Jack and I have a lot of respect for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other alcohol addiction treatments because we have both benefitted immensely from them. We are amazed by, and thankful for, in particular, AA’s reach, which helps it serve 2 million people. It’s astounding that in any decently-sized city in the U.S. there is an AA group available for people seeking help. But, unfortunately, AA hasn’t changed much over the last 70 years, and hasn’t adapted its program to account for new developments in psychology, which can mean the difference between success and failure for new program participants.
For instance, we know now that the mental picture we have of ourselves dictates, in many ways, behaviors and actions. To stand up in AA meeting after AA meeting and say “I am an alcoholic” reinforces that mindset. It keeps people in the state of acting like an alcoholic, instead of performing behaviors that lead to conquering addiction. When Jack and I created our program, we did so with a focus on eliminating the idea that someone is a “recovering” or “recovered” alcoholic. Instead, we encourage participants to start practicing seeing and referring to themselves as the person they want to be. When they start to believe this new vision of themselves is possible, their actions naturally begin to align more closely with it. It’s about defining yourself in the future, not in the past.
Another belief that AA has always stood behind was their stance on abstinence. We believe their focus on total abstinence and the overall inability for any alcoholic drinker to ever be able to drink again needs to be reconsidered. Thousands of hours of our research have shown that some people who currently have a drinking problem can return to normal drinking. But AA’s focus on total abstinence in perpetuity isn’t just factually wrong, it also keeps many people who haven’t hit “rock bottom” from seeking help because they aren’t yet prepared to commit to giving up alcohol forever.
In fact, shortly after the release of our book The 30-Day Sobriety Solution, we met with a rehab center that initially was skeptical of our program. However once they gave this idea consideration, they came to the unsettling realization that it was possible they turned away countless people that needed help, only because they couldn’t initially accept sobriety as a lifelong practice.
You shouldn’t (and don’t) need to hit rock bottom to start getting help. No matter the extent of your issue, you can start getting help today. That’s why we focus on getting buy-in for just 30 days. Once you’ve successfully done 30 days, the skills you learn will make 90 days, 900 days, or 90 years will seem like a cakewalk. This construction of the program also allows us to keep the perspective to recognize that not everyone who currently has a drinking problem always will.
There is one more common scenario we see play out within the rooms of AA. Because of their focus on abstinence, and counting continuous days of sobriety, members tend to feel an incredible amount of guilt and shame if they relapse. We have found this to be a central part of the AA culture and we feel this attitude can be very dangerous.
Instead of helping the problem drinker to let go of guilt and shame so they can look at their drinking from an honest and healthy approach, this attitude cultivates feelings of failure and the desire to either “make the most” of their relapse by continuing to drink, since they have to start back at day 1 again, or continue to hide from their shame and embarrassment by continuing to drink. To us, that slip-up is not a failure but a lesson. We consider slip-ups to be opportunities to further your own knowledge about your relationship to alcohol, and the triggers that cause you to drink. With feedback it becomes easier to fight our urges and understand why we have them.
This might seem a little too lovey-dovey for a serious problem like alcoholism, but conquering addiction becomes a lot easier when you are working with your body to develop a better understanding of it, instead of against. In fact, the success rate of our trial program for The 30 Day Sobriety Solution was significantly better than various reported success rates of AA. We have a lot of respect for Alcoholics Anonymous, but as practitioners in the field and people whose lives have been impacted by alcohol, in different but powerful ways, we feel the need to improve upon it, and hope you’ll join us on this journey.