Non-AA help in the U.S. and overseas

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on April 20th, 2008 - Last updated: November 6th, 2020
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Non-AA help in the U.S. and overseas


I’m writing to you from [city deleted], Sweden. I like your integrity.

I joined the MM list some weeks ago as I searched the Internet for alternatives to addictions as well as AA. I drank a lot from age 22 to 42 but always kept job, family, etc. When, during those 20 years, I was drinking too much, I put in abstinent periods of 1 – 6 months.

Then I encountered AA, 11 years ago. It’s alright to be sober and I like the God part. What I dislike are some members who use the fellowship as a sect and the program as a cult.

I’m not too interested in the drinking as such BUT I’m very interested to make my own decisions as to have a glass of good red wine, a glass of pernod or a glass of calvados. It’s hard intellectually to buy the disease concept.

Half a year ago I started Tai Chi Chuan that’s a lot of finding a third way between the extremes.

So what advice do you give me and what reading do you recommend for me? I’m a BA in Finance including Philosophy and Psychology. If you could give me names of researchers in Sweden then that would help me. As I know they are not buying AA’s concept as such. There is lots of talk about spontaneous recovery. If that gives room for some drinking I don’t know. I’m also interested to work with these questions if and only if there are alternative ways to handle alcohol problems, but not to just say be abstinent to all.



Dear H:

Thanks for the compliment.

You have had an interesting experience. You benefited from AA, but you don’t like a cult-like group that prescribes abstinence for all, which is what AA is like. You like the God part, which is one reason that many reject AA. There are two groups, Rational Recovery and SMART Recovery ( which recommend abstinence but which reject AA’s spirituality/ religious aspects. Obviously, they are not for you.

Moderation Management (, which you have found, also doesn’t emphasize spirituality, but it does accept drinking choices by people recovering from a drinking problem. So you have found a group which agrees with your aims. However, do you require a group to meet with regularly? If so, are there MM (or similar) groups in Stockholm? Are you uncomfortable continuing in AA, or can you accept what they offer you while ignoring the cult-like parts?

Spontaneous remission means that most people recover from drinking problems without entering therapy or joining any groups. When people quit drinking on their own, rather than through therapy or AA, they usually cut back their drinking, rather than abstaining.

Several Swedish researchers have shown in addition that most “socially stable” alcoholics adopt moderate drinking as they age, even after they have been hospitalized for alcohol dependence. These researchers are named Göran Nordström, M. Berglund, and A. Õjehagen at the Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital, Lund, Sweden. (I discuss their research at my site in an article entitled “Why do controlled-drinking outcomes vary by country…”, which is a little technical, at Section I in my Library.)

I have written a book entitled “The truth about addiction and recovery” (published by Simon & Schuster). Martha Sanchez-Craig, who is at the Addiction Research Foundation in Toronto, also has a book entitled Saying When: How to Quit Drinking or Cut Back. Other American books on the topic of AA’s limitations and alternative routes to recovery are More Revealed, by Ken Ragge and Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure, by Charles Bufe (both available from See Sharp Press, San Francisco), and How to Quit Drinking Without A.A. by Jerry Dorsman.

Your desire to be free to drink or not as you choose is possible. And I understand your desire to have this freedom. Have you drunk alcohol at all since you entered AA? You may try, and of course the point is to be sensitive to the results. You sound as though you only want to drink occasionally, on special occasions. If so, check that you are accomplishing this goal. You may always revert to abstinence, for a short or long time, if your “experiment” is not succeeding. People do this all the time.

I enclose a letter I received from someone who, like you, chose to drink. He actually worked in a treatment center where everyone had to abstain. He appears to be younger than you, and he is American, so his experience may not be comparable. But what you may find worthwhile is his expression of the beauty of the freedom of choice, which he was able to accomplish. The most important ingredients for any type of successful outcome for drinking are (1) that you seek it intensely and (2) that it fits comfortably with your values and lifestyle.

The letter is as follows:

Dr. Peele:I stumbled across your web site, but I was familiar with your work already. I wanted to write you a letter and let you know that your book, “The Truth About Addiction and Recovery” was a great relief to me when I found it.

I am what some would call a recovering drug addict, though I would not prefer to characterize myself that way. In fact, I discovered your book at a time when I had trying to distance myself from the connotations that others were attempting to attach to me.

I was studying social work and was employed by a disease concept based chemical dependency hospital at the time and I was extremely frustrated by the religious fervor that was attached to Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 step approach to “recovery.”

I was first hospitalized at 17 for marijuana dependency. Unlike many of the people I saw hospitalized while working in the field, I am certain that in­patient treatment was necessary to intervene in my case, as I was suffering from extreme life disruption. The chance to get away from my environment long enough to reassess things was very good for me.

What was much less helpful, and, I feel, even detrimental for my recovery, was being beaten over the head with the concepts of “powerlessness” and “God” and being told that I needed to be around these other drug addicts/alcoholics if I wanted to succeed. Even at my young age I was sufficiently intelligent and rational to understand that my treatment was not based in any kind of sound science or rational approach to personal lifestyle modification.

Three more hospitalizations ensued over a period of years, while I struggled with my emotional problems and the drugs I used to mask them. I was extremely unhappy with my life and with my inability to find some sort of meaning and purpose, but I was slowly changing my outlook on life.

After my last hospitalization I made a conscious decision that I was not going to participate in Alcoholics Anonymous or any other 12 step program. I focused myself upon learning about my interests and my creative abilities to deal with problems. My “friends” in AA attempted to browbeat me into returning to their fold “for my own good” and told me that I was bound to fail.

Well, that failure didn’t come. I left that depressing city for the university and immersed myself in the joys of learning and exploring the wonders of life and knowledge. All the while maintaining abstinence and developing better and better coping mechanisms. I surrounded myself with non­addict people who were intelligent and creative. Slowly, I began to feel like I “belonged” to a community I enjoyed.

I moved to another city after that year of university life and continued my education while finding a full­time job at a chemical dependency center. At this point I’d been abstinent for 3 years and had finally discarded the Alcoholics Anonymous disease myth. I had been getting very good grades, but was becoming disillusioned with my career choice. The disease concept and dependency on AA for therapeutic treatment was firmly entrenched in the program and I increasingly found myself at odds with staff’s milieu.

Three months into my job at the hospital, I drank approximately 4 ounces of wine with my girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. She was shocked, but pleasantly so, as was I. AA would have condemned me for my relapse, but I honestly had never felt quite so free. It was a wonderful moment on a wonderful night and I felt absolutely no guilt.

I continued to work at the hospital for 2 1/2 years while drinking. My pattern was mostly a stable 2 to 5 drinks on the weekends with friends at parties and get togethers. All of these friends were intelligent college students and none knew of my previous drug addiction, nor saw anything pathological in my current drinking patterns.

My work performance at the hospital was extremely competent and reliable. I received several excellent performance reviews and I was commended for my rapport with the adolescents. I continued to follow the program doctrine of abstinence as a goal for all of our patients, but encouraged everyone to seek internal motivations for their recovery and to try to realize what social rules are necessary for them to “get along” and which ones in which they must follow their own heart. I was far less interested in hearing an adolescent regurgitate his (often feigned) commitment to eternal sobriety than in helping him/her think of practical ways of dealing with life.

It has now been over 5 years since I abandoned abstinence. I feel happier than ever and I have begun to develop many aspects of my life that rigidity had kept me from exploring before. I feel more relaxed, less fearful, more profoundly impressed with the human experience. Everyone who knows me considers me a success story, yet I’m sure the folks in AA would come up with some rationalization about why I haven’t failed…*yet*.

Life and consciousness are extremely profound phenomena. I honestly believe that altered states can provide us human beings with a means of transcendence and hope for ourselves and our world. To deny vibrant curious minds access to these wonderful states in the name of a hollow morality is truly a major transgression against human nature.

I seem to have somehow found my balance with these mood altering substances. I live in a city that I love, I have a number of wonderful friends who share many of my interests and joys. I hold down a professional job and express the wonder I feel at being alive in this amazing world.

It was only when I allowed myself to trust my inner self (the exact opposite of AA dogma) did I realize that my heart and the wisdom and love within it could create a new order for my life, free from the tyranny of mainstream American expectations. Your book was the first thing I had ever read from the field that validated my experiences. Let me tell you that it was wonderful to read something that didn’t try to attack me as hopeless and weak.

Thanks again for your inspirational writings!

See also Heretic in a 12 step treatment system

Dear Stanton:

A year ago I asked you about “Non-AA help in the U.S. and overseas” as I intended to start drinking again after 11 nondrinking years in AA . The reason was that I wanted to be free to make my own choices and to have a glas of good wine occasionaly.

I’d like to tell you that your advise was most helpful and that I have been drinking moderately since then. I have had support from MM, which you recommended, and my family finds me more tolerant, less angry and less perfection seeking.

Thank you very much for your well-informed advise a year ago.


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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