AA ruined my life!

Stanton Peele By: Dr Stanton Peele

Posted on April 24th, 2023 - Last updated: September 28th, 2023
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Dear Stanton,

I have been struggling with alcohol addiction for over a decade.

A few years ago, after losing my job and pushing away the people who cared about me the most, I decided to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings in an attempt to change my life.

At first, AA seemed like a lifesaver. I managed to stay sober for over a year, and I was making new friends in the group. However, as time went on, I began to feel consumed by the program. It became the sole focus of my life, and I found myself drifting away from my old friends and family. I devoted all my time and energy to AA meetings and service work, and it began to feel like a cult.

My relationship with my partner deteriorated, as they couldn’t understand why I was so obsessed with AA. Eventually, they left me, feeling as though I had replaced them with the program. I’ve also lost touch with most of my old friends, who have moved on with their lives. I now feel lonelier than ever, and I can’t help but think that AA has ruined my life.

Is there a way to recover from alcoholism without being completely consumed by the program? I am desperate for advice.

John


John,

True recovery is a matter of living a full, positive life. Addiction — of any kind — is sacrificing your life to some larger group or thing that harms you and makes you less than you can be. In its ultimate form, an addiction usurps and controls your whole life, making you its slave.

Can a supposedly positive involvement actually form the basis for an addiction? Yes, when it overwhelms and takes complete control of the rest of your life. Love relationships are one such example. Another is AA, which some people realize becomes a negative involvement that shuts them off from the rest of their lives, including people, family, work, enjoyment of the ordinary, and so on.

Indeed, AA seems geared up to create such an addiction. For example, it may require members to give up their former relationships, even positive ones. Instead, the group may insist, the member may only associate with other members of the AA group.

Thus a person like yourself feels that they have been lured into an addiction under the guise of the group’s supposedly helping them.

Obviously, feeling betrayed like you do by the group, losing your partner and other people dear to you, is a bitter pill to swallow. Whether AA always has such an effect I cannot say. But here are the steps to take for you or anyone to make sure that their efforts to improve their lives by joining AA do not create a new addiction.

  1. Do not give up positive involvements in your life as a price of being part of the AA group. Simply say “This person is near and dear to me, and I must continue to be involved with them” (imagine your child, for instance).
  2. If the group or some of its members force you to make such choices, tell them please not to do that, that it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself or your life.
  3. Perhaps even introduce such ideas to the group. For instance, you might say “I always regretted that my drinking hurt my relationship with my favorite aunt. I have begun seeing her as a part of resuscitating what has been good about my life in the past.”
  4. Always be mindful that escaping an addiction means expanding yourself and your life. Actively evaluate whether the group or involvement is having that effect or rather the reverse.

You may also want to check out our article on alternatives to AA/ 12 step programs. In principle it would seem that AA can be used in a positive, nonaddictive way. But doing so may require you to disregard or to contradict some of AA’s basic tenets, such as that you cannot be a positive force in your own life, that thinking for yourself is “Stinkin’ Thinkin”, that you are always out of control and must turn yourself over to a higher power.

Yours,

Stanton

P.S. In this video we discuss whether AA is a net good or a net harm for society.

 

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

Comments

  • April says:

    Dearest John,

    I was continously sober through the A.A. fellowship for three years, however, I wanted to express that the 12 steps are most definitely the opportunity for positive transformations. (This is not the case for particular groups, or types of meetings, which are most likely “cliques” of self-appointed guardians for an imaginary kingdom of inflated perfectionism and superior knowledge about the long-term healing process.) Please know that anyone bragging about being a “one white chip wonder” is exactly the sort of individual that should NOT be sponsoring anyone else. Honestly, I don’t know what collective group psychosis is occurring in many of the specific clubs that I attended (a large variety in diverse areas). Regardless, the chants and repeated slogans about “practicing the principles” are loaded with a ton of hypocrisy, especially when so many other members decide that they have been elevated to the status of gifted prophet…and can accurately predict who is or is not even worthy of sobriety…it’s very disturbing, as the number one objective is supporting newcomers, and doing whatever is necessary to offer greater support with encouragement when another member relapses. (So many don’t make it back into the rooms, and yet the majority are shunned, abandoned, labeled and completely rejected by the very same people who took an oath of responsibility to always extend the hand of AA to anyone in need of assistance). I’m so very sorry for your confusing emotions, but know that those steps do actually work…(They make a difference for any type of challenge, hardship or obstacle…certainly not just addiction or alcoholism)….if you find someone genuine to guide you through the steps, then I would humbly suggest going to other types of support groups, following up with your personal mental health providers, and looking for upbeat outside activities of interest. I had to finally disengage myself totally, and I am being extremely forthcoming about the disturbing mindset. As you know, one AA mantra is “principles before personalities “, yet the majority are no where near that consideration whatsoever. Best wishes to you for many blessings in the New Year, (and get a 12-step workbook, so you can write your successful journey….something done with a lot of alone time!!)….Take the best care…have faith in YOURSELF!!!

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