Gresham's Law and Alcoholics Anonymous - a critique

Gresham's Law and Alcoholics Anonymous” was originally published in July 1976 in "24 Magazine" (author unknown), and subsequently updated in 1993 by Tom P, Jnr.

(The essay itself – henceforth abbreviated to GLAA - can be accessed via the internet by putting the title in a search engine. There are a number of versions available but they differ mostly in format rather than content)

To clarify: Gresham's Law states essentially that "Bad money drives out good". In this context the “law” is cited to exemplify the view (propagated mostly by the fundamentalist tendencies both within and without AA, and including the Primary Purpose movement) that Alcoholics Anonymous' programme (and its application) has undergone a progressive weakening or dilution since the inception of the Fellowship, and this has been accompanied necessarily by a reduction in recovery rates. According to some sources this essay serves as one of the crucial supports to that argument. We were somewhat surprised, therefore, on reading the piece, to discover how much of it was based on the author's opinion, and how little upon any substantial evidence in support of its contentions. The few references to any kind of statistical data are, as far as we can discern, either unsupported by research (independent or otherwise) or gross misrepresentations (or perhaps, more charitably, misinterpretations) of these figures. As a work of speculation it has little merit; as an analysis it has none.

Essentially the essay purports to demonstrate a number of factors which apparently “explain” why recovery rates (and quality of sobriety) are much reduced since the origination of AA in 1935.

Firstly the author asserts that in the early days of AA (ie. from its inception but prior to the publication of the book Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939) “a more rigorous and demanding” programme was practised, one largely derived from that of the Oxford Group, and which consisted of their initial framework of six steps plus the Four Absolutes. Moreover this approach placed a great deal more emphasis on belief and reliance upon God (the last term to be interpreted according to traditional orthodoxy since the Oxford Group was an attempt to return to (as they understood them) fundamentalist Christian principles), a practice which was intended to lead to a “spiritual experience”.

Secondly, that subsequently, the programme's presentation and application have been progressively “diluted” and “secularised”, its principles “sugar coated”, that it has translated from a “directive” to a “suggestive” mode of emphasis, and , moreover, the expression “spiritual experience” has been replaced by “spiritual awakening” as the primary objective - and consequence - of implementing the 12 Steps, and all this due to a shift within AA (by cause and effect) from the originally more demanding approach to the present largely watered down version.

The author of GLAA further argues that AA practitioners may be characterised as falling under three main categories: “strong”, “medium” and “weak” (and also, by analogy, “strong-cup-of-tea”, “medium-cup-of-tea”, or “weak-cup-of-tea” types). The “strong” variety represents those who adhere most closely to the programme in its 'original' form, and who place a greater emphasis on implementing its principles. The “weak” type is characterised by those who have substituted mere participation in the AA fellowship (ie. meeting attendance) but this accompanied by little or no application of its principles ie. the twelve Steps. Finally the “medium” category falls somewhere between these two extremes (the author also refers to the “weak” type as “COWD AA” (“copped-out and watered-down AA")).

Finally - and as a consequence - this “dilution” has resulted in falling recovery rates, and even when these are sustained it is asserted the quality of recovery, or “sobriety”, falls far short of what it could be.

It should be commented here that the first clue as to the author's flawed perspective, (and more revealing perhaps of his underlying bias) lies in his use of the “cup-of-tea” analogy:

By 1941 (which was the year my father, Tom P. Sr., came into the Fellowship) it was possible to distinguish three variant practices of the AA program, which we have labeled the strong-cup-of-tea, medium-cup-of-tea and weak-cup-of-tea approaches.”

He later goes on to expand on these categories which may essentially be boiled down to his own summary:

There are three ways to work the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

1. The strong original way - proved powerfully and reliably effective over fifty-eight years.

2. A medium way - not so strong, not so safe, not so sure, not so good, but still effective.”

And lastly,

3. A weak way, which turns out to be really no way at all but literally a heresy, a false teaching, a twisting and corruption of what the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous clearly stated the program to be.”

Firstly, the notion that these “variant practices” may be reduced to a comparison of “tea strengths” is dubious in itself. It cannot, for example, be asserted that there is any particular inherent virtue in whether tea be taken strong or weak; this is rather a matter of taste. It follows therefore that what the author may actually be illustrating in this presentation is not so much the efficacy of the respective practice but rather a reflection of his own predilections ie. his own tastes. Moreover, underlying his assumption that there can be only one effective way to practice the programme (the “strong-cup-of-tea” method) is the belief that every alcoholic must necessarily be of the same temperament, of the same constitution, at the same stage of the progression of the illness of alcoholism, and of course, and somewhat trivially, inclined towards the same tastes. This is quite patently a perspective at odds with actuality. For example, and as a comparison, it may be that an individual has a malign cancer. The condition may be labelled as a type of cancer, it may manifest in one part of the body or another - or many - and at varying degrees of development. No one is going to suggest that the treatment administered is necessarily to be identical for every patient. Rather the remedial action, where this is possible, is applied according to what is requisite rather than dependent merely on the inclination of the doctor, or at least we hope so. These variations are, in part, acknowledged within the author's “medium” category where the programme is practised with some vigour - but in a somewhat selective style - and with the caution that this practice may, over time, slip into the “weak-cup-of-tea” category. He does not seem, however, to consider the possibility (although this is implicit in his discussion of the “medium” approach) that practitioners of the programme might just as easily shift from “strong” to “weak” as in reverse (assuming of course that everyone needs to apply the “strong” or even “medium” approaches to remain sober in the first place).

However, this aside, we will now consider the line of his argument:

It is uncontested that there was a gap between the origins of AA and the publication of the basic text of our society, the book “Alcoholics Anonymous”. Moreover it is accepted that the original format of the programme derives from the Oxford Group (which is evident from the structure and wording of their own six step framework). Additionally his outline of the development of the Fellowship is non controversial. However where we are inclined to part company is with his subsequent interpretation of events leading to the “dilution” of the AA message.

At the outset he argues that the Twelve Steps as they were formulated: “contradict the secular psychological axiom that where the level of performance is low, you must set a low level of aspiration in order to gain a positive result in life”.


According to the secular psychological view, the only practical approach for the early AA's to have taken would have been as follows: to put together a program which aimed certainly no higher than alcohol abstinence and a return to life as it had been in pre-alcoholic days, to life as ordinary men and women of the world.

However, these wild and woolly early AA's, these psychologically illiterate off-scouring and rubbish of the world, these newly-sobered-up drunks, set out to become totally committed men and women of God”.

It is evident from the above quotes that the author sets little store by ordinary psychological methods. This low valuation would seem to revolve around the stated “psychological axiom” (an axiom, to remind those of you who have forgotten, is a self evident truth, a universally received principle, a postulate, an assumption). For our part we are not aware of any such axiom nor do we consider the statement above to incorporate anything within it which is at all self evident. In fact it seems rather to be an expression of prejudice more than anything else. At best it can be considered an assumption, a simple speculation, but one as yet untested. Additionally the idea that anyone within a social science would be prepared to present such a statement as being “axiomatic”, when even those within the “hard” sciences (their subject matter being far more amenable to such generalisations) would hesitate to accord to a “fact” such weight, seems to us entirely beyond what is reasonably credible. Again we have to assume that this statement itself represents nothing more than an assumption, or more simply, an opinion. However, he goes on to argue (somewhat ironically), and in contradistinction to this limited “secular” approach, that these “newly-sobered-up drunks, set out to become totally committed men and women of God”. This, of course, immediately begs the question: If they were already sobered up then why was it necessary for them to commit themselves to God, or, for that matter, do anything more than they had already done? We have to assume, therefore, that this preliminary “sobriety” comprised no more than mere physical abstinence from alcohol, and did not meet all the other criteria constituting what he later on describes as “permanent recovery” (whatever that might be!) (It should be noted here that the term “sober” or “sobriety” within AA is applied sometimes to refer to physical abstinence, but also to the quality of life consequent upon that. The first is relatively easy to assess; it is objectively verifiable (or falsifiable). The latter, however, is rather a question of “value”, and therefore, by definition, impossible to “quantify”, other than indirectly, and by inference; we would argue finally it is a wholly subjective “fact”).

His argument proceeds in a similar ironical fashion, but now introducing the notion that the authors of the Big Book would need to “sugar coat” this pill if it were not to dissuade newcomers from accepting this “God-centered,, psychological heretical....” and so forth. Thereafter in his exposition the relevant passages are cited from the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' including that section from Chapter Five: “Many of us exclaimed, “What an order....” through to “….. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.” It is also proposed by the author of GLAA that Bill and Dr. Bob (the co-founders of AA) further “sugar-coated” the pill by their repeated use of the term “suggested” (and its variants) throughout the basic text in order to avoid “frightening new prospects”, and again an explanatory extract is presented from Chapter Five: "Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery" to support this argument.

However we are now informed that:

When the Twelve Steps were first being formulated by Bill and Dr. Bob and an editorial committee from Akron and New York - Bill, Dr. Bob and the entire committee conceived of the Steps as instructions, not as suggestions. When the idea of presenting the Steps as suggestions came up, Bill for a long time flatly opposed it.” But finally - and reluctantly - Bill agreed to the "suggestions" approach.

(It seems curious from the above (and unexplained) that whereas there was such apparent unanimity with respect to the “directive” approach out of of nowhere apparently comes the “suggestive” mode, and it is this latter which is subsequently adopted, though with some misgivings (allegedly) on the part of Bill W).

The author then goes on to assert that the language employed in the first part of Chapter Five “would be utterly appropriate as a preamble to a set of action directions, but is not as nearly as fitting as an introduction to a group of suggestions.” He then goes on to quote that section:

Rarely have we seen a person …....... Here are the steps we took...”

together with his own emphases to exemplify this more “directive” approach.

The author of GLAA then proceeds to give a brief account of the early expansion of AA, and including the period when the Big Book was being written. Apparently it was at this time, and then seemingly quite spontaneously: “It suddenly became attractive, in a way it had not been before when the fellowship was smaller and more intimate, to ease up a bit on the idea that all the principles should be practised all the time by all the members. More and more emphasis began to be placed on the fact that the Steps were to be considered as suggestions only. At this time, and through this set of circumstances, the "cafeteria-style" - take-what-you-like- and-leave-the-rest-out - approach to the Twelve Steps came into practice.

And it seemed to work. It turned out that many newcomers could get sober and stay sober without anything like the full and intensive practice of the whole program that had been considered a life-or-death necessity in the early years. In fact alcoholics in significant numbers began to demonstrate that they could stay off booze on no more than an admission of powerlessness, some work with other alcoholics and regular attendance at AA meetings.

This is not to say that all AAs began to take this very permissive approach to the Twelve Steps. A great many continued to opt for the original, full-program approach. But now for the first time the workability of other, less rigorous approaches was established, and a tendency had emerged which was to become more pronounced as time went on.”

The author then outlines his categories, ie, strong, medium or weak AA.

In brief:

Strong – a thorough going and continuing implementation of the 12 Step programme in its entirety. ie. “Strong AA was the original, undiluted dosage of the spiritual principles.”

Medium – commencing perhaps with some verve, but subsequently employing an abridged version of the Steps, and generally easing up “....(due to encroachment of business engagements, social activities and other baggage that went along with the return to normal life in the workaday world).”

Weak – missing out “big chunks of the program totally and permanently. Their approach could be summarised as: "All you need to do to stay sober is go to meetings and stay away from the first drink".


....weak AAs who were successful in staying sober were pretty faithful meeting-goers. Since they were doing so little with the principles, their sobriety and their survival depended more exclusively than did those of the strong and medium AAs on constant exposure to the people of AA.”

He then goes on to argue that the medium approach is of some value, as a kind of springboard for the more “reluctant beginners”, but additionally that this can lead to “sliding back into weak AA”.


Weak AA has none of the redeeming features of medium AA. Weak AA is clearly at odds with the program as outlined in the Big Book. Weak AAs bases itself on a flat and un-negotiable refusal to work with vital recovery principles. Weak AA cops out and stays copped out on most of the Twelve Steps. Weak AA waters down the program to the point where there really is no program. A more accurate term than "weak AA" would be "copped-out and watered-down AA" - COWD AA for short.”

Now the author wades into even deeper speculations:

According to his interpretation “COWD” AA has, over time, come to displace strong AA and its message. He proceeds to account for this tendency by the increasingly confident and strident approach of the COWD adherents, and upon the “more relaxed and tolerant, less strident, less defensive,” strong AA adherents. Gradually “weak AA” became the 'in' thing, and “strong AA came to be regarded - not universally, but widely - as a bit stodgy and a bit passé.”

Annoyingly, or so it would seem, the adherents of the weak version of AA were able to remain sober, and this despite the “....introduction to the Twelve Steps”, where it is stated, “we thought we could find an easier, softer way, but could not”, which “was an unequivocal assertion that it was necessary to practice all the Steps.”

And now we have reached 1993, and according to the author “precious few AAs continue to attempt seriously and consistently to do these things on a daily basis - not after their first months of sobriety in the Fellowship.”; “weak” or “COWD AA” is the order of the day.

But then the surprise. After an earlier claim, that “many” weak AA adherents are getting (and staying) sober, it now appears that this is no longer the case: “weak AA, in very many cases, really doesn’t work. Weak AA brings about a far less profound life alteration than strong AA does. In many cases, the change which weak AA produces is not enough to crack the alcoholic pattern, and results in an apparent recovery which does not last but sooner or later eventuates in a relapse into drinking. And in many cases where weak AA does succeed in producing lasting sobriety, these weakly sober AAs peter out into lives of depression, anxiety, bitter resentment and real despair, just like nearly all the other merely dried-out drunks in history.”

The above quote exemplifies the two (interrelated) interpretations of what constitutes sobriety, and moreover the manner in which the author of GLAA shifts from one to the other as the mood (and his argument) takes him. On one hand we have “sober” as in simple, physical abstinence, and on the other “sober” signifying a certain quality of life but contingent upon that physical abstinence. Moreover, there is no real precision advanced here for what constitutes the “many cases” in the above quote. We have to assume that it means a minority for otherwise the term should be replaced by “most” ie. as in “a majority”. But how large is this minority? If it is a small minority then surely this cannot be used as a support for the argument ie. the smaller the minority the less statistically valid that sample becomes. But no figures, not even approximations, are offered to support this assertion. We have to assume that if there were such data they would be cited but, and from its absence, we are left rather with a estimate based on nothing but the author's impression (or opinion). However, if this imprecision fails to generate much confidence, the subsequent analysis can only provoke an even greater sense of disappointment. Again we are presented with the term “many cases” ( but still undefined) where “weak AA”, although producing lasting sobriety ie. physical abstinence, leads only to an inferior quality of life. Even if one were to accept this was the case it is difficult to determine whether this undoubtedly miserable condition derives from failing to implement spiritual principles, or may depend rather on the objective circumstances of those concerned, or indeed upon their even more particular subjective condition i.e. underlying psychological states unrelated to prolonged alcohol abuse, or perhaps the emotional constitution of the individual in question. To apply a blanket diagnosis to all and sundry, and in such an indiscriminate fashion, simply exemplifies a overly simplistic assessment of the general - and particular - human condition. Or to sum it up: You can't blame it all on alcoholism.

The author moves on to expound further on the progressive undermining of the sudden “spiritual experience” mode, one which would result in “permanent abstinence [which] will automatically occur as a blessed and life-saving-by-product”, and further asserts that this was: “ how it happened with Bill. That was how it happened with Dr. Bob. That was how it happened with the first hundred members. That was how the authors of the Big Book saw it would have to happen with EVERYONE.” (our emphasis)

The point is then hammered home, equating such an experience with only one result, this to be summed up as: “no spiritual experience – no recovery.”

It is at this point in the discussion that the following 'insight' is presented: that a “major shift in [AA] philosophy occurred”. Apparently this was reflected in the respective roles of “recovery principles and the recovery Fellowship in AA”, this taking place apparently, “Sometime between 1939, when the [Cleveland] Plain Dealer articles were published, and 1941, when the [Jack] Alexander piece ran in the [Washington] Post”.

Essentially as the fellowship of AA grew in numbers so did the availability of contacts, and gradually recovery became based rather upon meetings' attendance than “undergoing a real spiritual conversion”. Here the AA member rather stayed sober “largely off the power of the pack”.

It is at this point in the exposition we are introduced to two more categories of alcoholics:

One, the sober-by-conversion alcoholics - those who, as the result of working the Steps, had had a spiritual experience and become transformed human beings, seriously involved with regenerative life and ideas, as contrasted with the two, sober-by-imitation alcoholics - those who had remained essentially the same type of people they had been before coming into AA, except that they had joined a new organization, made a new set of friends, and given up drinking in conformity to their new social setup”.

Moreover, the term “spiritual experience” came to be supplanted by that of “spiritual awakening” reflecting (according to the author of GLAA) the view that the former was “ too narrow and prejudicial against the less-profound life changes resulting from the mimesis-oriented AA, which were coming to be the majority recovery pattern in AA”, and he cites here the relevant section 'Appendix II Spiritual Experience' beginning with “The terms “spiritual experience” and “spiritual awakening” are used …. this conclusion is erroneous …..”

This section is contrasted with the more forthright exposition of “God-commitment” as exemplified at the beginning of Chapter Five. Although he himself expresses some recognition that such a qualification is itself to be welcomed, that spiritual change need not necessarily be in the form of some “sudden upheaval”, nevertheless this, together with the “clear, strong and unmistakable implication - by the indirect , defensive, almost apologetic treatment of the whole subject of religious and spiritual experience”, resulted in the aforementioned dilution of spiritual principles. Finally: “The founders of the Movement were responding to the spiritual problem by lowering the spiritual level of aspiration of the society, a move they could not make in the early days, but could make, and even felt they must make, now that the society had become large and gained a reputation for respectability and reasonableness.”

From this it is asserted that this qualified approach led to AA “dividing into two camps”: the “strong-cup-of-tea” and the “weak-cup-of-tea”, this unnoticed apparently by everyone except the author of GLAA.

The assumption underlying this argument is that these modifications occurred to accommodate AAs' new found “respectability and reasonableness”. It might equally be asserted that the reasons for these shifts in emphasis (rather than in substance) might rather be attributed to:

a broader range of experience - as AA membership expanded in numbers and diversity i.e. to include those who did not derive their approach directly from the Oxford Group, or indeed from any outside religious organisation, but who rather got and stayed sober (physical abstinence) within the context of the Fellowship, their direct experience accordingly modified - and refined - the original model of recovery.

a greater depth of experience – this factor is related to the above but derives from an increasing average longevity of sobriety (again physical abstinence).

a recognition that if AA were to be a truly inclusive Fellowship it would have to drop those explicit references to - and associations with - theologies, practices, perspectives etc which were directly related to outside organisations (including religious, and therefore encompassing both the Oxford Group and its fundamentalist Christian based approach).

a recognition that as a result of the lessening stigma associated with alcoholism (in part due to the efforts of AA itself) people were, and in increasing numbers, seeking assistance at an earlier stage of the progression of the disease (if one accepts the disease model), and that therefore the therapeutic or 'spiritual' measures required to support a “remission” from this chronic condition were correspondingly less drastic, and moreover “half measures” might in fact “avail us” something after all, and that so-called “weak” or “medium” AA might be just as effective in some cases as “strong” AA.

an expansion in membership, together with a corresponding geographical dispersion, resulted in increased numbers of meetings, which in turn gave the membership easier access to each other via this particular medium. Whereas this did not eliminate the need for formal 12 Step work ie. contacting potential AA members at their own homes (always at the newcomer's request), or via a neutral venue, AA meetings became the main vehicle for transmitting its message. Therefore meetings became more significant than they had been in the past for carrying out this function, a fact which might account for the increasing focus on meeting attendance as a basis for sustaining recovery.

the displacement (partial) of the term spiritual “experience” by spiritual “awakening” again suggests a pragmatic reform, and one based upon the “experiences” of existing AA members rather than on some palliative compromise intended to ease less committed members into the recovery programme. It is, indeed, recognised by the author of GLAA himself that this modification was useful, and that not all spiritual experiences needed to be of some dramatic or sudden nature, and that they could manifest in the another form, ie. the gradual, “educational” variety. Therefore we are quite unable to fathom the author's objection to this redesignation, the terminology employed being virtually synonymous.

And now the consequences:

The relatively superficial life change which weak AA produces is sufficient to get some alcoholics sober. It is not adequate - it is not effective - it simply doesn’t work - for a very large number of others. This situation is evident both in the “easy” cases and the “hard”cases, that is, those alcoholics who have been very badly damaged physically and mentally before they arrive at their first AA meeting, those whose alcoholism is complicated with drug abuse, crazy sex, criminal or psychotic tendencies, or a hard streak of socio-psychopathology.”

From this we now have some clue as to the use of the above term “many cases” - this can be translated more accurately into “a very large number” though still a little fuzzy for such a serious declaration. And yet again, from the context of the above passage, there is a shift in the use of the word “sober” - here it is being wielded in the qualitative sense rather than “physical abstinence”.


weak AA simply doesn’t work with the very large population of AAs who are known everywhere as “slippers” - those alcoholics who have developed a pattern of hanging around AA, staying sober for periods, but relapsing repeatedly into drinking.”

Now we have moved from “a very large number” to “the very large population” - seemingly the numbers increase by implication as the author of GLAA warms to his subject. But still he appears unable to put a figure to these “guesstimates”.

The author then goes on to cite the experience of the “East Ridge Recovery Facility in upstate New York. Strong AA is standard practice in the East Ridge group, and this group has a recovery rate of over seventy percent with these so-called AA failures”.

At last we have a number: seventy percent. Unfortunately, and on consulting the website which relates to this facility, we find no such reference to this recovery rate. Furthermore there is no indication of data collection relating to recovery rates etc. We are again left with a “percent” seemingly drawn out of thin air.

And now we come to those “many cases” of recovery where the “watered-down approaches to the Twelve Steps fails to hold up over the long haul. What looked in the beginning like an easier, softer way to maintain happy sobriety yields progressively less and less serenity and real happiness, finally ending in complete reversal of momentum and a relapse into serious personal misery. The end result may be a return to active alcoholism; or it may be a sinking-out into a life of discontented abstinence, marred by some combination of tension, resentment, depression, compulsive sick sex, and an overall sense of meaninglessness. It is a final failure to reap the benefits of the AA program; it is, in the last analysis,a failure to recover.”

In this section the author has fallen back on that old standby “many cases” and again the shifts between the uses of the term “sober” proceed apace.

Now we come to one of the few instances where there are any statistics deployed to support the above assertions, and we hoped quite naturally here for some further clarification on those “many cases” or “a very large number”:


Two ominous tendencies are noticeable in contemporary AA. One tendency is toward a lower recovery rate overall. For the first twenty years, the standard AA recovery estimate was seventy-five percent. AA experience was that fifty percent of the alcoholics who came to AA got sober right away and stayed sober. Another twenty-five percent had trouble for awhile but eventually got sober for good, and the remaining twenty-five percent never made a recovery. Then there was a period of some years when AA headquarters stopped making the seventy-five percent recovery claim in their official literature. In 1968’s General Service Board published a survey indicating an overall recovery rate of sixty-seven percent. The net of all of this seems to be that as AA got bigger and older, its effectiveness dropped from about three in four to about two in three.”

The first set of figures appears to derive from those cited in the Foreword to the 2nd Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (the first printing of this edition was in 1955). As we have come to expect the figures quoted are presented unqualified, and state that they relate to “the standard AA recovery estimate.....of the alcoholics who came to AA...”. This seems to suggest that these recovery rates apply to anyone who came to the Fellowship. In fact the figures relate only to those who, in the words of the text, “really tried”. (This point has been made repeatedly elsewhere so we are not going to 'belabour' it again here). The author of GLAA then adduces the 1968 GSB figures, which suggest an “overall recovery rate of sixty-seven percent”, a drop of 8 percentage points. However, in one analysis (How Well Does A.A. Work? An Analysis of Published A.A. Surveys (1968-1996) and Related Analyses/Comments - Don McIntire) it was demonstrated that the original estimates of 75 percent still apply, that is if one qualifies this assessment accordingly.

And now, and apparently defeated by any substantial evidence for falling recovery rates, he shifts once more to his favoured fall back position - a revaluation of the term 'sober' to be employed here in its 'qualitative' function, and which evidence is moreover: “clear enough to any careful observer of the AA scene”: “As the Fellowship grows older its class of old-timers, alcoholics sober ten years and longer, grows. And the question of the staying power of an AA recovery looms ever larger. It is an unhappy fact that growing numbers of these old-timers find the joy going out of their sobriety. Many of them search around frantically for ways to recapture the old zest for alcohol-free living, and many of them end up in such blind alleys as lunatic religions, pop psychological fads, or chemical alternatives like psychedelics, pot, tranquilizers and mood elevators. And many end up either back drinking or sunk in despondency, hostility, bizarre acting-out patterns of one sort or another, or just plain, devastating boredom”.

So - and perhaps quite annoyingly at least for the author of GLAA - it would seem that there are “growing numbers of these old-timers [“ten years and longer”]” (this itself something of a blow to the thesis that recovery rates are declining), but, “It is an unhappy fact that … the joy is going out of their sobriety”. There follows here an extensive list of where these unfortunate fellows are going wrong but - though not unsurprisingly - a dearth of any kind of data to back it up - not even anecdotal evidence - just more opinion.

And we come finally to the proposed solution:

The answer lies in a return to original, strong AA. It turns out that the men who wrote the Big Book were right after all. It turns out that there really is no easier, softer way. The extra work and commitment demanded by the full-Program approach pays out in enormous and indispensable dividends. The extra work and commitment make sobriety fun, because they do not make sobriety an end in itself.”


The majority of those who become addicted are people with a mystical streak, an appetite for inexhaustible bliss. We sought in bottles what can only be found in spiritual experience. AA worked in the first place because its Twelve Steps were a workable set of guidelines to real spiritual experience. The growth of the Movement made possible for a time a kind of parasitism in which partial practitioners of the spiritual principles were able to feed off the strength of full practitioners; those who had undergone real spiritual experience.”

Again we are presented with a figure, but one only slightly more specific than those alluded to above, and from which we can at least gauge the minimum value to be over 50 percent. Here it is asserted that a “majority of those who become addicted are people with a mystical streak”. Quite precisely what the author of GLAA had in mind by his use of the term “mystical” is not clear. It is to be assumed that this is in some way connected with the notion of “spiritual” but suggests again the writer's prejudice, ie. in regarding valid “spiritual experiences” to be in some manner linked with this tendency. Both terms are, by nature, subject to considerable interpretation, and it cannot follow that such particular definitions will of necessity converge upon that one determined solely by the author of GLAA. Moreover such a presumption on his part would suggest a remarkably obtuse perspective, or one which might even be regarded as verging on arrogant. To judge from the content of the remainder of the paragraph we would opt to apply the term “arrogant”. Here his withering contempt is clearly exhibited for anyone who applies these principles – or not - in any fashion other than that which he deems to lead to – and exemplify - a “real spiritual experience”. It is these “partial practitioners” who “feed off the strength of full practitioners” thus inducing “a kind of parasitism” within the Fellowship and programme.

But now, the parasites have already drained the host organism of a considerable portion of its life force, with no benefit to themselves.”

And finally, and rather confusingly, but reiterating the previous themes:

Complacency, smugness in our record of success, is our greatest enemy. If we as a recovered-addict society are unwilling to reverse our present course, the outlook is clear enough. We stand to recapitulate in less than a century what the great religious communities of the world have spent the last two thousand years demonstrating: that even the very best and highest of human institutions tend to deteriorate in time; and that size in spiritual organizations is often achieved at the expense of the abandonment of original goals and practices.”

We would remind you here that the author of GLAA has gone to some lengths (largely ineffective) to demonstrate the decreasing efficacy of “COWD AA” and yet we are now to beware of a “smugness in our record of success”! This confusion is not only exhibited here but throughout the whole of GLAA. Finally, and again betraying the author's own prejudices, there is reference to the “great religious communities of the world [who] have spent the last two thousand years ….”. This may be a valid statement when it comes to one specific, religious organisation – that of Christianity - but we can think of at least three others, and of comparable significance, which have been around for considerably longer than two millennia.

In conclusion the author of GLAA:

has failed to supply any evidence which lends credence to his argument. The data, where it is presented, is vague or misquoted.

shifts constantly between the two definitions of “sober” moving from the verifiable and quantifiable mode (when the evidence would seem to contradict his assertions) to the qualitative and subjective mode, an area by its very nature inaccessible to measurement, and only to be assessed by direct reporting on the part of those subjects, or inferred behaviourally (neither of which sources he provides).

asserts as fact what IN FACT are merely impressions, opinions, hypotheses, speculations, generalisations, assumptions and prejudices (unsubstantiated), all of which though are quite legitimate areas of human activity, but should hardly figure in any serious analysis of what is finally a very serious question.

We would invite you to consider the following study (click here) which does present the relevant data, and ask you to consider this material (and draw from it whatever conclusions you wish) as a basis for judgement rather than the “kite flying” exemplified by GLAA, and others of its type.