I quit AA because of you and I’m drowning – Please HELP!

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on September 5th, 2009 - Last updated: September 29th, 2023
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Dear Stanton:

I am a 38 yr. white male. I am presently working on a Master of Social Work Degree. I have a long history of addiction and abuse to various substances and experiences. I have been in and out of AA for almost ten years. I stayed sober through AA once for a 3 year consecutive period. I left AA three years ago to return to mature social drinking. It has had nothing but negative consequences, (except for the good times I had while drinking) and now I am in danger of failing out of school. I am not physically addicted to alcohol and don’t lose control unless I decide to get drunk. My tolerance for alcohol has increased from 2 or 3 beers to 8-12. I recently got a DUI. I am very scared. I have been going to AA meetings for a while but I don’t agree with the disease concept. I get sick of hearing the endless repitition of stories and admonitions. I can’t seem to beat them and I can’t join them. When I left AA, I took two others with me based on your arguments. They are drinking heavy again but haven’t yet run into the living problems that I now have. Help!!



Damn, Richard, you’re going to give my work a bad name!

Richard, you have to decide what is best for you, and your friends likewise. If you don’t find AA works for you, I can’t help that, although I certainly understand it. But, Richard, many, many people have quit drinking—and kept off alcohol completely—without AA. In Diseasing of America, I reviewed George Vaillant’s data (George is a big AA fan) showing that people are less likely to relapse when they quit drinking on their own than when they go through AA.

If you see clearly that drinking is no good for you—and you tell me you’ve had three years of drinking problems—then you need to quit. Is that your view of things? Well, how shall you do it? There are groups that will support you in abstinence—two other than AA are RR and SMART Recovery. If you need support, I hope you’ll go out and get it, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

But, Richard, are you trying to lay your failure to find AA appealing, or to succeed outside of AA, on me? I can’t take that responsibility. Not only don’t I know you, but I wouldn’t tell you to quit AA if you stood a chance of succeeding at it, and I wouldn’t tell you to drink when you’re showing persistent drinking problems.

So if you’re looking for my advice, I’ll tell you to find a way of life that is healthy and comfortable for you and that you can adhere to.

Meanwhile—especially now that you’re 38— I would tell you that you need to be sufficiently reliable at school, or work, or relationships to avoid drinking too much or drinking at all, and certainly not to be drunk driving. After a lifetime of substance abuse problems, attending AA, and reading my work you don’t know how to stay out of a vehicle when you’re drunk? Please.

Is this opinion of mine helpful and clear enough?

All best,


It is true that people like me will give your work a bad name. However, I don’t think that is a justified conclusion.

My irresponsibility in drinking says much more about me than about your work. I have never read anything about addiction that rings so true to me as your work in “The Truth About Addiction and Recovery.” I am currently taking a class in Addiction Counselling and am encouraged to find you quoted often in Doweiko’s Text, “The Concepts of Chemical Dependency.” Milam is not referenced once. Hmmmm??

As for my own case, I do see clearly that I have a propensity to abuse alcohol. I like to drink. It makes me feel good. At present I have decided to lay off for a few months until my tolerance goes back down. Then re-evaluate and if I decide to drink, do so with the utmost caution and self-control.

As for the other groups you mentioned, I unfortunately live in a small town where there is nothing but A.A. I would love to see a methods of moderation group here. Perhaps I could start one. Or come up with my own model for recovery incorporating some to the principles of your “life process model.” The most benefit I ever got from A.A. anyway was the social aspect. There are really some wonderful people in A.A. with the exception of their rigid adherence to dogma.

What do you think about the role of spirituality in addressing a problem with substance abuse? Personally, I have always been a bit of an agnostic, but I must admit that I have found comfort in seeking some kind of higher (spiritual, if you will) level of life or purpose. This has only been undertaken on a personal level because like A.A. I can’t accept all the dogma associated with religion.

On the contrary to laying the responsibility for my problems on you, I am a huge fan of your work. Like so many other people, I can’t tell you the joy and release I felt in reading “The Truth About Addiction and Recovery.” The disease model of addiction is so disempowering and truly made me feel lower than a “snake’s belly in a wagon wheel rut.” I know that it has lead many to suicide. I have witnessed it. Thanks for your wonderful contributions and keep up the good work.


Dear Richard:

Thank you for your kind words of praise. I appreciate your appreciation of what I have done, and I appreciate your own search for solutions. You know, people often take long routes to come up with a reasonable path of recovery. Starting an MM branch (it sounds like you already know two other potential members) is one good idea; creating your own support group could be worth a try.

I hate to sound like your mother, but you’re going to have a hard time bringing me to your class if you flunk out of school—how about identifying your task as completing your course work and drinking as appropriate to that goal. Not that, once you attain that goal, you can just go wild. You’ll have other goals.

It always struck me that, for some, AA worked because they felt that relapse would cast a shadow on the group they wanted to support! Well, as they say, “whatever works.” I say, “whatever is important to you is the key to sobriety.”

As for me, spirituality isn’t the key. I can only say, try it to the extent that this is an important ingredient in your make-up.

All best luck. I am glad you are modifying your behavior in line with your values. It’s good for you, and, I hope it makes me look good to! If you want to make your thesis the creation of a “life process” alcohol problem support group, I’ll work with you toward that goal.

Best wishes,

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.

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