Please write if you left AA

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on November 24th, 2009 - Last updated: October 16th, 2023
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Further Reading

Dear Stanton:

Congratulations on an excellent website. It is comprehensive and it is well put together.

I have been in AA for 13 years, and I have been an addictions professional for 9, I have just this year been exposed to Miller and Marlatt. I am blown away by the possibilities.

I wonder if any research has been done on people who have sobriety in AA, and then left, not to return to drinking, but because AA ceased to respond to their needs. I would ask that these research references not include “converts” to other forms of treatment, as their points of view tend to be just as skewed. I seek folks who have gone on in life without formal treatment, and have no axe to grind.

Thank you so much for your amazing work.

Randy Markey

Dear Randy:

The point you express is a very important one — people who go it alone, either initially or after leaving AA or other treatment, have no acknowledgement or reference group. The problem is that we need to learn about and from them. I will list this as an FAQ at my website.

Best wishes, Stanton


I read with interest your e-mail to Dr. Peele on his web site. I would be interested in corresponding with you as I think the phenomenon of individuals leaving AA, especially those forced into it while adolescents (myself included), is much more widespread than acknowledged. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least a dozen friends I met in AA who are no longer members. Some are drinking without problems and some are still abstinent, but all experienced essentially what you described: AA failed to substantially add anything meaningful to their lives.

I too left AA after over 11 years of membership. I became disenchanted with the religiosity and anti-intellectualism of the program and I never really bought the disease concept, even after 30 days of high-priced “disease-model” treatment that I was forced to receive at age 19. But I suppose my real motivation for leaving was boredom with the meetings: sitting down for an hour and a half and listening to people take turns discussing themselves (usually in a tedious and familiar fashion) ceased to be a productive use of my time.

Though I don’t think I have any axes to grind, I am not shy in my criticism of AA. I am not a member of any alternative program though I have read the new Rational Recovery book and feel it has a lot to offer. I have studied much of the addiction literature, while as an undergrad at University of Washington and, currently, as a second year law student at NYU. I am very interested in the legal implications of forced AA attendance and the effect the acceptance of the disease model has had on the law, particularly civil commitment statutes.

Like you, I am also intrigued by those who decide to leave AA. From reading your e-mail, I gathered that you are considering doing research in this area. Is this correct? Please let me know as I would be happy to assist in whatever way I can, time permitting.

John Reisinger

Mr. Markey:

I saw your letter in one of Stanton Peele’s FAQ pages.  If you still consider the concern current I would like to weigh in as someone who was helped with a drinking problem by AA and who subsequently left.

Having been exposed only to the disease model, I joined AA in 1983 at age 30 and I still must say that following the disciplines set forth turned my behavior around and set me up for much growth.  Perhaps the biggest revelation was that, in spite of supposedly being afflicted with something I couldn’t control, others expected me to be responsible for my actions.  Nevertheless, after ten years or so I grew tired of hearing the same slogans repeated ad infinitum.  If it was spirituality it was very limited spirituality, and I could do better in that department.

At about the same time I grew very chary of identifying myself as an alcoholic, even to my doctor, who obligingly changed the language in my records.  I said that I had never been diagnosed as alcoholic, nor received treatment.  The attitude of personnel departments toward recovery seemed to have changed in the era of murderous downsizing, from benevolent acceptance to the possibility of using a past drinking problem to “trump up” a reason for termination.

These days I get along fine without AA or any other programmed approach to maintaining sobriety.  In fact I have ceased thinking of myself as alcoholic, as AA sees that condition: something that resides across a line that, once crossed, removes choices from people and forever marks them as ill.  If the treatment establishment sees alcoholism as a disease, some in AA still seem to see it as demon possession, and that isn’t my style at all.

Please feel free to contact me if I can provide any further information.


Ken Lott

Very interesting letter.  I think some in AA would find your letter highly challenging, more so than one highly antipathetic to that organization, since you think AA helped you but you nonetheless feel you have outgrown the alcoholic designation.


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.


  • Ellen says:

    I left AA two days ago.

    I was emotionally abused and controlled by three sponsors in AA. One most recently accused me of not ringing her 1-2x a week, according to my call logs that was not true but when I tried to defend myself I was accused of being argumentive and “not honest” and I had to think about what I really want – which feels very manipulative. She also strongly advised me against getting professional help for SA, and to do a step 4 instead which involves trudging up ALL my trauma with someone who has no qualifications whatsoever to deal with it.

    I just realised that any group that tells you you will die if you leave is not healthy. Furthermore having it drilled into you that the way you think is fundamentally wrong because you’re a “diseased alcoholic” feels like mind control. They teach you to become dependent on the group and sponsors which feels culty to me.

    They tell you you can leave at any time – but you know leaving means being shunned by all your friends in AA. You know when you leave they’ll judge the hell out of you – if you leave you’re gonna relapse, if you don’t relapse you’ll be miserable because you’re living on “self will” and if you’re not miserable then you never had a problem to begin with.

    I feel much happier being free from it I’m just upset I wasted 5 years of my life in it.

  • Lidia says:

    Hello All, I ran across this site and started reading the comments, and amazingly it’s no coincidence that I’m here. Right now I’m in the process of transitioning by leaving AA . I made 10 years of sobriety this month on December 1st and yes, AA has helped me with this process, and without a doubt I’m immensely grateful, but I realized a while ago that AA is not geared for some to stay in the fellowship for the rest of their lives. I knew in my gut that this person was me. I would watch members cringe when I tried to share how I felt. Recently I started the process of leaving AA by distancing myself from meetings, I also didn’t acknowledge my ten years of sobriety this month, actually a first for me since I’ve been a member. The kicker is I’m now being talked about in a place by the same people, where i have been a dedicated, committed trusted service member for ten years of my life. They refuse to see the true peace I now have by leaving AA, they don’t want to see all the anxiety, stress, depression and guilt I had by continuously trying to stay in those rooms. They’d rather believe right now that I relapsed back to drinking and drugging instead because I’m not around and I’m not conforming to what they believe is “AA normal behavior”. I believe it’s more about psychological control due to the rejection, coldness, and self degradation of comments I’ve been getting. This is very real, and it hurts, but it’s okay because as I stated, I’m sincerely grateful but I’m glad I left. I’m finally living my life as it should be without feeling like I’m being watched under surveillance anymore. I truly have peace of mind and it feels real good. This is my life to live and I’m happily pleased with it moving faith forward. I don’t know what the future entails but right now I’m fearlessly in position, ready for my next endeavors and knowing that I am who God says I am and that’s good enough for me. I’m glad I found your site 🙂

  • PollyC says:

    AA absolutely saved my bacon – via the steps and service and a wonderful sponsor. Got my kids back. Health back. Learnt that I was a selfish spoilt brat, and I’m fine with that, because now I know it, I manufacture less misery for myself. However, at 6 years and having discovered Eckhart Tolle, AA is less pivotal to my recovery now. I get bored at meetings and I find sponsoring itself a bore, but I’m happy to have fellow travellers on an equal footing – there are a few fairly sane people in AA.

  • Just Me says:

    I often find it sad that people who leave can’t look back and see their own problems while seeing problems in their local fellowship. Blame is not enough.

    AA had no control over the COVID 19 Pandemic. Attending meetings in my local area afterwards became a nightmare though. It felt far more like the tent revival meetings I saw as a child in Appalachia. It made me think of peasants gathered inside a hugh castle holding religious symbols over their heads while big men outside clanked around in armor and battle horses.
    The AA FELLOWSHIP ((People)) I came back to had no tolerance for diversity. No gay meetings, no non-christians, no space for mental health pros and cons, no open meetings of free debate about connections between other addictions. Woman literally chased me down with Christian Bibles (the religion of my area) saying if I didn’t want to be baptized I hadn’t had enough.

    Et cetera, ad nauseum.

    I have lost all of my AA friends. I see very few of them. When I say people abused me in AA, I have to remember I did not practice very good boundaries I learned in Al Anon or codependency education and continued to use people pleasing to gain popularity to lie to myself about getting normal in the steps, not the fellowship.

    It was during the Pandemic I finally got reading and realizing just how much Asperger’s disorder (Autism light, if you want to call it that) I really had. Meetings with other Autistics did not help. People…Individuals!!…in AA meetings kept nagging me that my Autism symptoms were RELAPSE and I had to make the decision to break away like a divorce.

    It is still lonely, but the silence between my unaverage thoughts now begins to feel like the description of meditation I was taught and I begin to plot a path forward with the supplements I legally take and not the recreational nirvana dope I was once accused of. I pray for my local AA people that they have the wide open love I was first brought in to.

    I am still a non drinker. After

  • Any says:

    I left NA after relapsing . then returning to try again .only to be told I was hated for relapsing and I was enabling other addicts to kill themselves because my relapsing caused them to think NA doesn’t work.After I was told this by an old timer sponsor who worked the programme every day all good vibes postaive Good feelings and thoughts that were in me left me I felt very heavy down low I handed over to god as suggested by NA when your feeling low I kept handing over I went to a meeting as suggested by NA during the meeting the low heavy feeling got worse I didn’t go to another meeting or contact the again since that was over a week ago I decided not to go back and left

  • Bill W says:

    I stopped going to aa the community ;

    Weren’t accepting on mental health they actually shamed and condoned seeking outside help almost no one in the rooms with 20 plus years were mentally well they might be sober but very mentally ill. I found another recovery support system the encompassed mind body and soul I was tired of the constant criticism of so called sponsors that were not supportive of mental health since I stopped going to aa I started college again and starting my own business it’s amazing what brain washing can do to the human psyche. aa is a spiritual program yes and meditation does work but aa also seems to have an underlying pattern of constant shame and condescending ridicule from people who are suppose to be Trusted servants who are suppose to have years of knowledge and they are some of the most mentally ill individuals in their that care nothing about making their own decisions they chose to think to pray about everything and that your whole life will change if you pray my whole life changed for the better when I stopped going to the meeting and stopped listening to a resounding amount of negativity. AA is just another cult that brainwashed people into thinking prayer is the only way to heal which is preposterous.

  • Chris says:

    I came to AA in 2015 and stayed sober for 7 years. I was heavily involved met my wife had another child things were great. AA never helped me with my mental health and it only got worse and worse. Steps 10, 11, and 12 couldn’t stop the intrusive thoughts anymore and most AAs think they are doctors. I gained a belief in God from my parents and still believe till this day. At 7 years I got on anxiety meds and did not over take them. I felt like I wanted to die everyday curled in a fetal position in my bed. I had a female member tell me I wasn’t sober so I went and told a whole room of AAs. My sponsor who had 32 years sober told me to get on them then abandoned me saying I used. I still till this day don’t think I did. I tried to get a new sponsor, go through the 12 steps again, but it’s not the same I’m extremely disinterested and am a lot more useful in helping others outside of the rooms of AA. I feel like AA tricked and abandoned me and now at my newest meetings they treat me like I know nothing and like I have 5 months when truly I have tons of experience and to me I have 8 years. I just don’t feel like it’s for me anymore and I’m truly conflicted at this point with guilt and shame on wanting to leave.

  • AC in LV says:

    There seems to be a healthy amount of misinformation or misunderstanding in these comments with respect to what AA is.

    The NY Supreme Court did not rule that AA is a “religious cult”, but rather that it was “religious” and therefore citizens could not be mandated to attend it on the grounds of separation of church and state, which is a valid concern and one which few AA’ers would likely argue.

    That being said, AA has been found to be largely beneficial and efficacious for a good portion of the folks who participate therein. To wit, this NIH publication offered in the National Library of Medicine offers very clear and dispassionate information about the ways and means by which AA is effective.

    This is not to say that folks can’t have bad experiences. I’m sure there are very valid negative experiences within AA, just as there would be in any program that is as loosely organized and controlled as are individual AA groups. However, that does not mean that people who’ve had bad experiences should feel entitled to make spurious claims about the organization as a whole, its benefit to society, or cast wholesale aspersions on its membership.

    If AA doesn’t float your boat, great. Find something that does, or don’t. Your decision to be a part of AA or not is about your experience with AA, but it does not automatically mean that your view of AA is a valid one for anyone else but you.

    For my part, when I began finding myself disinterested in the religiosity of the group I was attending, I simply found a new group that is centered around offering the benefits of the traditions and principles of AA without the dogmatic approach that sometimes accompanies AA meetings. Such is one of the primary strengths of AA, the ability of its membership to adapt and create new ways of interacting with the sound tenets of AA while staying true to themselves.

    Hope everyone reading this (whether in AA or not) is happy, healthy, and pursuing their dreams, whichever direction they may take you.

  • Steve O says:

    I’m so grateful I found this site. I have been continuously sober for 14 years and I owe much of what is “good and healthy” in my life to the program and people of AA. That said, in the last couple years I’ve found my own spiritual path moving in its’ own unique and distinct direction. Although I still look lovingly on many of the members of AA whom I consider personal friends, I find the program itself no longer “fits”. I stopped going to meetings in recent months and only feel conflicted by the outreach of my sponsor urging me to return. Finding this site helps me navigate a bit more easily having found folks with similar experiences.

    • Zach Rhoads says:

      We are happy, beyond belief, that you get value from our site! Steve, if there is ever anything that you would like us to cover, that we have not yet, please let us know — we’ll be happy to!

  • Sharron cocker says:

    I suffered in AA and was surrounded by and used by dominant imperfect selfish cruel humans who had planted the idea in my head that I needed them could only trust them there way was the only way without them I would have no quality of life or would die go insane or be put in prison I was victimised by some I was not a selfish greedy person pre AA there were lots of things said that I didnt see as being right or true for me there were similarities and I was told to look for them and not at the differences however there were so many differences I couldnt ignore them I left AA years ago and NA 3 years ago I have went through many feelings and thoughts about it since today I am no longer angry around AA or afraid of AA or afraid to go on with my life without them my grudges towards them left me eventually I read lots about cults and found that helpful and gave me understanding of what had happened to me I began to build a new life make new friends find new interests I began to get some of the old me back my pre AA personality i try to keep the good i got from AA and let go of the rest today it’s more and more in my past and my body is less tense my mind isnt always thinking about it they are just people I used to know a place I used to go to and dont want to go back to i am doing ok I havent been in jail or mental ward since I left I enjoy my voluntary work for Oxfam my hobbies and interests I joined a drumming group I love being with my family at times and enjoy being with the new friends I made after I left AA I let it all go and moved on and I’m happy and safe and like who I am today I have all I need and thankfull for all I have got today I’m lucky most people in AA spend all there lifes trying to get away from it but never do I got out and I’m liveing a life I dont want to escape from

  • Sharron cocker says:

    Survivor of abuse in AA

  • Amy says:

    After 5 years recovery I am now able to have the attention to just relax and watch tv drama, watched a Morse drama last night and when it is suggested to Morse to join the Masons he reply’s ‘ I don’t join things – in fact I’ve left the choir’. I just follow my intuition now and at this present moment I feel no fear of picking up a drink again or any fear of not attending AA. For me AA was a bridge to normal living. It helped but found it was not always Principles before Personalities.

  • Chloe grace says:

    I am so grateful that I found this thread.
    I have no idea how old it is but I need to write this.
    I have been trying to work the aa program for ten years and I can honestly say I feel more mad now than I ever did before.

    I feel hopeless and everytime I tell someone in aa that I cant do this anymore I’m told that my disease talking and I cannot trust my thinking.

    I’ve completely lost my identity and I honestly have no idea who I am anymore. I keep leaving the fellowship only to return and try again because I am terrified that I will go mad or drink.

    They really have put the fear of God into me. I was never like this before. I am terrified of leaving and I feel trapped. They say in aa that insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results, that’s exactly what I am doing. Repeating the steps, changing sponsors and expecting different results. I am so confused

  • Lance W. says:

    My name is Lance, I am 28 years old and I live in Montana. I grew up in alcoholic home on a Native American Reservation… I soon left after highschool and started to drink alcohol for the first time. I remember I would use to always say, “I would never end up like them”. I soon made it too college, and received a DUI. I was always a good student, I never drank too much. However when I got my DUI in Missoula Montana my life changed forever…. I was forced by the judicial system in Missoula Montana to attend AA meetings. I was always placed under arrest for having a drink or two at home after work by a misdemeanor probation office — These are not felony charges. I was treated so horrribly, my mother ended passing away during these trials. I was placed on ridiculous high amounts of alcohol monitoring and the courts labeled me. Countless probation officers wouldn’t allow me to be back in my hometown after my mother died… my dad got sick soon afterwards. When it comes to AA in this story, I’ve shared it so many times it became spiritually exhausting. Why have you prayed in the morning? Do you get on your hands and knees and ask God for forgiveness…? You know I didn’t need to hear any of that, during those times. I read the books, complete strangers in AA scrutinized me for the problems that was inflicted on me by others. I’m Native American so my religion was compromised and I was treated like a criminal. I realized that I’ve made mistakes in my life, I no longer need to punish myself although I’ve already been punished. But still AA has impacted my life in such a negative way… and really I didn’t even have much of a drinking problem to begin with. I have realized AA isn’t for some people. To those who have had it work, congratulations, but not all people need the twelve steps. They just need to find the support and love within themselves and fight back.

  • pat watts says:

    I am 47 yrs clean and sober in AA when it was a loving caring fellowship (circle of friends) and i despair about what it’s like now . I live in Brighton (Hove) and i’m looking for like minded people with whom i can share my recent horrendous experiences with

  • Thankful says:

    I came into A.A. under horrible circumstances and I have to say it was a miracle for me. The steps guided me in living a much different life and I did experience complete magic in working the steps. That was 7 or 8 years ago. As I have gotten better and healed ( mostly from an autoimmune illness), slowly, life has opened back up and I have found myself surrounded by hostility- and projection and just an all around toxic atmosphere. I really feel that the suggestion to keep doing the work and looking at everything you have done wrong , along with the cycle of constant complaining just awful. I have been abused severely by almost every sponsor I had and have been having a difficult time transitioning back into the real world after this. Years of brow beating and being told there is something wrong with you is not good for anyone. I am beside myself realizing how I allowed myself to be treated for so long. So incredibly happy to have made the final decision that this is it- and the members have not made it hard!

  • Isabel says:

    I don’t know how old these posts are but I found the site through googling leaving AA. I left a year ago after 14 years of attendance meetings. At 10 years, I cut down my meetings to one a week and gradually down to nothing. At year 5 i wanted to leave AA as i was so disillusioned and it was painful to carry on faking interest and belief. What kept me going was fear what would happen to me if i left, drink, go mad etc, we have all heard the scare mongering. This scare mongering, presented as a truism, is based on stories of people who come back to the rooms after relapsing. But, what about the people, many many people, who leave AA but carry on being sober and doing fine. You wouldn’t go back to a meeting say ‘hi guys, just to let you I’m sober and doing fine without AA’ their stories don’t ever get heard. So, the evidence for this ‘if you leave, you’ll drink, go mad and die’ is very biased, without concrete evidence and a way to keep people enslaved to AA for the rest of their lives. The culture of AA is very threatened by the prospect of people leaving, living sober and not going mad because it challenges AA whole belief ssytem, basically that only AA will keep you sober and sane. It’s kind of disgusting really, and the thing that makes it very much like a cult, scare mongering so people never leave. It would be great to have a substantial resource for ex AA or ex any other 12 step fellowship to tell their story so that people that feel completely trapped in AA through fear of leaving, can have a unbiased view of leaving AA. I feel angry that i felt trapped for so long because i believed in this misinformed rubbish, basically a paranoid lie based on very little evidence. It should be stopped.

  • Rebecca says:

    I’m Rebecca I was compelled to write something don’t find god in aa. I was in therapy for 8 years for bipolar. I was holding on by a thread in aa. People tried to help meI kept it some what together. On my meds drinking odouls periodically. I got really confused in the program.thinking I failed. Then got out of conseling.smoked a joint and went on cbd. Aa made me feel insane. Unfortunately all the things I did for my recovery were wrong or whatever now I can’t go to meetings I can’t go to a hospital. In the morning I feel fine but crash emotionally and mentally throughout the day. All the hope they preach and literature caused me to fret my life. My only refuge is church. Aa destroyed gave me a life, my only solution is to leave. And suffer in silence.

  • Bourdon says:

    I noticed very early on in my AA attendance that it was a clique, specifically in the case of my chapter, a clique of Irish Roman Catholics. I felt I would never truly be accepted as one of them, and that feeling intensified, not weakened, my desire to drink. In my recent absence from meetings, I found my desire to take a drink declined to nothing. However, going to meetings and listening to all the tales of woe I found depressing enough to lure me back to the bottle. I can do this alone.

  • TG says:

    I am survivor of Alcoholics Anonymous which was originally patterned after a Pro-Nazi 1930s Christian Evangelical Cult and is an incredibly toxic dangerous religious cult that presents itself as a “treatment program” for Alcoholism. Problem is, it doesn’t work, never has worked, and never will work… AA has a failure rate of 99.9999%. I am actually one of the 0.0001 percent that survived the abuse & insanity that passes for “recovery” or “sobriety” in AA. I have managed to actually stay clean and sober 36+ years because I went into therapy, counseling, and sought qualified, professional treatment and support OUTSIDE of AA… If I had relied solely on AA’s crack-pot 1930s circus tent Neo-Con Christian Revivalist RELIGIOUS Pseudo-Science, “faith-healing” antics, I would not be alive or sober today. NY Supreme Court and multiple state and US Federal Courts have ALL ruled that AA is a religious cult, and I agree. I’d specifically like to link up with other “Survivors of AA”.

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