I Am Put Off by Your Support of Alcoholics Anonymous & the Twelve Steps


I am put off by what you have to offer. Health Journey's full support of Alcoholics Anonymous is appalling. AA views people through a deficit-based lens. Proof for this statement exists on your website. It calls people who use substances as "skinless", "self-deluded", and "addicts". This kind of language hurts people who struggle with compulsive behavior. It violates some of the basic principles of our social work profession.

1) It doesn't use person-first language. Our clients are people first. People who turn to substances for relief from suffering. Your website is incredibly disrespectful.
2) Calling them names is shameful and childish.
3) Some people who use substances have had trauma. Of course, they're not willing to face themselves honestly and openly. To do so requires a person to recognize their sexual abuse, abandonment, or other adverse childhood experiences. Self-delusion, as you call it, is a natural, reasonable coping mechanism. AAs not trauma-informed. Neither is your promotion of their material. On this point, it is also not strengths-based.

You tout that your imageries are evidence-based. According to the Cochrane Collaboration, AA has yet to be proven to be an evidence-based intervention. Their meta-analysis states the research is inconclusive.

You lost this social worker's admiration. The shaming nature embedded in AA comes up on the web page that talks about the new product. People who use substances deserve respect, safety, and understanding.

Dear <Name Withheld>,

Thanks for taking the time to write. I appreciate the value system you speak from, and agree with it, in fact.

Me, I’m a recovered nicotine addict – used to smoke 2.5 packs of non-filtered Camels a day, had no idea how I would ever be able to quit. And recovery groups were not for me. Nor did I have the guts to do those 12 steps.

As luck would have it, my ‘redemption’ came from having a miscarriage, then getting pregnant again, then the Surgeon General’s report coming out, establishing the connection between maternal smoking and miscarriage/ small birth weight. Spent the next 2 years thinking every day about how I was not smoking, and could not start again. It was just, as they say, one day at a time. I may be prouder of quitting smoking than of anything else I’ve done. It was that hard. But I had to have kids. I joke with that first kid, now a son of 47, that he saved both our lives. He smiles and agrees.

When I use the word ’skinless’, which I do a lot, I’m describing a feeling of great vulnerability. I have no judgment about skinlessness except compassion. Same with the word addict. For me, that was not an insult – it was a fact. It helped me to call it what it was, find a slim opening to beat it, and took it.

I’d like to ask you one thing: would you re-read your email message to me with fresh eyes?

Because in all the years I’ve been disagreed with, criticized, argued with and confronted – all of which I welcome, try to learn from, reply to, and sometimes even post for general discussion – I’ve never gotten such a shaming, judgmental, pointy-fingered email from a person disagreeing with me. Would you take another look at your own language?

Either way, thanks for the feedback. I applaud your passion. And it’s helpful to be reminded that many of my peers and colleagues find AA and recovery incompatible with their approach to healing. Me, I’ve seen over my 35 years as a therapist that it helps a lot of people that therapy doesn’t touch. I’m grateful for that.

Best wishes,