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Should I Leave AA?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I've been sober for about a year and a half. I've been in AA for most of that time. I'm having trouble with the idea of being powerless over alcohol. I instead feel empowered by making the right choice every day. I want to leave AA but am told that I will surely die if I don't work the steps and go to meetings. Should I leave AA? - In Recovery


Dear In Recovery,

Thanks for your letter. Congratulations on your sobriety! It is hard to answer you without knowing what you mean by “having trouble” with step 1; I would encourage you, as did the founder of AA, Bill Wilson, to figure out what these 12-step concepts mean to you personally. You might decide you are not powerless over booze, as long as you stay away from the first drink. Some would argue that AA helps people stay away from that first drink and that without ongoing support, a recovering person’s life can become so unmanageable that the person finds he or she must drink again. Others feel that once they stop drinking, life becomes manageable again and ongoing participation is not necessary. As the recovery saying goes: For some people, stopping brings an end to problems, for others stopping means the real problems have just begun.

Sometimes there is very black and white, “either/or” language in the program, which isn’t everyone’s experience. (A client of mine told me he was instructed to “forget therapy” and only do AA, which he fortunately ignored.) While it is wise to respect the power of addiction, there is middle ground between AA and death. You might, for example, try working with a sponsor who is open-minded in helping you define your own terms. You might try going to fewer meetings before stopping altogether. The program can help some people bring order to issues like work, relationships, finances, and so forth. But not everyone. The bottom line is your safety and well-being. If you find you can have a happy, sober life without AA, there is no “law” that you have to stay. Many people with addiction find they need the consistent structure provided by a 12-step program and build their life around sober friends and activities, while others use the program as a “bridge back to life,” and some people find it doesn’t work for them at all. I say, take it one step at a time, stay honest with yourself, and see what works best for you. Good luck, and thanks again for your question!


  • adrienne September 14th, 2012 at 3:13 PM #1

    AA was not the right plan for me, but I have to believe that there are people out there for whom this works. Otherwise it would not have been successful for so many years, right?
    But I agree with you, I needed to feel like I had more control over my drinking than what AA told me that I did. I did not think that I could ever be a success with stopping unless I found a way to do it with positive self talk over the negativity that I felt at AA.
    Please don’t get me wrong, AA can be great for some people, but it just wasn’t for me. Best of luck with your sobriety. It is a daily struggle, but you can do it, I am certain.

  • Caleb September 15th, 2012 at 4:02 AM #2

    AA is definitely one of the more recognizable names in help with alcohol dependency and addiction, butby no means does this mean that this will be the treatment plan that will work for you or that you even have to try.

    There are those who will try this first simply because of the name and the popularity that it seems to have. And for many many people this is enough for them and they have great success. But there are plenty of other programs out there that could help you as well.


  • Mark September 15th, 2012 at 7:03 AM #3

    you have to find the meeting group that is right for you

    i loved my time at AA but I had a good sponsor too so that helped.

    and I found meetings where I liked everyone so again, I made those connections that made it all a little more comfortable and easier

  • susan September 15th, 2012 at 2:49 PM #4

    whether you should stay or leave depends on how much of a control you think you have over your sobriety.if you can handle things and need no more support constantly then you can stop but if you feel you need that constant little telling every now and then you should continue.

    maybe you could quit but still have a friend or two you can talk to at times when you do feel like taking a drink?

  • Rodney September 16th, 2012 at 5:16 AM #5

    I think that it is pretty silly to assume that if you do not choose to go to AA than you will die. Obviosly there are plenty of people in recovery who did not walk the AA syeps and they have not died but have thrived. This is the think that I hate the most about some of these programs that insist that there way is the only way. That is just not true. There is something out there for anyone who is looking for help when they are an alcoholic. It should not have to be just one way or the highway.

  • K.H September 16th, 2012 at 12:32 PM #6

    If you feel you can go on and remain sober without the help and support from AA then by all means you can stop attending the meetings and see if you can hold on.But if you are not fully confident or find yourself losing against the urge to pick up a drink then you would have to go back.

    I think the therapist here has answered your question the best way – “You might try going to fewer meetings before stopping altogether.” That way you can see where you stand with respect to being able to maintain sobriety without the help of AA.

  • Damien September 16th, 2012 at 9:12 PM #7

    I’ve been to AA before and although it is extremely helpful I have to concede that it can get overwhelming at times. There was a time when I wondered if the addiction I was overcoming would make me a permanent AA person. I was scared to be honest. But then I took a decision and attended fewer and fewer sessions until I was sure and confident I didn’t need the support of AA anymore. That was my journey towards complete abstinence. All the best in your journey. All you need is a bit of self confidence and control.

  • tonia miller September 17th, 2012 at 3:56 AM #8

    If you think that AA is not for you, then it’s not for you.
    I can only say that from my own personal experience it saved my life.
    I had a hard time getting to a meeting in the beginning, just becaus ei did not really think that I had a problem.
    But after I started going to meetings out of curiosity, I learned that I did have a problem with drinking, and that it was affecting my life in many more adverse ways than I thought.
    I will not say that AA is the only way, but it was the only way for me to get the help I needed in the way that I needed it.

  • A. Adams September 17th, 2012 at 3:20 PM #9

    you just have to go and see for yourself if this is right, it may have worked great for a friend and not so well fro you but that’s oaky. just because the first thing you try doesn’t work doesn’t mean that there is snot something that will, you just have to find the right shoe to fit

  • Jennifer T September 17th, 2012 at 4:27 PM #10

    First of all, ask yourself why you are attending the AA meets. Is it because you need help with your addiction or is it purely because you are scared of losing control? I think that should give you some insight on what you really want. You come across as being a little confused to me. And hey, you are NOT going to DIE if you quit going to AA meets. How do you even think that is possible?!

  • Eric September 18th, 2012 at 4:20 AM #11

    I completely agree with the writer of this letter. I think that my biggest problem with AA is that it pounds into you just how powerless you are over drinking, alcohol, and the addiction. How is that good for anyone to be made to think that wew have no power over the decisions that we make? I don’t know about you, but even though I know I could get out of control if I drank too much, but I still think that there is an element of me not being powerless over that. I still make the choice, still have power over the decisions that I make that are right and wrong. There are plenty of other options for you to pursue to be forced to stay in onethat demeans you.

  • Tara September 18th, 2012 at 4:16 PM #12

    I am finding alot of nasty, acting out, ragers, and fear mongers in AA. I am planning to cut it out…I will not share openly anymore at meetings as people can give you ridiculous cult zealous feedback. I also have never had a sponsor who could talk anything but the lingo jargen. I will now only go to meetings and listen and go to other better SANER venues like Smart Recovery.

  • Leigh September 18th, 2012 at 5:44 PM #13

    I’m a therapist in a 12-step based treatment facility. I’ve had many patients relapse and come back to treatment (often following long periods of sobriety) because they completely stopped working a program of recovery, which resulted in the loss of their support and accountability. I vehemently agree with what the therapist above said about being honest with yourself. You could be in a place where you are safe enough to gradually taper off on meetings, but I would proceed with caution and heavily involve your sponsor and/or sober peers in your decision making. I would also look at the severity of your alcohol problem (impact on job, health, family, etc.) and bear in mind that relapses can often throw you further into the depths of the disease, which can certainly increase the risk of death. And I do agree that are other programs of recovery outside of AA and other 12-step programs that have proven to be successful. But if taking an hour or two out of your weekly routine to go to meetings has kept you clean and sober, why fix what isn’t broken? This is a progressive, powerful disease that thrives on isolation and complacency. Whether or not you buy into the concept of powerlessness, chances are that when you drink, you have minimal control over your decisions. Working a program and staying spiritually healthy can prevent the disease from taking over that control. Good luck!

  • Pb September 18th, 2012 at 11:34 PM #14

    No, I don’t think you should leave AA. Neither do I think you should come up with your own program.

    I suggest instead you read the Big Book of AA and see if it applies to you or not. If you are persuaded you can drink without dreadful consequences, then step one does not apply to you or does not yet apply to you. If you cannot stay sober, nor stop when you start,then step one is a no brainer: you’re an alkie, mate! :)

    I encourage you to ignore the peanut gallery of AA members, therapist sand well meaning ‘support’ and discover if AA will work for you by examining the record of the first 100 folk who recovered.

    Don’t worry about figuring it out. Read the book.


  • anonymous January 2nd, 2014 at 8:37 PM #15

    Ignore 90% of the people in the meetings, remember why they are there! Read the book, odds are, they don’t do anything but regurgite parrot talk to get attention anyway. Get some close friends, inside aa AND outside of aa. Live life, pursue your God, and love your brother’s and sisters! Keep calm and ignore the parrots!!

  • dave rodway April 12th, 2014 at 2:26 PM #16

    Nowhere in the Big Book of AA does it say to go to meetings and get a sponsor.
    It NEVER says to do that.
    How one gets “sober” is by not drinking. That’s it. You don’t drink, then you are ‘recovered’ from the ‘problem’ . I always say “drinking’s not my problem and meetings aren’t my solution”. Don’t confuse fellowship with the actual PROGRAM of AA. Page 14 tells us: “For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead.” THAT is how you get and stay sober. 1) Stop drinking (drugging too) 2) Find someone that lives the program as it is written in the book. 3) Help others do the same.
    Page 103: “After all, our problems were of our own making. Bottles were only a symbol.”

  • Brian June 6th, 2014 at 7:17 AM #17

    Addiction is not a disease and it is the focus on this concept that does more than anything to keep people stuck.
    Addiction which includes drugs , alcohol , sex ,gambling is an answer or better yet a symptom . Each person needs to find and then address what is pushing the addiction . Sorry buts it different for everyone . Could be trauma , an anxiety disorder depression etc. or even a combination of things . Heal the cause and the addiction dissolves . Also no such thing as a personality exhibiting quote untreated alcoholism . This nonsense is being taught by fundamental AA groups. There is also an underlying set of beliefs taught in AA that constitute a philosophy that is unworkable by most human beings .

  • Lenny July 7th, 2014 at 1:47 AM #18

    I Have been 9 months sober in AA.. and a struggle it has been!
    I have decided to leave AA for good now, although sober I have struggled from the outset with the disease model.
    Convinced in rehab I had an incurable disease of the mind, which put simply only gets worse has absolutely destroyed me. Being convinced im sick and have a disease has been a huge weight to carry around.
    Every thought or action is fueled by my ilness.. and I have accepted (until now) that Im powerless over a mindset which only wants to destroy me… but no more.
    Going to meetings and hearing people talk about their powerlessness over EVERYTHING and been reminded im living with an illness thats incurable is deflating.
    Also, how do I stop thinking about alcohol when its in my make up (alcoholism that is) and its all they talk about? I wake up thinking about AA and go to bed thinking about it.
    AA keeps me feeling sick.
    Am I, or have I been restless, irritable or discontent??
    WHO HASNT? As a kid I wanted to be here, then there, then I was moody…. ok cool!! So is half the world.
    Im not leaving AA and doing it alone, Im going to smart recovery for a couple of meetings a week then also working with a counselor 1 time per week.
    I want to feel empowered and have some control over my attitude rather than it be set or controlled by a disease which I never knew I had??
    There are other ways, but AA have made it clear… we give you 1 week and you will be drinking.
    Best way to keep coming back? – be convinced of an incurable disease from which we have a daily reprieve and you are sure to get the numbers coming back!
    I was told by AA that I could pray for anything to be removed, and I have. But I ask the question why doesn’t anyone pray for their alcoholism to be cured????
    Anyone left or leaving with similar thoughts?

  • Darren Haber MFT July 8th, 2014 at 9:02 PM #19

    Thanks all for your posts. I wanted also to respond to Lenny, who raises some very good questions. An interesting paradox you point out too, in that if we can pray for anything to be removed (as AA suggests) why not our alcoholism? I think you have to make sense of the concepts in a way you are comfortable with. Remember, spirituality (like a Higher Power) is “as you understand it/Him”. The cofounder of AA, Bill Wilson, said spiritual concepts were personal and required searching. Basically, the only requirement is a desire to stop drinking. That’s it. Not that you buy every single idea hook, line and sinker. Take what you like and leave the rest. Also AA really is not for everyone. It works for some, not for others. Recovering folks are very passionate about their sobriety, but you can be equally passionate about SMART meetings and therapy, or what have you. It might be the church, meditation, yoga, volunteering, whatever works for you. My sense is participating in something bigger than you, that gives your life meaning and purpose, is the basic idea. No one has a monopoly on sobriety. Some love AA’s passion and intensity, some find it a huge turn off. Some like it but in small doses. Sobriety is very personal and I commend you for searching for what works for you. I have a friend who goes to AA and SMART and likes them both. I know some that go to AA for some time, then switch to another path. My sense is, if you find yourself sober and happy with your life, you’re on the right track! Thanks again for writing.

  • Darren Haber MFT July 8th, 2014 at 9:03 PM #20

    ps to Lenny: congratulations on your 9 months! It gets easier, trust me.

  • Lenny July 9th, 2014 at 9:43 PM #21

    Darren,thank-you so much for your post. What a relief to have an open minded person. I absolutely agree, I had started to do some volunteer work and loved it! I find joy in many things but have struggled with the idea I have a brain destined to torture me.
    May I ask are you in recovery or AA/Smart??
    The truth is when I got sober without AA I would have gone mad! And for that I am grateful!
    But today I just feel like it wants to keep me mad/insane.
    I haven’t done a meeting in 2 weeks and feel fine, infact the relief I feel accepting responsibility for my actions and accepting in my heart that I have some control over my attitude is incredible.
    Thank you also for reminding me about the spiritual idea… because the reality is I have been a selfish person and without AA’s look at me behavior I would never acknowledge that. Purely and simply AA has shown me that there are other people in this world.
    Thank you for your post! :)

  • Darren Haber MFT July 10th, 2014 at 11:10 AM #22

    Hi Lenny, glad my post was helpful. As for your questions, I can’t really comment on my participation in recovery specifically, due to anonymity concerns; let me just say that I am familiar with a variety of support systems and can say unequivocally that the process of finding something that works for you, and sticking with it via a commitment, is just as important as WHAT you choose. For instance I have a client who stopped drinking/using via his involvement in church, and that worked for him. I am glad you have found relief in a way that feels right. Thanks again for writing. :)

  • Jon S August 23rd, 2014 at 11:17 PM #23

    I am a classic low bottom old school drunk. I was very happy and truly grateful to be sober for over 13 years in AA. I was active in the fellowship and worked the programme diligently … then hit an insurmountable brick wall of anxiety and depression that came out of nowhere and left me entirely bereft and totally suicidal. The steps and meetings stopped working, and I gradually came to understand the real reason why so many AAs commit suicide while sober. Fortunately I survived … and recently celebrated my 14th year of sobriety in a new way – as an independent, freethinking, nonreligious, member of the online “sobersphere”.
    AA is a useful tool to separate the alcoholic from the alcohol, but it does that only by replacing one form of denial/insanity with another. I’m sorry to say that I now view AA as a potentially dangerous cult of sobriety based on an outdated methodology. Its apparent “success” has drowned out newer and better ways to survive a devastating and potentially fatal behaviour problem, such as the CBT-based SMART programme.
    I have, I hope, now armed myself with more viable tools of recovery. However each step away from the fellowship had to be taken very gently and with great care. Like-minded peer support online was indespensible. Its hard to find a balanced view of AA out there, but I found online blogs from others in a similar situation to be very useful. RecoveringFromRecovery is a great example of this.


  • Darren Haber MFT August 24th, 2014 at 11:28 AM #24

    I just wanted to thank Jon S for his honesty and fascinating account of his journey. I will look at the link you provided and again, appreciate your post!

  • Honor October 9th, 2014 at 12:05 PM #25

    Im so pleased to have found this site. Im over 17 years sober in AA, which Im very grateful for, I have not had a sponsor for 8years, as she sacked me because I wouldnt do what she felt I should do so much for unconditional love they all talk about lol, I love the programme, & have a strong faith in God, & go to Church, I have a brilliant normal life today, I still go to 1 never more than 2 meetings a week, I do service, dont share very much, I take what I want & leave the rest, not sure about the illness thing,I have been very lonely & depressed in AA at times & I had been working the steps & going to Meetings, Im sure without my faith in God, I would have drank or committed suicide as so many long term AA members do

  • Jon S October 27th, 2014 at 1:05 PM #26

    Hi Darren. Thanks for your comment. That’s very kind.

    AA saved my life – but that was 14 years ago.

    Today there are better and more up-to-date means of recovery such as CBT or Motivational Interviewing, two clinically proven techniques that do not rely on a pretend best friend in order to help the suffering alcoholic.

    Leaving AA is the best thing I’ve done in recovery, so I’ve now collected resources that might help anyone considering doing the same at this blog:

    “Leaving AA, Staying Sober” at jonsleeper.wordpress.com

    It’s important to go gently, and leave safely. Hopefully you’ll find it useful.

    Jon S

  • Marty November 1st, 2014 at 3:17 PM #27

    Get outa AA as soon as possible.

  • LovinLife November 17th, 2014 at 8:30 AM #28

    AA will twist everything to keep you feeling “guilty if you don’t keep coming back.”

    The program is filled with negative affirmations that brainwash you into “believing you will never be auccessful staying sober without AA.”

    Positive affirmations build self-esteem and empowerment within.

    The AA model is outdated. There are new treatment models that address today’s Addicrion needs.
    Don’t let any program bully you which is what AA does.
    Unless a person is certified or licensed all they can do is identify they have aubstance abuse issues.
    Therapy is necessary to address reasons for the addictive behavior.
    Saying, we were the problem isn’t always true.
    I’m not continuing AA and almost 12 years sober.
    AA is negative and detrimental with the
    brainwashing that if you leave AA you will surely drink again. Is that a healthy
    belief system or fear based propaganda!

  • LovinLife November 17th, 2014 at 8:48 AM #29

    Good for you … You are of a vast majority who have become aware that AA is a program of negative affirmations
    Which does not build self-esteem but a belief system of co-dependency upon a philosophy from 1930’s. Would you want a surgeon to use methods from the 30’s to operate on you today?

    We need a positive belief system rather than brainwashing guilt fueling propaganda that strips us of any self-empowerment & feeling of self-worth.

  • LovinLife November 17th, 2014 at 9:14 AM #30

    Agree 100%
    You will grow into a “parrot talking robot” without any confidence that you will be able to live without AA. It’s sad and pathetic the lies that are covered about the “Truth” of Bill W.
    He cheated on his wife with other AA members, left part of BIg Book profits in his will to a mistress, dropped acid when he was 10 years sober. That is “sober.” Oh I get it “Live & Let Live”
    Anything goes in AA… Even better AA loves it when you relapse so they can commit massive character assassinations under the false pretense of caring by “oh, did you hear?
    The spiritual experience he had was copying the Oxford Group theory. Bill W was a manipulative drunk who sold his BS that others followed. Nothing about AA is original … It uses weakness & guilt to keep you hooked!!!
    Contact Smart Recovery where you really can identify positive and effective methods to long term sobriety.

  • Noel December 20th, 2014 at 9:25 AM #31

    I finally made the break from AA & NA in August and I absolutely do not regret it.

    I have come to view the main reason for me to abuse substances was out of a sense that I had too much time on my hands and it was a method by which I could occupy my time, rather than any deficiencies in my character that were causing me to use.

    While initially it was a port in a storm enabling me to find some stability while I was sorting out the chaos that the legacy of A&D abuse left me with, I got more and more frustrated with the ineffectiveness of the programme, being left with the feeling that I was flogging a dead horse, yet dreading being accused of showing a lack of commitment to the programme – a so called hallmark of the alcoholic personality. I was becoming ambivalent and torn – knowing inside that there was something deeply wrong with the programme while staying quiet for fear of appearing like I was rocking the boat. Eventually this became intolerable.

    Today I forgive myself for all the neglect that I caused other people and myself through my abuse of substances and through my AA/NA membership.

    These days, people can alter my state and to keep my state of mind real, I associate with those who have the best interests of me in mind.

  • Little Rock Larry March 4th, 2015 at 8:47 PM #32

    I have known for years it’s not a disease nor an allergy. Been AA 27 years-builta lifestyle…always bypassed my own gut.had many good times.now have read much. Had therapy. Need to be true to me. Slowly deprogaming it’s in my subconscious. Group speak triggers my basic shame core. Got to heal inside or outside A A. Getting FREE..!! 72 years old…it’s time to honor me..Thx all.

  • Little R. March 4th, 2015 at 9:12 PM #33

    72years old 27 in aa this time. No disease no allergy built a lifestyle in aa. Now deprogaming. Daily AA triggers my sick side. Now empowering me slowly as its in my subconscious. Read, affirm, keep positive friends, get therapy. Neuro-linguistic change. Maybe I’ve still got time. Getting FREE..!!! Thanks to all.

  • drew65 March 23rd, 2015 at 7:14 PM #34

    Thanks all, over 23 years sober in aa, since my mid 20’s. I’ve been slowly pulling away for the past several of those years and yeah “deprograming,” at least that’s what it feels like. I still, maybe once a month or so, feel the need, for some reason to go to a meeting, thinking “maybe it’s me, maybe it’ll be different this time” or “maybe I’m just going through a phase or something” and someday I’ll be a good entranced aa member again? That doesn’t happen though, I always come away with baggage I didn’t go there with and further confirmation that God led me there (and aa did help me get and stay sober), but now God is leading me out of there.

  • drew65 March 27th, 2015 at 7:13 AM #35

    Just reflecting on how, when I do go to the occasional meeting now, all I do, along with everyone else, even those, like me with decades of sobriety, is talk about ourselves like we’re still that screwed up problem ridden person with “a long way to go” and still “alot to work on” etc. Then I leave and it’s like “what a bunch of b.s.” My life is pretty good and I’m not that lost, screwed up kid anymore, I’m a successful, reasonably happy adult. But hey, if you have any confidence in your abilities or get “too happy” watch out! You’re probably not “working a good program.” I get so sick of the self abasement and self deprecation that seems to be a requirement to be a good aa. At this point in my life, to bad mouth myself that way is as much a lie as being grandiose is. It seems “right sized” in aa means smaller and less than you really are. I’ll be 50 in a few months and I’m sick of it.

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