“But it’s helped millions!!!!”

I’ve been experimenting with a very modest Facebook ad for the “AA – Who It Helps, Who It Harms, Who It Kills & Why book and the response have been predictable – 95% positive and 5% outrage. The outrage coming, of course, from people who haven’t read it and never will, boils down to the “but it’s helped millions…” wail.

We have, of course, being hearing this since we opened our practice 15 years ago.

Notice that neither we, nor the book, deny that AA has helped some folks. We readily acknowledge that 5% of those who try it will find relief there. The book even identifies them.

But the book also notes that those it helps are the “True Believers” who cannot tolerate the ambiguity of different solutions for different people. “The” way must be my way and it must be the only way!

The idea that “it’s helped millions” could be easily disputed, but that would be pointless and zealots are never converted by exposure to facts in any case as per the climate change deniers.

What is important, with regard to self-medication with alcohol, is that enough of the Stepper mentality has seeped into all of us that it’s very difficult to find and make use of real help.


“First you have to hit bottom!” This piece of 12 Step insanity often prevents people from seeking effective, short-term help, with an emerging problem when it’s most easily corrected.

“AA is the only way!” is another pervasive myth and most adults would find AA so distasteful that they’d prefer to keep on drinking. That certainly was my decision 40 years ago and a choice many of our clients over the years have made themselves.

“Rehab works and you have to go away for 30, 60, or 90 days!” There is no evidence that spending a fortune on residential programs, staffed by “true believers,” consisting of endless AA meetings, and operated by predators, has any efficacy whatsoever. Simply put – if AA is for you, you don’t have to pay for it.

Even if “it’s worked for millions” were true, the response really is, “So what?” What about the tens of millions it will never work for even if they were willing to lower themselves to try it? Or the tens of thousands who die because they are unaware of options that could work for them.

But you, and, I hope, those reading the book can discover that there are many ways to alter one’s self-medicating.

Imagine that?

Filling the Vacuum

When we change any behavior pattern, or eliminate a habit, we create a vacuum. We have a hole in our lives that will get filled – nature really does abhor a vacuum – either proactively or passively.

Therefore, when we quit self-medicating, we have a couple of choices: we either create alternatives or the “vacuum” will suck us back to the familiar misery of drinking. That’s not all that difficult a concept.

If you are an immature person you can accomplish that by joining AA and substitute meetings for bars. Same people, same focus, same no effort experience. If you are “successful” at this then you have made the transition from “wet drunk” to “dry Drunk” but you’re still a drunk – same unresolved issues, same peer group, same refusal to grow up. If that suits you it’s okay with me.

Otherwise you will have to pursue different options. These might include CBT and/or weight training for anxiety and depression; assertiveness training for unbalanced lives and relationships; “doing stuff” for passivity.

Remember too that alcohol is a depressant. As current newscasts are reporting, ceasing drinking has remarkable effects on reducing women’s levels of depression and dysthymia. Men’s moods also improve though not as dramatically as women’s, once again, alcohol’s negative impacts on women’s physical and mental health exceed men’s. I’m sorry, but alcohol is not a gender-neutral drug.

The main point remains, however. Either you manage yourself or old habits will manage you. You are just as powerful as your willingness to exchange proactive for passive. You can read this and/or do something or nothing.

That really is your choice.