May I question AA members?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on October 23rd, 2010 - Last updated: November 21st, 2023
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Dear Stanton:

Do I have the right to ask the recovering alcoholic questions about his recovery?



That’s an ethics question.

But let me put it this way — if a recovering alcoholic presents him/herself as a model of recovery and lectures others about how to overcome their drinking problems, then surely it is right to question and contest their version of reality when you think it is wrong or unhelpful. Too often people who do not buy AA or the recovering alcoholic’s version of reality simply keep silent, thus depriving others of an alternative viewpoint.

When questioning such a person, I often find that asking the most basic questions about their recovery produces answers widely at variance with what AAers would have you believe. Here are some of my favorite questions:

  1. Did you stop drinking as a result of AA? That is, did you stop drinking first and then attend AA, or how long after attending AA did you quit drinking? What actually made you stop drinking? How many times had you been to AA before it worked for you?
  2. What percentage of people in your experience who come to AA are helped by it and end up staying with it? What percent of people who come to AA in your view either continue to drink or drink again at some point after coming to AA? Do people ever resolve a drinking problem without AA? What percentage of problem drinkers succeed without AA?
  3. Do you think all individuals who have a drinking problem should be in AA? Do you think people who attend AA are less likely to become controlled drinkers than people with a drinking problem who never attend AA? Which problem drinkers do you think are least well-suited for AA? What alternatives are available for such people or should be available to such people?
  4. Do you think private treatment is helpful for problem drinkers and alcoholics? What percentage of private treatment centers practice the 12-step approach, in your experience? If private treatment centers practice the same philosophy as AA, why do people need private treatment in addition to or in place of AA, especially considering that AA is free?
  5. Has AA ever harmed a person? What happens to people who drop out of AA? If a person were to control their drinking and come to AA, how would AA members treat him or her? Do you think most AA members accept other approaches to drinking problems? Do you think that alcoholism counselors and heads of treatment programs must themselves be AA members?



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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