AA – Who It Helps,
Who It Harms,
Who It Kills & Why

“AA – Who It Helps, Who It Harms, Who It Kills & Why” began as a Master’s thesis at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota 30 years ago. It was refined as my Doctoral dissertation 5 years later. Over the past 15 years, my colleague and partner here at Your Empowering Solutions, Dr. Mary Ellen Barnes, and I have tested its concepts and applicability with over 500 clients and another 300 family members, spouses, partners, and friends.

Though it is a thin guide, totaling less than 100 pages, it is, like our program, all substance and no filler. You need, and deserve, real information, not marketing hokum designed to lure you into inappropriate and ineffective – by design – “rehab programs,” when you need actual help that is designed around you and your strengths, interests, abilities and circumstances.

Yes, there are people who need AA – hence the description of who they are and why the Steps work for them. But they are a tiny minority of those of you who would like to do something about your self-medication with alcohol.

As noted in the current edition of the DSM, self-medication exists at different levels, typically “mild,” “moderate,” or “severe.” People whose use ranks at mild or moderate are understandably reluctant to seek help that will label them indiscriminately, attempt – through humiliation, intimidation, and degradation – to induct them into a cult, and “gaslight” them into believing that they are the problem, not the cult.

Many more people fall into the cult in the regressed state that is, in addition to depression, associated with excessive alcohol use. Once sober, they quickly return to their actual levels of psychological and emotional maturity, but, brainwashed, are afraid to leave AA.

Part of the purpose of this book, like our program, is to help deprogram you from 12 Step mythology and return you to a normal life.

AA – Who It Helps, Who It Harms, Who It Kills & Why


If you are an eBook reader you can also find the book on Kindle or  Smashwords (Nook, etc).

Book Reviews

“It gives me great pleasure to highly recommend this clearly-written, enlightening book. I’m an addiction psychologist, author, and practitioner of REBT. I use many of the concepts and tools presented here. Now I’ve learned some new, innovative ones as well. The author slaughters sacred cows popular in the addiction movement emphasizing that engaging in addictive behavior is a choice and is frequently used to medicate emotional disturbance. If you have an addiction or help others who do, your life will be improved having read it.” 

Michael Edelstein, Ph.
Award winning Author, Three Minute Therapy     

Dear Dr. Wilson,

Thank you for your wonderful book!

Conformism is a most insightful observation about a group of people who are hoping to be told exactly how to run their lives. The AA program is replete with a guarantee and promises. It offers followers a blanket absolution for all misdeeds and allows them to proceed as usual, within the comfort zone that all has been fixed because they have jump through every single solitary one of the right hoops. The predators provide enough abuse to make them feel they have earned their own salvation.

AA people are then able to ignore all BDP/NPD or any other problem because they now have a full plate of life lessons to incorporate into their middle-minded chaos.

I had always thought AA was theologically flawed, morally reprehensible and bereft of any clinical substance. What a perfect therapy for people who willingly follow conventions that are unthought, not reasonable and never functional. AA most assuredly holds some of the responsibility for our current addiction crisis.

I was at wit’s end with the 12-Step indoctrination of a close friend and read several scathing descriptions of the program by learned theologians. I found that Smith and Wilson’s didactic position was brazen and filthy. But I looked to Jungian perspectives to try to understand the bullying ESFJ narrow-mindedness of “old-timers” I wanted to choke. This was not sufficient.

Your thoroughly studied ego-informed perspective is a welcome breath of fresh air! It is an incredible relief to read these pages over and over again. I cannot thank you enough for saving my sanity and providing me with some hope for AA detox. I will now pass this wonderful work on to critically needy victims.

D. W.

Now for words from Gabrielle Glaser, Author of Her Best-Kept Secret, Dr. Tom Horvath, Past President of SMART Recovery and founder of Practical Recovery, and Dr. Mary Ellen Barnes, President of Your Empowering Solutions:


“For more than 80 years, Americans have been led to believe that the only solution to excess drinking is the faith-and-abstinence based program of Alcoholics Anonymous. There is no evidence for this. Its one-size-fits-all approach helps only a slim percentage of the people who try it. Dr. Ed Wilson has helped treat clients with alcohol-use disorder with evidence-based methods for decades. In “AA: Who it Helps, Who it Harms, Who it Kills, & Why,” he offers clear guidance for problem drinkers who seek scientific tools to change their unhealthy habits.”

Gabrielle Glaser, Author
Her Best-Kept Secret


The psychological development of children is well studied. We know what children at different developmental levels can accomplish, and just as importantly, what they cannot accomplish.

The psychological development of adults has been studied much less, and the emerging knowledge that psychologists have on this subject has not become widely known. It doesn’t take a psychologist to know, for instance, that a situation that might lead to a temper tantrum in a two year old, should not lead to a tantrum in a teenager.

However, because adults all look “grown up,” we may not realize how differently adults can respond to the same situation, based on their developmental levels. We may attribute different responses to different values, or political orientations, or levels of intelligence, but in fact we may be observing the same kinds of phenomena we observe in children: Some tasks are simply beyond the psychological ability of some individuals.

Dr. Wilson is the first mental health professional I know of who has systematically applied knowledge about adult developmental levels to the process of resolving addictive problems. His background in developmental work is impressive. He is an excellent guide to the subject. I suspect that as you read his succinct summary of how to think about AA, and about how to resolve addictive problems, you will gain a powerful perspective not only on these issues, but on much of human behavior.

When I first came across this perspective it astonished me. It may astonish you as well. With it you will have a new basis for understanding the otherwise seemingly inexplicable behavior of many adults around you. Your relationships, and your understanding of conflicts (including political ones), may never be the same.

The application of knowledge about adult development to behavioral health is still beginning. Dr. Wilson is one of the pioneers. I hope that behavioral health begins to move in the direction he is pointing out to us.

Tom Horvath, Ph.D.
Past president, SMART Recovery
Founder and President, Practical Recovery


Fifteen years ago, I met Dr. Ed Wilson while seeking help for my brother, whose drug use was seriously affecting our family. I knew that AA/12 Step would never “work” for him, but alternatives were either non-existent or equally unsuitable.

That chance meeting was the beginning of our professional relationship and the development of the program he had designed in the years before.

I had never heard of Dr. Jane Loevinger and her model and measure of “Ego Development,” but Ed had worked with it for nearly twenty years and was convinced it held the key to providing individual, research-based, effective, and efficient services to individuals who did not fit the 12 Step mold. He said that he had been looking for the right colleague to institute this service to appropriate – and currently unserved or exploited – clients.

Ready for a professional change, I underwent an intensive introduction to Dr. Loevinger’s Washington University Sentence Completion Test (SCT) and its various uses in the provision of services to individuals and couples concerned about self-medication with alcohol. Within a year we opened our office in Rolling Hills Estates, CA where I assumed the administrative responsibilities and he the clinical.

Except it wasn’t quite that cut and dried. Ed’s model involved a pair of counselors: a man and a women, both ranking at or above E-6 (see chart, page 17) on Dr. Loevinger’s scale. Our age was also significant as we preferred to work with clients who were over 40 – particularly those in their 50s and 60s when problems tended to develop.

I quickly learned that the SCT provided a remarkable amount of information in very little time. This included the clients’ appropriateness for the approaches we took, clients’ relationship to their chronologic peers and society in general, differences between spouses/partners, and many underlying conflicts that clients themselves were unaware of.

I also saw how we could use the model to write both website copy and our weekly Newsletter to both screen inappropriate potential clients, as well as, screen out clients inappropriate – as well as appropriate to AA – before anyone called.

Over 15 years and 500 clients, as well as 300 spouses/partners, we developed multiple uses for the SCT results including ways to use it to quickly establish report, work in ways that clients found neither condescending nor over their heads, explain familial, personal, and professional relationships in comprehendible and addressable ways, and shift clients away from the ubiquitous and long debunked “disease” model, and into a research-based “symptom” orientation.
Our work attracted only modest attention as we remained the small, personal, program we wanted. We accepted only one new client a week, for example, and scheduled only 36-40 weeks a year. Happily, however, our work attracted the notice of Gabrielle Glaser when she started work on her groundbreaking “Her Best-Kept Secret, Why Women Drink – And How They Can Regain Control.” This did gain us some national attention and we were able to provide services to more of the people who had desperately looked, but not finding appropriate help.

All of this said, I am proud of the work we have done, the research we have managed, the dent we have made, however modest, in the mythology that permeates alcohol self-medication, and the variety of options that do exist for finding suitable assistance.

I am also pleased that Ed has chosen to share the foundational work he has done with those who are interested in better understanding their circumstances, as well as to those wishing to provide comprehensive services.

It has been a wonderful 15 years and I hope that we may continue the work in new ways and to a new audience of professionals and concerned individuals alike.

Mary Ellen Barnes, Ph.D., President
Your Empowering Solutions, Inc