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According to AA's 1989 Triennial Membership Survey 5% of newcomers continue past the first year, 50% drop out within 30 days. Here is why:

(1992) Ceane Willis, Ph.D., and David Gastfriend, M.D., "Alternatives in Self-Help: Reasons for Discontinuation of AA by Problem Drinkers," Harvard Medical School at Massachusetts General Hospital) analysis of 223 questionnaires submitted by readers of a Rational Recovery book, The Small Book. 89% were abstinent, 89% were AA dropouts for the following reasons: religious content (51%), were unhelped (18%), social conflict (16%), powerlessness idea (12%), lifelong dependency on AA (19%), mistreated in the program (7%), depressing (15%). 39% held mainstream religious beliefs.

This was probably the first serious inquiry into the recidivism that characterizes the recovery group movement. The group typically interprets rejection of the 12-step program as symptoms of addictive disease, i.e., "in denial," "just want's to drink some more," "angry," "dry drunk," "constitutionally incapable," "a poor unfortunate," or explained away with, "Some are sicker than others." When people leave AA, as the large majority do, it is with the grim prediction that they will inevitably drink self-destructively and disintegrate. The thousands who call Rational Recovery, however, do not present the lack of motivation or other pathology attributed by the recovery group. Indeed, when they got fed up and left AA, they continued seeking a solution to the problem by contacting RR. Very significantly, they were not on a downward trajectory, but upward bound. In this limited study of self-selected respondents, 89% were abstinent. Coupled with the fact that 95% of AA newcomers drop out within one year, 50% within 30 days, we can see that the prospects for recovery are greatly improved by dissociating from addiction recovery groups and accepting personal responsibility for permanent abstinence. Whatever positive outcomes the recovery group movement reports, they are dwarfed by the success of individuals who recover on their own.

The 95% first-year dropout rate is bothersome to many who doubt that such figures exist. Alas, they were obtained from AA's 1989 Triennial Membership Survey. The 1996 TMS flyer, however, makes no mention of membership attrition. Interestingly, the only requirement for membership in AA is set forth, "...the desire to stop drinking." While the desire to stop is very important, the desire to quit seems more suited to the vexing problem of alcohol or drug addiciton. Anyone can stop, but stop signs rarely result in the end of a journey.

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