Can I argue against AA in my philosophy debate?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on August 5th, 2010 - Last updated: September 28th, 2023
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Hello Mr. Peele (or Stanton if you prefer),

I am wondering if there are even any answers to the questions I have posed below:

  • What percentage of people that joins AA/NA become and stay sober, or actually recover so to speak?
  • Is it true that you are forever considered an addict and in recovery, even if you are sober for over a decade while in a twelve-step program?
  • Are you aware that people lie about their sobriety in order to not upset the group’s motivation to stay clean as well as to not embarrass themselves in front of their peers?

My reasoning for not knowing if an answer exists to the first question is because in my research found in Narcotics Anonymous: A Resource in Your Community (NA literature) under Rate of Growth it states “Since no attendance records are kept, it is difficult to estimate what percentages of those who come to NA ultimately achieve long-term abstinence.”

As for the latter questions, I myself attended a NA meeting but did not find it wise to ask the program director harsh questions that question the ethics of the program itself. I have searched through your questions, but found that most of the Q&A is more addiction based that philosophically based. I did enjoy your conversation with Chris Wagner in Do Values Pay a Role in Addiction?

However, I am doing a debate for my Philosophy 205: Morals and Ethics class on the effectiveness of NA/AA programs, a topic which I chose while we were assigned to pick designated topics already. I also chose the con side, saying the programs are not effective. I have found alot of information on my own, but was hoping I could get some words of wisdom directly from you relating to my topic.

Thanks for your time. 🙂

Desiree Bach
Lake Tahoe Community College

Dear Desiree:

AA is here to stay as the one basic voluntary group for dealing with alcoholism.

It seems that this will always be true. Your questions bring up some issues that indicate perhaps we need some additional programs, and certainly treatment approaches, in order to have a significant impact on alcoholism overall in our society.

As to your specific questions, one review by AA of its own surveys found only 5% of people who appeared at AA continued attending for a year. People might drop in and out and come back later, but only a small percentage of alcoholics get better through AA at any one time. As to whether NA/AA members consider themselves always to be alcoholics/addicts, did you ask any NA group members?

I believe this is the philosophy of 12-step groups, however, and most people who subscribe to the 12 steps accept this view.

As to whether people are telling the truth at meetings, for example when they slip, again you would need to ask people in the groups you attend. There is no doubt that this happens, however.

Oddly, if they are able to disguise their use (perhaps they used moderately), an alcoholic or addict would probably need to suppress this from the group.


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.


  • Aaron Cotter says:

    I cannot stand it!! My mother is a compulsive gambler, lost the house and all, yet at the time there were no rehabs for gambling in Melbourne Australia 18 yrs ago so as she drank 6 stubbies every night also was admitted as an alcoholic. I feel that from that day on when I was 12 I was also marred by the name. She refuses to accept that I’m not an alcoholic and I must have some issues. I don’t believe in God soon told make the as group your higher power. So hand over serious life decisions to your higher power (the AA group) don’t tell them what it is and presto! Presto what this is so ridiculously callable that I wish I’d stop being told I need the same help as people that believe in fairies do.

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