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Weekend reads

Two from The Atlantic:

“The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous.” Science and addiction treatment. Long but interesting.

And just for laughs: “The Confused Person’s Guide to Middle East Conflicts.” With the Saudi-Iran cold war about to go hot over Yemen, perhaps this’ll help us appear well-informed.


  1. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty March 29, 2015 8:16 am

    AA saved my mother’s life, and therefore probably the lives of my sister and I. We went with her to AA meetings for much of our childhood, and we saw her offer love, compassion and sponsorship to many others who became sober, responsible people with that help.

    Did everyone benefit? Of course not. Was it perfect? Nothing is. But it was there, available, with many good people working hard to help others succeed. And many people did succeed, even those who were not willing to accept or absorb all of the steps. Not every one was religious, and my mother was one of those. She took from it what she needed and left the rest… as most of us do with everything we encounter.

    The central part of AA, and any other effective treatment for alcoholism, is the hard work of accepting responsibility for life and choices as an individual. Alcoholism isn’t a “disease,” it is a choice made by those who will not take responsibility for themselves. I lived with it most of my life, and knew many hundreds of alcoholics, all of whom had the ability to choose not to drink, once they accepted the fact that nobody else could make that decision for them.

    Mother found and made use of what was there early in her struggle with alcohol. She made use of what was available at the time. I’m glad if other ways, programs or ideas are being developed and used. I just hate to see AA bashed.

  2. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty March 29, 2015 8:21 am

    This book is not expensive, and will give anyone interested the full story on “mental illness,” including addiction and alcoholism.

    The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct Paperback – February 23, 2010
    by Thomas S. Szasz

    The most influential critique of psychiatry ever written, Thomas Szasz’s classic book revolutionized thinking about the nature of the psychiatric profession and the moral implications of its practices. By diagnosing unwanted behavior as mental illness, psychiatrists, Szasz argues, absolve individuals of responsibility for their actions and instead blame their alleged illness. He also critiques Freudian psychology as a pseudoscience and warns against the dangerous overreach of psychiatry into all aspects of modern life.

  3. Claire
    Claire March 29, 2015 8:32 am

    ML — Agreed on Szasz. Very thought-provoking work.

    As to AA, while the title of the article is definitely provocative (and probably wasn’t written by the author), I didn’t perceive the article as bashing AA. She acknowledges openly that AA has helped some people. She points out that its methods are unscientific, don’t work as often as claimed, and that the AA paradigm is keeping other methods from being examined. But I guess bashing is in the eye of the beholder. To me, questioning and pointing out problems isn’t bashing.

    Your own statements about individual choice (which I agree with) run counter to the AA system, which starts with the assumption that the individual is helpless. AA definitely accepts that somebody else (God) is making the decisions when a person quits drinking.

  4. MJR
    MJR March 29, 2015 9:22 am

    “The Confused Person’s Guide to Middle East Conflicts.” reminds me of this…

  5. Pat
    Pat March 29, 2015 9:29 am

    Pro and Con on AA. I’ve seen both good results and bad from that organization — depending on the personality of the individual, and what s/he is willing to “submit” to it.

    “…and that the AA paradigm is keeping other methods from being examined.”

    This is the major problem with AA. There’s not any strong or validated alternative program that can address every individual’s reaction, physical or emotional, to alcohol. (And maybe there isn’t one program that would work for all.) But AA’s answer is too simplified.

  6. Claire
    Claire March 29, 2015 2:46 pm

    I’m posting this for a regular member of the Commentariat who didn’t want to post it under his own login. These are his words, not mine:

    I read the piece on AA with something approaching horror. Yes, there are undoubtedly different approaches that work. AA certainly isn’t the only nor probably the best approach.

    But, I have to say that a huge part of the AA thing is about forgiving yourself, and taking responsibility for your life. Yes, they do say the bit about ‘being powerless over alcohol’, and that might strike some of the folk who don’t have a problem with Alcohol as wimpy and not taking responsibility. And to the more vehement atheists out there, the parts of turning things over to a higher power will not ring well.

    As ML says, you take what you need and leave the rest. AA works sometimes, and it doesn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars. It also, might, just might save somebodies life. Ever watch an alcoholic systematically destroy everything around him/her? Horribly ugly. Terrible pain.

    But, I have to say, that as a recovering alcoholic who jumped off the wagon several times before I decided to hang on for the ride, that for some of us, drinking in moderation is simply not an option.

    yeah, maybe now, at this point, I can ‘drink in moderation’. maybe. I’m not willing to take the risk, life may not be easy right now, but I sure as hell don’t need alcohol in it.

    and I definitely don’t need that unctuous oily article telling me that I could drink if I wanted to if only I looked at it differently.

    I’ve been sober for 31 years. In all that time, I have NEVER seen alcohol improve anybody.

  7. Andrew
    Andrew March 30, 2015 5:56 am

    Michael W. Dean just took on Tom Woods for being down on AA. MWD and Ben Stone, both of whom have had to overcome substance abuse problems, are in the middle of a lengthy series called Statists Anonymous based closely on the tenets of AA.

  8. Claire
    Claire March 30, 2015 8:34 am

    Interesting, Andrew.

    I am all for whatever works for the individuals involved. Viewing statism as an addiction and using the familiar AA meme makes a lot of sense.

    I also just don’t get why questioning an orthodoxy (any orthodoxy) and pointing out that other methods exist gets anybody so upset.

  9. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty March 30, 2015 10:33 am

    You know I have no problem with anyone questioning authority, or any “orthodoxy” either. That’s certainly not “bashing.

    Telling people, as some sort of “authority,” that AA is not effective and is irrational, however, strikes me very much as that. I’ll take personal experience and peer support any day over “licensed” counselors and legislation. The key is for everyone to be free to choose the help they need and want, when and if they want it. Glaser doesn’t seem to agree with that.

    Just my 2 cents worth. 🙂

  10. Claire
    Claire March 30, 2015 10:45 am

    From the same anon Commentariat member whose thoughts I posted earlier. He’s responding to my comment about questioning orthodoxies:

    Because to somebody who has used some of the tenets of AA to become sober, it is blasphemy of the highest order to suggest that an alcoholic could continue drinking on any level whatsoever. It is EXACTLY that blasphemy that a recovering alcoholic encounters as he/she tries to stay sober. The addicted mind will do ANYTHING to not be straight, and they deal with smooth little voices that say exactly those sorts of things.

    It seems to me that practicing alcoholics live in a web of lies. Lies that support their addiction. They surround themselves with heavy drinking friends. And usually the reason they drink themselves to oblivion is because they are in lots of pain. Mental, emotional pain.

    AA works on stopping that. they give a new group of friends that don’t (hopefully) drink. They try to help the alcoholic deal with the pain. It seems kind of ‘sissy’ to people who aren’t afflicted. People sneer at it. Although there is a nobility to staying on the wagon, folk have no idea of how hard it is.

    Like I said earlier, maybe its a bit like depression. People who haven’t lived inside true deep depression have no idea of the black Hell a clinically depressed person lives in. Cheer up, its not so bad, look on the bright side.

    To somebody who can easily stop at a beer, hey, whats your problem?

    Personally, I can philosophically accept that there are other approaches to recovering from alcohol. But I shudder to think of an alcoholic reading that and then using it to justify continuing drinking (or perish the thought, starting up again thinking they have it licked). Trying this rehab or that doctor drug while maintaining the intake of

    Here is the problem:

    We are going into the realms of belief. It is not reason, it is belief. A belief (IMHO) cannot be meaningfully reasoned with. Like religion. You simply cannot argue it. You either believe in a god, or you don’t. You cannot rationally prove it either way. God works for some folk, not for others. Here I can prove that this approach worked for *me*. It friking saved my life.

    OK, I’m done. Back to life. Dwelling on death by alcohol is not productive.

  11. Matt, another
    Matt, another March 30, 2015 12:49 pm

    Had a friend try the AA approach. it did not work for him, mostly because he did not want to quit drinking, just be free from the negative effects of such. Rehab can be a viable optionif one can afford it. It is expensive, and often not covered by insurance and not available in our community any how. There is rehab but that is reserved for those remanded by the state, usually after a DUI order other related offense. In many small communities, AA or Alanon is the only option and for many the only affordable option. It is good to know about the full range of possibilities available though and there odds of success. My friend stopped drinking just after his kidneys and liver quit. Then it was to late for any program.

  12. Matt, another
    Matt, another March 30, 2015 12:51 pm

    That seems an accurate chart for the Middle East. They would probably have been better off if the Ottoman Empire had been left in place.

  13. Karen
    Karen March 30, 2015 3:41 pm

    Very good article Claire! I don’t believe that the AA/12 step program is the end all and be all of overcoming addiction and I think it’s fantastic that there are alternatives out there. I do believe that AA saved my life 38 years ago. The actual program of being willing and able to follow the steps wasn’t immediate, but in the early times I found the same sort of folks I drank with and we were all bonded in our efforts to figure out how to live and enjoy life without drinking. Those people accepted me, warts and all, and hearing others’ stories made me realize that I wasn’t the most awful creature on earth after all.
    But, even back in the late ’70s folks in AA would admit that only about 30% of people who tried AA succeeded in getting sober. And, that only 30% of those people would stay sober. That works out to only be about 9 out of 100 people, or the 9% success rate mentioned in the article.

    Like the anonymous commentator, I can’t imagine why I would ever consider trying to drink again. I never gained anything by drinking. It never solved a single problem in my life. I’m not sure whether alcohol addiction is physical or psychological, but I do believe that I’m an addictive personality as seen in my consumption of nicotine and caffeine and I have no insane illusions that “this time would be different”.

  14. Karen
    Karen March 30, 2015 3:43 pm

    PS. I perhaps should have sent you my comment for anonymous posting, but I figure that one gal named Karen on the great big World Wide Web is probably about as anonymous as a person gets these days. 😉

  15. Claire
    Claire March 30, 2015 5:01 pm

    “I figure that one gal named Karen on the great big World Wide Web is probably about as anonymous as a person gets these days. ;-)”

    Not to mention that you might actually be some guy named Ferdinand. Or Spike.

    Thanks for sharing your own success story and for not being down on the linked article. I want to stress to others that I’m not down on AA nor do I perceive the author of that article as being anti-AA. I just think that as with everything else in life there’s no “one size fits all” and I think it’s good to be open to new developments that might help those who aren’t helped by the 12-step method.

  16. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 30, 2015 9:43 pm

    Mental illness a myth? Out of all organ systems in the body, the software systems of the brain are totally and completely immune to disease? Computers catch software diseases through their normal communication channels, inserting new programming which modifies their operation in unhelpful ways, but brains never do? Because the brain’s software virus scanning system to identify bad ideas in inputs is always totally and completely perfect? Personality is formed in the child’s brain by the child interacting with the normal challenges of a healthy environment; but no matter how bad the environment is, even the socialist hell of an Indian reservation, the personality will still always grow into some reasonable form?

  17. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty March 31, 2015 6:29 am

    No, anonymous, psychological problems are real, but the modern medical/psychiatry response to those problems is usually counterproductive in helping the person find true health and wellness – often treating symptoms as a “disease,” rather than look for and deal with the real causes. This allows people to use their true mental and emotional problems as an excuse for their destructive behavior, and much of the treatment – especially the drugs – produce problems of their own, no real opportunity to heal and grow.

    So in that way, I’d say that psychiatry is the myth maker.

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