Spirituality/Medicine Interface Project

Spirituality and Alcoholics Anonymous

Authors: J Scott Tonigan, PhD


Strong opinions, both pro and con, have been voiced about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It has been argued that AA is the most effective method to arrest alcoholism.1 In contrast, it has also been argued that AA is helpful to only 5% of the people who choose to affiliate with the organization.2 McCrady and Miller3 suggested that 1 in 10 Americans will attend a 12-step meeting in their lifetime, but Bufe2 asserted that a majority of individuals who seek relief from alcohol-related problems by attending AA are coerced to do so, with less than 1 in 30 remaining in AA after one year. Finally, a majority of outpatient and inpatient alcohol treatment programs in the United States routinely include referral to AA, with a recent survey indicating that 79% of all Veteran Affairs substance abuse programs in the United States make such referrals.4 Court orders to attend the spiritually based program of AA have been successfully challenged as unconstitutional in the United States. However, the Supreme Court has demonstrated unusual leniency in upholding this decision, eg, they levied a $1.00 fine. Ironically, while AA formally eschews public controversy, it has been a lightning rod for conflict among professionals and laypersons regarding the treatment of alcoholism.

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