Support Groups?

Everyone thinks that they need a “support group” and many of us have fallen into the trap of thinking that this means AA or some other similarly focused group. Wrong!

Let’s think about that for a moment. What should be the function of a genuine support group? Obviously, I think, it should help you make the transition away from an alcohol-focused life to an actual life. Stated another way, it should support you in re-engaging in your life rather than being a medicated spectator.

To that end, a real support group would have many of the following characteristics:

  • It would involve an activity you enjoy or think you might enjoy;
  • The activity will be incompatible with drinking;
  • The other people you meet will have no idea that you ever had an alcohol abuse problem;
  • You will have a vested interest in the topic of your former alcohol problems never coming up;
  • You will acquire additional interests that creatively fill the time formerly occupied by drinking;
  • You will surround yourself with people who are actively leading the sort of life you aspire to.

Notice that AA flunks every one of these “tests!”

So why would someone join AA? Usually it’s for the following reasons:

  • They are afraid to give up their alcohol-focused life (that can be scary when it’s the only life you’ve had);
  • They simply want to placate a spouse, family, employer, judge or other authority figure by pretending to do something about their drinking;
  • They enjoy the attention they get from their fictitious drunkalogues;
  • They love being left off the hook for taking any responsibility for their choice to drink and act abusively;
  • They like being “powerless over their disease” so they are free to continue drinking – and most members actually drink more after joining – because, again, they are “powerless.”
  • They like the comfort that a cult provides where no thinking is allowed.

Yes, AA flunks every “support group” test yet, somehow, it does manage to work for 3%-5% of those who try it. Why? For that seeming conundrum, keep reading.

AA – Who It Actually Helps

It is obvious that over the years AA has helped a number of men and women get and stay sober. It’s equally obvious that it’s either useless or counterproductive for most folks or, at best, has only short term efficacy. So what’s going on?

Back in the 1950s my crotchety old uncles (who, admittedly, were younger then than I am now, but still seem old from my 10 year old’s perspective) noted that AA was the “Peter Pan Society for all the little boys who never want to grow up.”

That insight propelled me out of my vodka swilling years, confident that the “Steps” had nothing good to offer me. Indeed, like many of you, I knew that if my only two choices where joining AA or keeping on drinking, then there was far more dignity in drinking.

After spending a couple of years digging my way back out of the rabbit hole I’d allowed myself to slip into after some personal tragedies, I thought it might be interesting to prove my uncles right. At 45 I went to graduate school at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis’ campus, pursuing degrees focused on Human Development.

Building on prior research I’d done for universities, the military, graduate students, city councils, and numerous mental health and treatment centers, I was able to show that, yes indeed, AA “works” for those whose emotional and psychological development was arrested prior to puberty – all the little boys, and girls too, who never want to grow up.

While these people make up the majority of AA’s zealous adherents, others include the predators who prey on the self-identified and vulnerable victims. These are the infamous “13th Steppers” and their despicable lineage goes all the way back to founder Bill W., a notorious sexual predator and con artist.

AA also works for a tiny group of highly conscientious individuals who work tirelessly to save the “sheep” from the “wolves” but their numbers are grossly inadequate for the task. Besides, AA has no intention of reforming itself, nor would the “rehab industry” – a business model founded on promoting client failure – allow it to do so.

Of course, there is more to the story, and how it affects you, and how you can get actual help, but, as a reader, you already know the answers to that. Just be glad you aren’t among those doomed to endless cult membership and victimization.