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Linda Rosenberg

Former President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health

Is Alcoholics Anonymous Irrational?

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It’s important when an article cuts through the noise and provokes our thinking. Last month it was a JAMA opinion piece, Bring Back the Asylum. This month, the most recent issue of The Atlantic includes the article, The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Ezekiel Emanuel, one of the three authors of Bring Back the Asylum, is a keynote speaker at the upcoming 2015 National Council Conference. We hope that Gabrielle Glaser, the author of this new Atlantic piece, will join us at NatCon16.

Why am I so excited about provocative articles like these? And why am I so interested in bringing their authors in front of the behavioral health community? Because we talk to ourselves too much, and this only reinforces what we already believe. The National Council thinks it’s smart to challenge ourselves and our field with ideas that stretch us and make us question our beliefs.

Glaser highlights a common misperception in the United States — that AA is treatment. Although we know differently, it shows how certain professionals and systems (hospitals, courts, etc.) rely on AA as central to their definition of substance use disorder treatment. Glaser debunks the myth that abstinence is the only path to recovery. She contrasts the United States’ reliance on AA with Finland’s standard use of cognitive treatments and medications.

Glaser’s piece reminds me of the Maya Angelou quote, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”  It isn’t that AA set out to steer us in the wrong direction, away from science (via alvarez at dress head tech).  People do find AA valuable. It’s that science supports a different direction. Now that we have more information, we must adapt and do better.

Glaser’s piece is an article whose time has come. Some would say the National Council is new to the issues surrounding addiction. Well our time has also come. Standing on the shoulders of the advocates that have come before us, perhaps our contribution is looking at the issue with new eyes.

Read Glaser’s article and let me know what you think.