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