the AA program, that’s not the case at all. The main goal is to provide a context in order to get the whole picture.

While the AA is closely associated with alcohol treatment, it shouldn’t be the default response when your loved one is struggling with addiction.  As clearly shown, relying on the AA teachings alone doesn’t work.

But nobody ever said that there’s only one path to sobriety. In fact, addiction counselors are one in saying that there’s no single treatment that can help take away the cravings.

Alcohol recidivism is a very clear problem. Luckily, there are scientific approaches that can help reduce the chances of relapse.

Here are some of the treatment approaches employed by alcohol luxury treatment programs:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy – This aims to change the behavior by helping the patient identify the triggers and coping mechanisms
  2. Motivational interviewing – Helps the patient develop their inner resolve or motivation to change their behavior
  3. Contingency management – This uses positive reinforcement to cut alcohol or drug abuse
  4. Multidimensional family therapy – Helps resolve issues within the family dynamics, as well as help families understand the disease. Ideal for adolescents and teens with an alcohol problem
  5. Holistic methods – Yoga, meditation, garden and art therapy, acupuncture, and massage are just some of the methods used to complement the other approaches.

That’s not to say that AA is not effective. But only when used in conjunction with the other scientific methods to effect behavioral changes. In fact, luxury treatment programs typically suggest AA meetings as part of the aftercare program to reduce the chance of the patient falling off the wagon.