The Fear of Leaving AA and its Pseudo-Relationships

I frequently hear from people who want to leave AA but who have been so brainwashed by AA mythology they are afraid to take the chance that they will end up “in jail, a mental hospital or dead.” That’s a reasonable fear if it were true, which it isn’t unless you make it a self-fulfilling prophesy.

As with most AA mythology it’s a person’s belief that matters, and AA myths aren’t reality. For example, you aren’t “powerless over your disease” since a) you aren’t powerless and b) self-medicating isn’t a disease. However, as Henry Ford noted, “Whether you believe you can or can’t, you’re right.”

That is the power AA exerts over people’s minds, a power typical of cults whether large – Jim Jones and Jonestown comes to mind – or small – Charles Manson’s followers (none of whom were stupid but isolation overruled smart).

When a cult spends it’s time demeaning, humiliating, degrading and, most importantly, isolating a person, anyone can fall victim to its agenda.

As I wrote in my “Guide to AA: Who it Helps, Who it Harms, Who it Kills & Why,” destroying individuality, demanding conformity and passivity, stamping out even a glimmer of assertiveness, and rewarding abject compliance will result in anyone succumbing with sufficient exposure.

So how does this all begin?

First, AA does “work” for those whose emotional and psychological development was arrested prior to the age of 12. For some this just happened because they weren’t too bright, weren’t sensitive, had helicopter parents who prevented them from developing coping skills, or for whom aggression became their only coping skill.

Others matured normally but fell into using alcohol to self-medicate whatever conditions became untenable: anxiety, loneliness, boredom, unbalanced lives and relationships – usually a mosaic of some or all of these. But alcohol is both a depressant and a regressant – it causes us to become less mature at which point we may stumble into AA which, given our reduced functional age, “works” until we sober up and bounce back to our “real” age.

Of course by then we may have been so traumatized and indoctrinated by AA that we are unable to leave but exist in a state of “contemplation hell” that matches the one we dwelled in before we decided to go to AA. Except now we find the prospect of leaving AA even more daunting than giving up alcohol.

The solution?

Don’t give up AA “cold turkey.” Begin to substitute other activities for meetings. Go to the gym, take a class, join a library based book club, do a SMART meeting (which you are supposed to outgrow), go rock climbing, volunteer – anything that is not alcohol related, where no one knows your alcohol history and you have a vested interest in the topic never arising.

As important, get some assertiveness training! Nothing is more anti-AA than assertiveness nor does anything help as much with achieving balanced lives and relationships whose imbalance is often the primary issue being medicated.

It helps to remember that whether we’re drinking or going to AA we are leading an alcohol focused life, only the format changes: active drinker or dry drunk Stepper your life still revolves around alcohol. Leaving AA, like stopping or moderating drinking, means adopting new activities, new foci, new friends. In short, a new life, a new normal.

Think of easing out of meetings as a form of harm reduction, which it is. Thinking about leaving, after all, does mean you have outgrown the preadolescent club for all of the little boys and girls who never will grow up.

Get a grip, get a life, get out of AA.

Synopsis: Deprogramming From AA and 12 Step Mythology


  • AA works for everyone;
  • AA is the only way;
  • People who misuse alcohol are either alcoholics or alcoholics in denial;
  • All alcoholics lie;
  • Alcoholics must hit bottom;
  • Alcoholics must stay away from “normies;”
  • Alcoholics must be “in recovery” for the rest of their lives;
  • “Alcoholism” – whatever that is – is a “progressive disease” and no one can ever return to moderate or social drinking.


  • AA works for somewhat less than 15% of the people who try it and is slightly more effective for men than women;
  • Of all of the ways to end alcohol abuse, AA ranks at about 38th in efficacy);
  • Very few people are actually “in denial,” especially to themselves;
  • People with alcohol problems rarely lie, at least not to themselves;
  • “Hitting bottom” is a meaningless and unmeasurable concept with no definitions or diagnostic value;
  • Giving up self-medication often means engaging with people who don’t, and avoiding those who either do or did as their core identity (an exception could be SMART Recovery for short term initial support as one would get in a grief or cancer or other conditional support group of limited duration);
  • Full recovery usually takes less than a year, frequently as little as 3-6 months;
  • There is a world of difference between the degrees of alcohol use, misuse and dependence;
  • Those who over medicate with alcohol have little in common with those who use illegal drugs – and the differences tend to include age, culture, economic status, and educational achievements;
  • The misuse of alcohol is rarely progressive nor is it a disease. Most people who self-medicate with alcohol, at whatever level, eventually regress back to social, moderate, or less harmful drinking levels, or spontaneously abstain, without fuss, fanfare, or AA;
    “In recovery” actually describes a “dry drunk” – someone unwilling to give up an alcohol focused life – and the benefits they get/got from drinking