Sunday, June 27, 2010

Shut-up Stupid Sunday: Alcoholic Anonymous

I was reading a post over at "Rick’s World" about Howard Hughes and totally disagreed with him. To fill you in Rick is a recovering alcoholic who is going through AA to get better.

He suggested that Howard Hughes extreme Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) could be helped by going through AA. I know a little bit about OCD, writing 1,000 to 5,000 words a day and feeling sick if I don’t. I even studied it pretty heavily for my novel “Invasive Thoughts” so I told him the simple fact that AA doesn’t help people with OCD and behavioral therapy to “cure” OCD makes it worse for a person with the Disorder, as they are being told to control something that is out of their control. OCD can’t be cured only managed, like turning my Compulsion to write into a writing career.

After the expected Ad-hominen attack (I’ll explain later why it was expected) he said AA would have helped Hughes with his “moral character”. Howard Hughes was deep into a OCD loop where he thought germs were out to get him, it was a mental problem that few people need to deal with but it is horrible having your mind rebel against you, while at the same time stood up to Congress and the entire Military-Industrial Complex and stopped America from having a National Airline, and in doing so gave the US the advantage in the Commercial Aircraft Industry for 30 years. “Moral Character” was not a failing of Hughes.

I was going to refer Rick to my “Shut-up Stupid” post on AA then I realized that I had somehow missed them. My fault, I guess there is just so much stupid in the world and so little time.

Alcoholics Anonymous has been an institution here in America since it was founded in 1935 and was a step (or 12) up from the previous way of dealing with Alcoholics, which was to slap them up side the head and tell them to straighten up, or lock them in jail.

AA works the same way a cult works, it just does it with a noble purpose and has systems to prevent abuse. It “recruits” people when they are down and out and at their weakest mentally, then promises them a better way. AA and cults rebuild peoples self esteem by giving them a group that accepts them and the natural herd instinct makes them want to please the group.

The herd instinct is strengthened in cults by the desire to defend your group. That’s why they send their members out to the airports dressed in silly costumes so that people will laugh at them. The individual members aren’t thinking they are being laughed at for their outfits they are thinking people are laughing at their friends and the natural instinct is to defend your friends, strengthening the bond.

AA talks about “moral character” and other unquantifiable measures to make their members talk with an unjustified smugness to invite attacks, they naturally respond by wanting to protect the group. That is why criticism of AA is almost always met with an Ad-hominen attack, however AA, as opposed to cults, encourage a dual group mentality, one within AA and one with their normal social circle, so after the knee jerk reaction is done an AA member will tend to give a rational rebuttal. AA does encourage members to interact with outsiders and not just put up a wall in defense.

AA fosters a place where people can foster this power of group identity to replace alcohol. So far, so good, but does it work?

The success rate for quitting physically additive drugs like heroin or nicotine is roughly 18% in a control group (people who receive no treatment). By its very nature AA can’t be analyzed, whole Anonymous part of its name, but unscientific polls place the success rate at around 23% or 5% above the apples and oranges control group.

A 5% increase is good, better than anti-smoking drugs than can claim, however if someone tries an anti-smoking drug and fails they don’t blame themselves for the failure they blame the drug.

With AA members pushing that overcoming Alcoholism is due to “moral character” and how they have built up a myth that AA has great success rate when it is less than one in four, it makes anyone who has tried it and failed feel worse and less likely to seek a treatment that works for them.

While I encourage anyone who thinks they have a drinking problem and doesn’t have a moral objection to the protestant message that AA uses, to go to AA because it’s free and they have taken a lot of effort to prevent mental abuse that non-professional behavior modification programs often have. Just remember the success rate is one in four so it doesn’t work for most people.

To the AA members who go on about “moral character” and feel that AA is a cure all for any individual’s problems with society, I say, “Shut-up Stupid, I hope you are one of the 23% AA works for, I truly do. But the program doesn’t work to keep the majority of people who use it sober and it certainly won’t help people with problems besides Alcoholism.”

By Darrell B. Nelson author of Invasive Thoughts


Stephanie Barr said...

I have such a severe dislike for the taste of alcohol that drinking is not an option for me. Nor am I much of a joiner.

I do think that Howard Hughes has been much maligned, including people saying (incredibly) that he was a bad businessman.

Sure he was.

FishHawk said...

It would appear that I am (was?) just the opposite of the lovely and talented Ms. Barr. For I did not draw a sober breath for several years just on account liking the stuff--not any sort of physical and/or mental addiction. Yeah, that sure should qualify me for stupidhood.

Stephanie Barr said...

My husband is also fond of the flavor, but he takes moderation very seriously and self-regulates. His family is prone to addiction so he is very careful.

Sometimes, however, the big picture is hard to keep hold of, particularly if you don't appreciate the problem while you're in it.

I'm no judge and certainly didn't mean to imply any superiority, if somehow I did. I haven't been in the position to become addicted to many of the more painful substances to break away from, not from merit so much as good fortune and education. Many are not so fortunate. I don't want to imply my circumstance is merit-based.

Project Savior said...

I personally love the taste of a good beer, but I'm out like a light after 3 or 4, so I'm a cheap date.
It's sort of self regulating as I can't (without effort) drink enough to do any damage that a little extra exercise won't fix. And when I start seriously exercising it takes fewer beers to knock me out.