The Dark Side of AA

Stanton Peele By: Dr. Stanton Peele

Posted on March 27th, 2013 - Last updated: April 13th, 2023
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Alcoholics Anonymous is a decentralized collection of support groups for alcoholics attempting to quit drinking. The groups are not professionally run or administered. Indeed, this is one of AA’s claims to fame, and its appeal — people in need helping people.

But, in any group of needy people, things can go wrong. Without supervision, anyone can attend, and perhaps pursue harmful agendas. One of these agendas is the predatory pursuit of members — often by older or criminal men of younger, vulnerable women. This template is more common than our society’s love affair with AA allows us to recognize.

Blogger Laura Tompkins has written about the tragedy of Karla Brada, who was murdered in August 2011. At the age of 30, Karla had a DUI — she had a relatively low-level BAL (.08) but had had an accident. This perhaps indicates that she was an inexperienced drinker.

Although a sub .10 BAL doesn’t scream “alcoholic,” Karla was referred to an inpatient alcoholism rehab clinic, where she was bussed to AA meetings. At one of these she met — and moved in with — Eric Allen Earle. Earle was one of many people mandated to attend AA as a condition of his parole. According to Tompkins, Earle’s rap sheet “includes multiple charges of battery, assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence, disturbing the peace, evading arrest, reckless driving, elder abuse, multiple DUI’s, and now, felony murder. Earle allegedly murdered Karla by strangulation after she had asked him to move out of her condo.”

Whatever the criminal resolution of this case — and any civil charges that may follow — we can ask about the nature of AA and how this might happen. Does putting people in a situation where they are taught not to trust their own thinking — which, they are told time and again, is what got them into the fix they are in — make young women like Karla vulnerable to predators? We can reflect back on the whole idea of how it is therapeutic to belong to groups with such self-denigrating memes as these:

  • “Stop your stinkin’ thinking’.”
  • “Your best thinking got you here.”
  • “Don’t go into your mind alone; it’s not a safe neighborhood.”
  • “Your thinking is alcoholic.”
  • “You have a thinking problem, not a drinking problem.”
  • “Utilize, don’t analyze.”
  • “You need a checkup from the neck up.”
  • “We’re All Here Because We’re Not All There.”
  • “… no alcoholic … can claim ‘soundness of mind’ for himself.” — William G. Wilson, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 33.
  • “I am powerless over people, places, and things.”
  • “You have alcoholic thinking.”

Could these contribute to a young woman’s loss of self-esteem and feelings for herself that might cause her to consort with a predator, and then to — too late — regret it?

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.