Does AA cause suicides?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on January 30th, 2008 - Last updated: September 29th, 2023
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Dear Stanton Peele,

I have spent the last two hours on your your web site, which I found from the Smart Recovery web site, and I am incredibly, gratefully, hopefully impressed. It’s a sad world that does not make your name a household word.

Did you become a lawyer to get inside the legal battles in regards to addiction treatment and mandatory AA meetings? I have watched beautiful, vibrant, intelligent, yet addicted people become bland, reactionary, sober people due to forced involvement with 12 step groups.

My youngest brother, a 15 year old clinically depressed pot smoker, was required to attend 20 AA meetings in 30 days by an alternative high school for “troubled teenagers.” One of the last things he said to his friends before he committed suicide was, “staying sober is too hard.” AA had convinced him that smoking a joint was a fate worse than death, proved him powerless and addicted, and in his depressed state, he believed it. I wish I would have know about REBT, CBT, RR, MM, SMART or any of the other alternatives to 12 steps and “family systems therapy” back then…

Thanks for reading and best wishes,
Sonya Trejo


Thanks for your most excellent message. Among the many valuable things you point out are the unacknowledged casualties from 12-step approaches. I always say that AA is like God — both only get credit for the good associated with their names. But there is a tremendous cost from the many downsides of 12-step groups — the guilt they inspire among those who cannot “get with the program,” their insistence on lifetime labeling, the incestuous relationships (often sexually active) that they encourage. Your younger brother’s suicide is far from the first I am aware of among AA members. We cannot say that AA causes suicide — only that there is tremendous “denial” among AA advocates that such things happen, and thus they are completely unable to anticipate and prevent such harms when they begin to occur.

To illustrate, let me relate a story from one of my favorite research publications, the Star (April 6, 1999 — it is significant that this story would be unlikely to be featured on mainstream media). Robert Pastorelli is an actor best known for playing a house painter who never finishes painting the home of the title character on the TV series Murphy Brown (who was played as a successful Betty Ford Clinic graduate by Candice Bergen). His lover and the mother of his year-old child, Charemon Jonovich, shot herself in the head in front of Pastorelli.

According to the Star, the two met at AA. “They frequently attended AA meetings together” where they “openly discussed their often volatile relationship.” (Think of the repercussions if the woman had killed herself while attending a controlled-drinking clinic!) The article described the dead woman as a high school athlete who didn’t “wear makeup, drink or go to parties” until she came to Los Angeles. She was 25 when she killed herself — Pastorelli was 44 — suggesting that she was not much older than 21 when she first attended AA and met her last lover.

In general, placing young people in AA is scary, if not abusive.  I once attended a suicide prevention program run by the professional in charge of substance abuse programs in my school district.  I asked her how many suicides had occurred in our district.  In her tenure of about a decade, there had been one she knew about.

The boy who killed himself played on my son’s soccer team. A slender, gifted athlete, he floated around the field like the wind.  When I heard that he had joined AA at age 14, I was shocked.  He blew his brains out in front of his home during the season.  I learned that his parents were divorced, his father lived in Japan, and his mother had remarried and had more children.

My son said he understood why this boy committed suicide.  He said he thought it was because he was so religious (the boy prayed before each game).  I told my son: “Only when your religion is against you can it cause you to kill yourself.”


Further Reading

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.


  • Anonymous says:

    I was often calling the Samaratins when I was attending 12 step meetings as I often wanted my life to end when going there and doing the suggestions. I felt so lonely, isolated, abused, trapped, confused, heart- broken, wound-up, misunderstood, looked down on, unequal, abnormal, unworthy and unlovable while going there. It’s been over 3yr since I gave 12-step meetings a try.

    After the last meeting I went to I knew that this way of recovery was doing me more harm than good. I have not gone back Its been over 3yrs now I no longer feel like ending my life. I now enjoy my life. I feel worthy now I am busy and happy in my life and content.

  • Anonymous says:

    Total Bullshit! Stanton Peele has never attended an A.A. meeting, or has, and finds that his livelihood is threatened by a free, peer-based program.

    Stanton sounds like a Scientologist, cult, predator to me

    • Dee Cloward - LPP Coach says:

      Thanks for your comments. Free peer support is awesome as long as the messages support practical, sustainable improvements in life along its many dimensions. Many people find AA life-saving. For many others it does not offer a helpful framework, given their personal histories, beliefs and values.

      Science finds that having a choice in approach to addiction treatment and recovery that resonates with the individual improves the odds of success. SAMHSA has long embraced, and last summer the White House affirmed, commitment to supporting the “many pathways to recovery.” SMART Recovery (among many newer alternatives) offers free evidence-based peer support meetings that generally align well with the Life Process Program’s approach.

      Dee – LPP Coach

  • Mark C. says:

    I have been in and out of AA for 40 years and this is the first I have heard of an alternate treatment for alcoholism. I admit that most of my AA has been court ordered and I yearned for the day I could quit as much as I yearned for a way to control my drinking.

    I know of two friends who have taken their lives while many years in the program.

    I have managed to accumulate 5 yrs sobriety at this time, but it is still a daily and constant struggle, and I too sometimes think of being out from under this pressure either by drinking or as they say in AA “the jumping off point, when your realize you can’t live with it or without it”.

    Drug therapy such as anti depressants or antibuse seems like a trade off of one evil for another. Ones ability to rely solely on a Higher Power and AA members company on a daily basis seems to also be a trade off between one daily need for another, and again leads me to realize that I lack freedom of choice, which to me is the basis of a life worth living.

    So if I can say one thing about sobriety that keeps me going, is that now I live for others in my life that I love. As limited a purpose as that is, I no longer hurt them by my actions when drinking, and I remain here for them to do as much good as I can for them.

    If sacrifice for others is now my daily burden, then I will bear it without complaint and see if it makes me fulfilled enough to continue on.

    • websiteni-admin says:


      We are a program with gifted coaches who have dealt with numerous people in situations like yours.

      Only we wouldn’t put it in such negative terms as you do: “So if I can say one thing about sobriety that keeps me going, is that now I live for others in my life that I love. As limited a purpose as that is, I no longer hurt them by my actions when drinking, and I remain here for them to do as much good as I can for them.”

      We think that love of a family is a primary reason that people maintain their “sobriety.” Only we don’t use the word “sobriety.” We think rather in terms of embracing all of life. But family and loved ones are certainly a primary point in that universe!

      I think that if you worked with our program such as ours, you’d begin to see that there’s a whole, wide, wonderful world out there for you to engage with. In fact, you’ve already begun that positive process yourself!

      Best wishes,

  • James says:

    I’ve often thought of this in the car going to AA and witnessing how many are suicidal.

    Of course, I also wondered if maybe they were suicidal before AA or had some general disposition to both being a heavy drinker and suicidal.

    However, witnessing people who recover without AA or using other approaches, do not seem to be as depressed or suicidal as those in AA (even the ones with long-term sobriety), but this is just an observation.

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