Another reason to stay away from AA

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on November 9th, 2010 - Last updated: October 11th, 2019
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Can a counselor use her personal knowledge that I have attended AA against me in a court proceeding?

Dear Stanton,

For the last couple of years I have attended A.A. meetings, not for alcoholism but for sober social support.

When I first started attending, I began to work the program on some of my issues not involving alcohol. My sponsor told me to identify as an alcoholic due to “the singleness of purpose of the program” and as showing respect for the group.

In the meantime I received a DWI on the night I accepted a marriage proposal and have been ordered by the courts to be evaluated by the local substance abuse program. I rarely drink, although I do have a distant history of drug abuse.

This “professional” counselor has diagnosed me as alcohol dependent needing inpatient treatment. One of her DSM criteria that I have supposedly met is the fact that I have attended A.A. meetings for years and failed.

Can she use her personal knowledge of my attendance as DSM criteria? Can I complain about this to anyone? I have never talked about drinking but I did identify as an alcoholic in a supposedly anonymous group.


Boy, this is why you should stay away from AA meetings.

DSM-IV does not include as a criterion of substance abuse attending AA or any other group.

The closest criterion is that there is a persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control substance use. Presumably, this clinician is claiming that attending AA shows you were trying to quit, but that you failed to do so, which is something like the DSM criterion, but not really.

Obviously, you are in the age-old dilemma that you have trapped yourself in the court system multiplied by diagnosis by some kooky recovering person — an incendiary combination.

You are also claiming a violation of confidentiality, in that the counselor knew you were attending AA, and used this in her assessment. A horrible nightmare. But I can see some court saying something like, “the counselor cannot ignore her plain knowledge that the defendant was attending AA.”

You probably are going to need an attorney and an independent assessment by an objective professional able to conduct such an assessment. But, for sure, your attending AA is going to be used against you, the concept “denial” will be thrown all over the place, and you have dug yourself a hole by having anything to do with 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.

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