by Stanton Peele addiction expert, psychologist, raconteur, Huffigton Post
Building on an essay in Wired magazine by Brendan Koerner, New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks lauds to the sky AA and its founder, Bill Wilson. Both Brooks and Koerner point out the worldwide spread of AA (although it is limited mainly to the U.S. and like-minded countries), and the spread of the 12 steps to nearly all areas of behavior change, indeed, to how we approach social problems of all sorts.
Along the way, Brooks makes the good points that there is no scientific way to program behavior change — that it is indefinite and rooted in individual choice. He points out the benefits of the social networks AA provides its members, and the decentralization of the AA movement, so that individual chapters are able to organize as its own members see fit. These are strong organization and psychological pluses.
But, unfortunately for a rational conservative, Brooks misses a few downsides to the AA movement.
1. The view AA conveys of alcohol and alcoholism is associated with abstinence-binge tendencies that already dominate America and other temperance nations. AA’s approach is completely abstinence oriented. In fact, temperance cultures like America, which are already highly suspicious and fearful of alcohol, are characterized by many individuals who restrict their drinking, but then go on benders. Similar Northern European cultures, for example, have several times the death rates due to alcohol of Southern European countries, because the former tend to monumental binges (think Ireland, England, Finland) while in the Southern countries, people drink alcohol causally with meals (think Italy, Spain, Greece, France). All indications are that the latter is much healthier. More particularly, the majority of AA members fall off the wagon. When they do so, they very often return to drinking without restraint.