Alcoholics Anonymous:
Success Rate
(Or Lack Thereof)
John Again

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "john again"
Subject: Re: Up To Date AA (lack of) Success Rate
Date: August 12, 2001 10:08 PM

Charles Bufe of See Sharp Press dug this one up, and the late Vince Fox later went into more detail as to what it says. The document is an internal memo called "Comments on A. A.'s Triennial Surveys" (1990; New York: A. A. World Services) and the current edition is probably called something along those lines. I doubt you can get this from your local A. A. service committee, but I'm sure you can get this document and the one-page brochure called "Alcoholics Anonymous [1989] Membership Survey" from their headquarters: A. A. World Services, P. O. Box 459, Grand Central Station, New York, NY, 10163. The late Vince Fox says he enclosed a few bucks and asked for it and eventually got a copy. If nothing else, perhaps Charles will get you a photocopy. Let me know if you track one down.

The two books that make the most of this document are Charles Bufe's Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? and Vince Fox's Addiction, Change, and Choice. Both are published by See Sharp. Perhaps they still keep a supply of Vince's book around. If not, I could be persuaded to photocopy the parts in question. Below, I have included the graph from Vince's book, showing that the figures do not vary by much over a period spanning five triennial surveys.

In lieu of these documents being available, you can do your own analysis of the surveys, because I'm sure they still conduct the survey every three years (change comes hard in A. A.). The question to ask would be about how many people have been around for: three months; six months; nine months; one year; two years; three years; five years; etc.

The most important research, I think, is that which came from Vaillant. First, in surveys asking the general population if they'd ever had a drug- or alcohol problem, and then asking if yes, how did you stop, fully 80 percent of those who'd ever had a problem quit on their own -- that is, they naturally outgrew their youthful problem. This information is crucial in dealing with both youngsters and adults. A question came up in my own health care a few months ago, where I needed to add detail to the blanket question asking if I'd ever had a problem (yes) with when it was most problematic (as a teenager and young adult). This places me into a larger group, those who outgrew their problem, and prevents me from being seen as one who has had a life-long problem.

The other important research also showed up in Vaillant's work, the San Diego study, where one group was given Twelve Step programs, another was given the latest medical (cognitive?) model, and the third was simply told not to get into any more trouble. The three groups came out pretty much the same, showing that nothing is as good as anything (whatever that means).

My figures involving N. A. keytags would be a pretty good clue, because in N. A., the keytag is very popular (whereas in A. A. the poker chip equivalent is rarely if ever seen). The two glitches in the keytag sales would be that white "Welcome" keytags often go out to people who have "relapsed" and returned; this would increase the number of "Welcome" tags considerably. Also, until recently, any amount of years was celebrated with a glow-in-the-dark "One Year" tag; now, there's a black "Multiple Years" tag, which a few forego for a long string of "One Year" tags. Setting those aside, you can get a pretty good indication of N. A.'s success by comparing sales of the tags marking: "30 Days"; "60 Days"; "90 Days"; "Six Months"; "Nine Months." A less accurate picture can be drawn by comparing the sales of N. A. coins, sold to indicate the number of years, but not nearly as popular as the tags. The keytags, at least in the N. A. groups around here, are a must at all meetings. If the group could not afford to buy coffee, you still got keytags (at least when I was there); no move to scrimp on the keytags ever got more than one or two votes. You would be able to obtain N. A. keytag sales figures simply by calling the N. A. headquarters located near Van Nuys, California (they used to

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Alcoholics Anonymous Recidivism
Percentage of those coming to A. A. within the first year
that have remained the indicated number of months.

Percentage of those coming to AA within the first year that have remained the indicated number of months.
Scanned directly from Vince Fox,
Addiction, Change, and Choice
(Tuscon, Arizona:1993, See Sharp Press)

Graphic Rule

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