Alcoholics Anonymous is the most widely used treatment for alcoholism. It is mandated by the courts, accepted by mainstream medicine, and required by insurance companies. AA is generally assumed to be the most effective treatment for alcoholism, or at least “an” effective treatment. That assumption is wrong.
We hear about a few success stories, but not about the many failures. AA’s own statistics show that after 6 months, 93% of new attendees have left the program. The research on AA is handily summarized in a Wikipedia article. A recent Cochrane systematic review found no evidence that AA or other 12 step programs are effective.
The 1992, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey studied 42,000 Americans. 4500 had been dependent on alcohol at some time in their lives. Of these, only 27% had had treatment of any kind, and one-third of those who had been treated were still abusing alcohol. Of those who had never had any treatment, only one-quarter were still abusing alcohol. George Bush is a well-known example of someone who stopped drinking on his own without attending AA and without admitting that he was an alcoholic.
To me what matters is finding solutions that work. It is known that the success rates for treating addiction are not great no matter what treatments are used. We certainly should be doing more study of the effectiveness of various treatment methods to improve the success rates people experience. The impact on people’s lives is too large to rely on whoever markets better to end up being the deciding factor.