AA’s Success Rate

AA Success RateI was having a conversation with a co-worker. He graduated last year with a degree in psychology and is currently making steps to return to school to get his doctoral degree. I went to him because I had a question regarding an article I was reading. The article labeled AA as a failure because it is undirected group therapy.

Here is what he replied: “AA just doesn’t work. It has like a 98 percent failure rate.”

So I asked… “Which AAs are included in the studies of failure? I mean, who’s counted? Court appointed, once a week meeting goers, does that qualify someone as AA? Or is it based on a people who already have a foothold in the program? Over what period of time was the study? Cause over the course of a lifetime, people who come and go, sometimes come back and stay.”

Now, I have to cut my co-worker some slack. He really is an intelligent and charming individual. He just doesn’t know what he is talking about. And here’s the thing; I don’t think most doctors or psychologists or normies do. The people who tend to know the most about our disease of alcoholism and addiction seem to be us, the ones who have it (or at least the ones who know they have it). Doctors and psychologists seem to have no more insight into alcoholism than they had eighty years ago.

So, here is my totally unprofessional opinion regarding recidivism. I started out in AA totally wasted with a zero chance of not drinking for the rest of the day. I mean every day I wanted not to drink, but every night I ended up drunk. By myself, I had zero chance. Then one day, a miracle happened, and I had just a smidgen more willpower or disgust or stubbornness or something than I had just a few moments before. I don’t know how long this miracle lasts. For some people, I suspect it only lasts a few minutes. So, in those few moments, I needed to do something.

I think if I started at 0% and went to a meeting, I go up to about 5%. I start praying or else tapping into some kind of faith that maybe, just maybe, I can be sober for the rest of the day. I help someone. I am at 20%. I read the Big Book. 25%. Changing people, places, and things adds a few more percentage points. Sober living gives me lot more percentage points. Now, I’m up to 50%. I get a boyfriend, and I fall back down to 40%. I get sober friends who themselves are dedicated to being sober, and then I tell them everything that makes me cry at night. Back up to 50%. I get a sponsor. And I work the steps. And then I work them again. And then I work them again. And now I am 8 years sober.

I told my sweetie about what my co-worker said about AA not working. My love said, “I don’t care what he says. AA has a 100% success rate for me. And that’s all I really care about.” And he’s right.

I went that night to chair my usual meeting. It’s a small group, intimate. I’ve been sitting in a that room with some of these people a couple days a week for years now. I know them. I know their weaknesses and failures, their successes and growth.

About halfway through the hour, I looked out upon the group and started counting up years. B has 30-some years. S has another 20. B and A have 5. C has 4. J is closing in on a year. And R has come back and now has 5 months. And over there, in the corner, my sweetie has eight years.

Psychologists all over the world can tell me AA doesn’t work. What I know, is in that moment, in that meeting at 10:30 on a Wednesday night, ten people who normally would have been drunk weren’t. And to me, that’s 100% success rate.

18 thoughts on “AA’s Success Rate

  1. i have seen a couple articles about how aa doesn’t work and percentage of people that don’t make it.
    But it says in the reading rarely have we seen a person fail that has thoroughly followed our path


  2. I think one thing that skews those numbers a lot is the court system. When you get a DWI they assign you to go to AA like once a week (which is the minimum to be counted in this study). Now those of us who have been around know that not everyone who gets a DWI is A. an alcoholic or B. wanting to change. Now the irony is not lost on me that I came from the court system, but my judge understood what AA was about. 180 meetings in a 180 days and after that 5 times a week. I became friends with him after the fact and he told me going for 6 months meant building a life for yourself in sobriety. As bad as things were for me, I can honestly tell you if I would have been assigned to go to “classes” once a week…I would not be celebrating 5 years next month.


    • Hey Kevin, Thank you for your comment. There are arguments out there that the assigning of AA as part of probation is totally unconstitutional. I rarely bring this up, though, because I hate giving alcoholics another reason not to attend. I feel safe here because anyone who reads this is probably already committed to the process. Do you have an opinion?


      • It doesn’t bother me at all, but again I am clearly biased. My thinking goes along the lines of most everything during my probation time…”my best thinking got me here” (cliche’ I know, but applicable).

        Scrap my case and thinking, Lets say someone gets there first DUI, I am going to assume you are not on a good path. You may not be an alcoholic, or one yet, but I would say that you are making poor decisions in your life. So, if assigning someone to AA “classes” helps them along these lines and straights them out a bit awesome. Or, if they continue down their road they now no where they can go.

        See for me at the worst of the worst (right before I was arrested) I really didn’t know of a solution. I didn’t know there were more AA groups than bars in my neighborhood. I didn’t know there was a website I could search my zip code and it told me where to go. To be honest AA never crossed my mind, because I didn’t know where AA was. To me this is a bit of a flaw in our anonymity part and probably a reason I am open about my recovery. Not that I flaunt AA, but yes I have recovered from drugs and alcohol and I have no problem telling people that (much to my mother’s chagrin).

        So I guess I side that it is ok, it may just raise a few people’s bottom’s and that is a good thing. It may straighten a few heavy drinkers out also good and it will let people know, who are heading down our path, where to go and what it’s like to walk through the door. My 2 cents.


  3. Yes, it works well…for some. Intelligence says we look at facts, even if we don’t like them. AA does not work for many. I’m a substance abuse counselor who is also in recovery. Some of my friends like AA, some don’t, some have tried it for years with no success. Same for my clients.
    Me? I align much more with the principles of SMART recovery. People have to have choices, and courts and treatment centers, and you as well, do nobody any good by applying 12-step programs in a one size fits all, works for me so it will work for me way.
    Glad it worked for you and everyone else it has benefited. But just like medicines, sometimes people need a different prescription. Let’s stop bring rigid and defensive about recovery approaches.


    • I am not sure where the “rigid and defensive” comment comes from. AA isn’t for everybody. It says so very clearly in the Big Book. I have told my sponsees that….I needed a spiritual solution. Others may prefer a pill or maybe therapy would work for them, so great. The problem I have is that AA is often criticized for being something it is not. It is not therapy. It is not medicine. It is not religion. It is not organized. It is not for everyone. It is not research based. It is one alcoholic helping another. It is a spiritual program. And that has been enough for me. Thanks to my HP.


  4. The numbers are not great for people getting and staying sober. But AA wouldn’t be here going on 80 years if the steps didn’t work. Also please remember that while your article is nice, we have a tradition that asks you not to disclose your full name and likeness at the level of press radio film and digital media. Even well intended articles 🙂 I know you are wisely guarding others anonymity, but there is still a bit of selfish motive in the statement “I can do what I want with my own”


    • Hey Dave,
      Thank you for commenting. You know, I rarely get called out on breaking the eleventh tradition. It’s maybe happened three times. I respect it though. I don’t quarrel that I’m most probably breaking the tradition. I just don’t care. I think the eleventh tradition is outdated and stems from a time of fear. I believe it only perpetuates the stigma of alcoholics. I wrote an entire post regarding it. I invite you to read it. It’s called, What it’s Like Now. I’ll look it up when I get home, but I think it was in October. I look forward to hearing from you again.


  5. I have to agree that many “earth people” and almost all “scientists” don’t get what AA is and what it isn’t. The Big Book states clearly that it may not be for everyone and that some people find other ways to stop drinking. Yeah for them. But AA provides a step by step guide to a spiritual awakening and that worked for me. Not alone….I needed counseling for PTSD, joining a church, following the program, marital counseling…..a complete lifestyle change….Just going to meeting wouldn’t have done it. But not going to meetings didn’t give me a chance at any of it. A lot of these researchers are set on finding the magic pill to “cure” alcoholism. I know I am not the only one who sees the irony in that idea. But I have to say, that even if a pill was found, I wouldn’t trade my hard-won sobriety for anything in the world. A pill wouldn’t have changed my obsession or my selfishness or my need for control. Only the 12 steps could do that.


    • Hey Carla, I appreciate your comment. I think it is very accurate. I have never thought AA was the only cure. I just know it’s the only cure that worked for me. I have a friend that said, I’m not like you. I don’t need AA. I thought, yes you do! Cause she’s one of the most unhappy people I’ve ever met. Alas… Some never get past the drink to get to the causes and conditions. I hope to hear from you again. I loved your share.


    • Thanks, Aunt Shannon. I’m glad someone does. Lol. Our family is so well read, I’m more intimidated by y’all reading my writing than I am the whole rest of the universe. Your support means a lot.


  6. I think that both sides are biased at this point, honestly. I agree that many of the statics included in the AA success rate are not fair, because they are people who re forced there and were obviously going to fail to anyway.

    but at the same time, the Big Book makes claims about how perfect their program is, and that is it doesn’t work for someone, it’s because “they were born that way”.

    Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of be­ing honest with themselves. There are such unfortu­nates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasp­ing and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.

    I feel like they’re just creating an excuse for themselves in the case of the few failures. not all programs will work for all people; only fools believe that.

    just my two semi-unrelated cents.


    • I want Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtle picture!

      Oh, I think you’re right. I don’t really think anyone has an accurate number or any type of cure that seems the least bit legitimate. There is some woman in California that has a program of one week of intense counseling and a prescription or two. She claims a 70% success rate. It costs $8,000.


      • haha, yeah, I updated my theme, so I updated my icon. but thanks for remembering. 😀

        so while reading this article, I was reminded of your post here.

        the article is long, but very informative. I think when it comes to AA, we need to see for what reasons a person drinks. in some cases, AA really is sufficient to help them. but for others, it’s not. so yeah, just sharing some resources. 🙂


  7. Ann, thanks for what ever this is called. Blog, website, insights? Whatever. I don’t read them all the time but when I do they hit really close to home. The only graduation from AA is when we are in front of God and say thank you face to face. My birthday is next month (April). This last year has been hard I just had a friend in AA that is with God now. She had 7 years. Keep doing what your doing and thanks


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