“You could try AA, but they’re a funny lot. And you alcoholics tend to be a clever bunch …” So said the counsellor my friend was seeing about her problem drinking. She was flattered: “Oh, how we alcoholics love to be told that we’re extra-clever!”. AA, it seemed, was cultish, prescriptive, quite possibly exploitative, and clearly to be avoided. It was another four years before she overcame her prejudices, went to AA and found a way out of drinking.
Like many GPs, I didn’t encourage patients to go to AA, and I wonder how many lives we condemn as a consequence. Most organisations dealing with alcohol problems are run by professionals whose approach we understand. For us, AA doesn’t fit in the box. A bunch of recovering drunks helping other drunks? Can you imagine the patient who sits by the war memorial with cans of Tennent’s Super standing up to say “I am Pete and I am an alcoholic”? The businessman saying “I am Simon and I am an alcoholic”? What about the religiosity of AA’s ‘Twelve Steps’ programme? It’s not going to work.
But it does. Talking to people who have quit drinking through AA has opened my eyes, and if this article sounds like an advertisement, it’s because I think we fail our patients if we don’t give them a realistic picture of an organisation which might be the answer for them. AA works. Not for everyone, of course, and there have been no controlled trials, but many people can testify to its efficacy.