Alcoholics CAN Be Cured – Despite AA

In episode 267 of Elevation Recovery, Matt Finch reads from the article “Alcoholics Can Be Cured – Despite A.A.” written by Dr. Arthur H. Cain. The article from 1964 goes over how this traditional 12-step program hinders its patients’ recovery process, and that it is possible to recover without the help of A.A.

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Matt Finch: ... the patient needs a different kind of understanding, an objective, dispassionate, clinical understanding that physicians, psychologists and pastoral counselors, not AA members, are trained to give. Only after he has undergone or rigorous and lengthy revision of his personality should he attempt to drink normally again, and then only if he desires to do so. After all, sobriety in itself is not a way of life. It is simply the absence of intoxication. It is what one does with his sobriety and his life that is important.

Announcer: Thanks for tuning in to the Elevation Recovery Podcast, your hub for addiction recovery strategies, hosted by Chris Scott and Matt Finch.

Matt Finch: Welcome to episode 267. This is Matt Finch, and in today's show I'm going to read through a really, really good article from September 19, 1964 in the Saturday Evening Post. The title of this article, Alcoholics Can Be Cured Despite AA, by Dr. Arthur H. Cain. Now, all I'm going to do in this episode is read off the article word for word. It's pretty darn long, so there's not going to be any time for commentary. However, I think this information is so amazing, and this was 1964. So let's see, that was what? 55 years ago ago. This was about maybe 20, 25 years, 20 years, something like that, after AA had already been originated. So without further ado, this has some really cool ideas in it. I don't agree with some of the stuff. I do agree with some of the other stuff, but now you can decide how you like it, what you think about it. Here we go.

Matt Finch: So again, Alcoholics Can Be Cured Despite AA by Arthur H. Cain, an expert charges that Alcoholics Anonymous has become a dogmatic cult that blocks medical progress and hampers many members' lives. "It is time we made a thorough investigation of Alcoholics Anonymous in the interest of our public health. AA is identified in the public mind as a God fearing fellowship of 350,000 arrested alcoholics who keep one another sober and rescue others from the horrors of alcoholism.

Matt Finch: Unfortunately, AA has become a dogmatic cult whose chapters too often turn sobriety into slavery to AA. Because as of its narrow outlook, alcoholics anonymous prevents thousands from ever being cured. Moreover, AA has retarded scientific research into one of America's most serious health problems.

Matt Finch: My own experience with AA began in 1947. As a psychologist and investigator into the causes and cure of uncontrolled drinking, I have attended about 500 AA meetings in over 40 states and a dozen foreign countries. At first, I was tremendously impressed with AA's altruistic efforts in alcoholic's behalf. Its members would perform prodigies of selfless service, no matter what the hour, by meeting the helpless and sodden in hospitals, flop houses and homes, offering their sympathy, a helping hand and their own example that temptation could be withstood.

Matt Finch: At the weekly meetings, which all AA members attended, there was a true sense of humility and a devout belief in God. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity and the fellowship of man, the original tenants of AA. New members were given the freedom to question AA's guiding principles codified in the 12 traditions and the 12 steps of recovery.

Matt Finch: Over the years, a disturbing change began to take place. As an increasing number of alcoholics joined AA chapters, many turned out to be misfits who had rejected Christianity, Judaism, or the Kiwanis Club. Dogmatic and opinionated in their non-belief, they found in AA an instrument for a new kind of bigotry. Their only meaning in life was that they had heroically become arrested alcoholics, arrogant egoists. They soon dominated any of AA's 10,000 chapters. Weekly meetings once spontaneous and exciting became formalized and ritualistic. Anyone who questioned AA's principles or even expressed curiosity was handed the slogan, utilize don't analyze, and told to sit down.

Matt Finch: The desire to help others degenerated. As one disheartened former a member told me, 'I felt nobody cared what happened to Mary W. I felt they were just interested in another alcoholic who would become another notch and their belts. I felt as if I was being pressed into serving their cause and building up their oligarchy.'

Matt Finch: With this growing dogmatism came a dark age's attitude toward any scientist who might differ with official AA doctrine. According to the AA litany, alcoholism is a physical disease which can never be cured. 'Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.' The corollary is 'A reformed alcoholic must live AA from day to day and never leave AA.'

Matt Finch: Actually, there's no scientific evidence that alcoholism is an incurable physical disease. According to current evidence, the origin of uncontrolled drinking is psychological. A person drinks to ease anxiety, depression, boredom, guilt, timidity, inarticulateness. An alcoholic learned to become one, he's not born that way. This means that many alcoholics can return to normal drinking without fear of ending up on skid row.

Matt Finch: Over the past 17 years, I have treated more than 50 alcoholics who no longer need to attend meetings or receive treatment. Most important, over 20 of my patients have learned to drink normally, to use alcohol as a beverage, not a psychological crutch.

Matt Finch: Yet when scientists have reported similar findings, AA members have often and set out to discredit them. In 1957 doctors, Melvin L Seltzer and William Holloway of the University of Michigan came up with a then startling report that 13 confirmed alcoholics had become social drinkers. Because of the pressure of an influential AA member, the state agency that provided the funds for the study virtually ordered the two scientists to omit what it called these 'embarrassing' findings. Dr. Seltzer published his findings anyways.

Matt Finch: In 1962 Dr. DL Davies, after a study at Moudsley Hospital in London, declared that seven men who had been alcoholics were able to drink normally after treatment. Some had been drinking without problems for as long as 11 years. Dr. Davies concluded that the generally accepted view that no alcohol addict can ever again drink normally should be modified. Some AA members branded the scientists report immoral because it might cause some members to drink.

Matt Finch: Dr. EM Jellinek, a co-founder of the Yale School of Alcohol Studies and a dean of researchers in the field of alcoholism until his death in 1963, was drawing on his own experience when he declared Alcoholics Anonymous have naturally created the picture of alcoholism in their own image, and there is every reason why the student of alcoholism should emancipate himself from accepting this exclusiveness as propounded by AA.

Matt Finch: Not only has AA interfered with scientific investigations, it has prevented medical and psychological treatment, which runs counter to its own theories. In one New York City hospital, for instance, the physicians preferred using Paraldehyde to treat acute intoxication. But then AA members implied that they would stop referring patients there if Paraldehyde was used. The doctors were persuaded to switch to another drug, chloral hydrate. As the physician in charge of the alcoholics ward explained, the AA nonscientists had discovered that Paraldehyde was a form of alcohol. Actually, chloral hydrate is the more toxic drug. In fact, its indiscriminate use in another New York hospital has left some patients more intoxicated upon discharge than when they were admitted.

Matt Finch: While AA adherence battle scientific inquiry that does not fit AA's narrow theories as chapters often attempt to assume control of members' lives, purporting to offer everything needed for human fulfillment. The fellowship now boasts of a ladies auxiliary, called Al-Anon, for spouses of members and even a division for members children, and Alateen. It suggests that the youngsters open their meetings by reciting this incantation, 'We will always be grateful to Alateen for giving us a way of life and a wonderful, healthy program to live by and enjoy!' Implied is the distressing theory that there is no other way of life for alcoholics except that of AA, a life in which every waking hour is devoted to the struggles for sobriety.

Matt Finch: The wife of a Texas member describes some unfortunate consequences of AA's creed that the struggle against alcohol must be the most important ambition in a member's life. 'This must be placed above wives or husbands, children, homes, or jobs. They must be ready to abandon these things at any time. The tragic part is, some of them, while searching for the sobriety and serenity, actually do exactly that.'

Matt Finch: How pervasive the obsession with AA can become was poignantly demonstrated by a patient who had come to me because of worries about her AA husband. He had proposed that they move their bed into the AA clubhouse so they might be 'available 24 hours a day in case an alcoholic wandered in.' For many members, of course, staying sober is a fierce challenge daily, but under the AA program, the lives of many are so sterile that their growth as human beings is hindered. Taught to rely on slogans and compulsive AA routine, some are unable to face the fact that they are alcoholics because they're psychologically sick. It is for this reason that many AA members never recover.

Matt Finch: A New Hampshire novelist and former AA member, who has been continuously sober for eight years, described this human waste when he wrote me. 'I have met members who are actually afraid to think. They have made a high fence of AA, which shuts them out from all pleasurable and vital aspects of life.'

Matt Finch: Behind the AA fence, the original principle that alcoholics must be humble before God has been turned into the dictum that alcoholics are God's chosen people. This theme is preached in meetings and through books and pamphlets. A typical illustration is a booklet titled Around the Clock With AA, published recently by an AA group in California. One passage declares, 'God, in his wisdom, selected this group of men and women to be the purveyors of his goodness. He went right to the drunkard, the so-called weakling of the world. Well, might He have said to us, "Unto your weak and feeble hands, I have entrusted power beyond estimate. To you has been given that which has been denied the most learned of your fellows, not to scientists or statesmen, not to wives or mothers, not even to my priests or ministers have I given this gift of helping other alcoholics, which I entrust to you."' Such idolatry causes the believer to see himself as all knowing and turns the missionary into the zealot.

Matt Finch: AA's create not only in fact its own members, but pervade public education. Most of what we hear or read about alcoholism is inspired by AA adherence spouting AA dogmas. City, state, and private agencies frequently fill all key posts with AA members. One western state actually requires that personnel assigned to its alcoholism program be AA members for at least two years. No professional experience is necessary.

Matt Finch: The AA philosophy also dominates the National Council on Alcoholism, the only nationwide public information agency on alcoholism. NCA, which is supported by public donations, has over 60 affiliated information committees scattered throughout the country. Although both NCA and AA deny that they are officially connected, many members of NCA staff and some directors are AA members. AA members service as directors in eight out of ten NCA information centers in the largest of cities in the United States. Thus it is not surprising that NCA continues to parrot the AA line that alcoholism is a 'progressive disease for which there is no known cure, but which can only be arrested.'

Matt Finch: Further, NCA and a series of radio and TV commercials actually stated that the American Medical Association had declared alcoholism to be a disease. Although the AMA has restricted itself to general statements that the alcoholic is 'sick.'

Matt Finch: Time and again, I have heard public figures recite AA, NCA myths and propaganda as if they were gospel. I once heard Arthur Flemming, former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, read verbatim a pronouncement on alcoholism which I knew had been prepared a year earlier by NCA's public relations firm. Flemming offered the now familiar 'statistic' that there are 5 million alcoholics in the United States. This figure is based on a study Dr. Jellinek of Yale conducted 18 years ago in a small community. He thought he had found that 3% of the population were alcoholics. NCA applied this percentage to the whole nation. Dr. Jellinek, a great physiologist but no statistician, repudiated his own formula in 1956. The 5 million figure is only a guess, for no scientific count of alcoholics has ever been made.

Matt Finch: While NCA issues well intended but sometimes questionable facts and theories, AA officials, when pressed, often hide behind the famous 10th tradition, which states 'Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues, hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.' This device enables members of AA to make outrageous assertions, which AA's headquarters promptly disavows when challenged. 'Many people I have tried to help,' said one Chicago member, 'Have abandoned the program just because they couldn't take the ex cathedra homilies on drugs, alcohol psychiatry, medicine, sociology, biology, to name a few subjects on which they speak with Authority.'

Matt Finch: Much of AA's failure can be blamed on a lack of forward thinking, constructive leadership. Writer Jerome Ellison recently spent several months as a paid consultant to AA evaluating the fellowship's publications and activities. At national headquarters in New York City, Ellison declared committee politics took up half the working day and gossip was venomous. Everybody was an expert, Ellis went on, 'With the cluster of ideas closed to amendment.' Ellison's most damning indictment concerned the rule made by AA's non-alcoholic board of trustees that no change can be made in AA's theories on alcoholism, even though they are nearly a quarter of a century old. 'Despite the fact that the rank and file teams with exciting, relevant, informed and and up to minute experience,' Ellison declared, 'None of it is permitted to appear in book form.' To publish such literature, it is felt, would be to risk heresy.

Matt Finch: Needless to say, I do not suggest that AA be abolished or that a single member quit. That AA helps many thousands stay sober is obvious, but Alcoholics Anonymous should return to its original purpose of being a much needed first aid station. The 'arrest' of uncontrolled drinking is the essential first step in becoming a recovered or cured alcoholic. During this critical period, the alcoholic needs the sympathy and understanding that only another alcoholic can give. But after three months or so, when the shakes have subsided and the cobwebs are beginning to clear, the recovering alcoholic should go ahead. He should not be taught that he must remain forever crippled and bound by the paralyzing concept, 'Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.'

Matt Finch: It is at this point that the patient needs a different kind of understanding, an objective, dispassionate, clinical understanding that physicians, psychologists and pastoral counselors, not AA members, are trained to give. Only after he has undergone a rigorous and lengthy revision of his personality should he attempt to drink normally again, and then only if he desires to do so. After all, sobriety in itself is not a way of life. It is simply the absence of intoxication. It is what one does with his sobriety and his life that is important." End of article.

Matt Finch: The reason I wanted to read this was because I had never found this article until recently. It's really amazing. It's got some very thought provoking ideas and it's good food for thought. As always, thanks so much for listening. We love you guys and we'll see you next time. Take care.


  • Chris Scott

    Chris Scott founded Fit Recovery in 2014 to help people from around the world dominate alcohol dependence and rebuild their lives from scratch. A former investment banker, he recovered from alcohol dependence using cutting-edge methods that integrate nutrition, physiology, and behavioral change. Today, Chris is an Alcohol Recovery Coach and the creator of an online course called Total Alcohol Recovery 2.0.

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