Why Some Hate AA’s 12 Step Rehab Approach


Why Some Hate AA’s 12 Step Rehab Approach

With more than 115,000 chapters worldwide, Alcoholics Anonymous is the world’s largest alcohol support group. Despite the longevity of the group’s existence, there seems to be a disconnect between the 12 step rehab program and many who attend the meetings. While statistics from Alcoholics Anonymous boast an estimated 45 percent of members remaining sober for at least five years, addiction specialists disagree with those statistics. Addiction experts estimate AA’s success rate between eight and 12 percent. While alternative treatment, like a holistic treatment center Arizona, is available, many rely on AA to pull them from the grasp of alcoholism, only to find it may not be the type of treatment they need.

God’s (“as we understood him”) 12 step Rehab Program

In a world where we fight to break through labels and identify as individuals seeking our own paths, taking part in an alcoholic support group that strongly relies on the power of God – or a source of a higher power – can create an internal struggle for some attendees. Just shy of 20 percent of Americans say they do not believe in God, or, at best, they’re not sure if God exists. The beauty of living in the U.S. is we each get to make that determination for ourselves, but when it comes to treating alcoholism, it can create a divide.

“Honestly, all that religious talk turned me off,” explained one meeting attendee to Current Psychiatry. And the truth is, he’s not alone. “One of patients’ most common complaints about 12-step meetings is their surprise at how ‘religious’ the programs are,” the article states. While those who find solace in the AA meetings will clarify the practice as “spiritual” and not “religious,” it can be a tough distinction for those who simply desire support while overcoming addiction. Agnostic, atheistic, and otherwise spiritually indifferent patients may struggle to overcome the reliance on “God as I understand him” and the heavy reliance on prayer and seeking a higher power outlined in the AA 12-steps.

Stigma of AA

Even if the dependence on spiritual guidance isn’t a deal-breaker for attendees, fighting the socioeconomic stigma of the meetings can be a struggle. For some, the stereotypical depiction of a room full of chain-smokers and black-coffee drinkers is a reality.

“The meeting was like sitting in a chimney – I practically choked to death,” described an attendee of an AA meeting. In order to find a successful path to lasting addiction recovery, it’s essential that each member is comfortable. While the experience may be unwelcomed at first, especially for those not yet accepting of their drug or alcohol reliance, a welcoming and clean environment eliminates at least one barrier for attendees.

AA as the Only Way

For many alcoholics and individuals, AA is touted as the one path to sobriety. With more than 2 million members worldwide, it’s easy to note Alcoholics Anonymous as an instant route to success. However, the 12 step rehab approach that AA follows doesn’t consider the unique situations of its many members.

For example, it’s estimated that 50 to 70 percent of those who suffer from alcohol use disorder will also suffer during their lifetime from a comorbid psychiatric disorder, like depression or anxiety. The organization isn’t staffed with leaders who have the professional training to handle those conditions. Even with AA, if a member suffers from a mental health disorder and doesn’t independently seek counseling or medication, they run a much greater risk of staying dependent on alcohol.

AA’s belief that dependency should be treated without prescription drugs could hinder a member from seeking the professional or medical help needed for a comorbid disorder. Even the American judicial system is dependent on AA. In many courts, those convicted of a DUI or other drug or alcohol-related crime will be forced to attend AA meetings. So much so, that 12 percent of meeting attendees are there due to a court order.

It’s important for those struggling with alcohol or drug addiction to realize there is more than one path to sobriety. A customized 12 step rehab plan is available for those who desire a more comprehensive treatment.

Holistic Treatment Center Arizona

With Springboard Recovery, a holistic treatment center Arizona, our unique holistic techniques are meant to address the needs of the mind, body, and spirit.

Art is used by the caring staff at Springboard Recovery and has been studied extensively as a proven method to allow participants to express themselves without words. Morning meditation and yoga also aid in the detoxification process.

The beauty in discovering a 12 step rehab that allows you to customize the plan to your preferences is knowing you’ll receive a holistic approach to your wellbeing. The highly skilled and supportive addiction specialists at Springboard Recovery seek counseling options that specifically work for you. Contact our staff today to learn more about our holistic treatment center program.


  1. Alcoholics Anonymous: https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/p-48_membershipsurvey.pdf
  2. The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/the-surprising-failures-of-12-steps/284616/
  3. Los Angeles Times: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2011-mar-03-la-heb-sheen-aa-20110302-story.html
  4. Pew Research Center: https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/belief-in-god/
  5. Alcoholics Anonymous: https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/smf-121_en.pdf
  6. Springer Link: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40429-015-0076-5
  7. The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/04/the-irrationality-of-alcoholics-anonymous/386255/
  8. NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279641/
  9. Verywell mind: https://www.verywellmind.com/the-twelve-steps-63284
  10. WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/what-is-holistic-medicine

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JUNE 17, 2019

Robert Castan is a member of the Executive Leadership Team at SpringBoard Recovery. Robert started his professional career as a house manager and has become an industry leader and trusted voice in the treatment world. He brings extensive knowledge of organizational growth, industry-leading outcomes, and comprehensive marketing to SpringBoard Recovery. Robert has been walking his own path of recovery for over 10 years. This path has truly driven his ambition to help make treatment available to others who are struggling with addiction. Robert finds great joy in traveling and keeping physically active, with an emphasis on biking. Robert resides in Arizona with his husband and two four-legged children.

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