Can AA be “treatment” for some alcoholics seeking recovery?

Over the past 25 years we have seen the emergence of medical and psychotherapy practitioners in dealing with alcoholism. The addiction recovery field is now far broader and offers so much more in terms of options for the client seeking recovery. With this welcome addition to the treatment of addiction has also come the terminology that “AA is not treatment it is a peer support group”

However, prior to the emergence of the medical/psychotherapy specialists into the addiction field AA was regarded as treatment and indeed was viewed by many as the only form of treatment. So from the 1930’s through to the 1980’s AA was seen by society as treatment and then these medical/psychotherapy specialists decided to remove AA from being a treatment for alcoholism and re-clothe it with a new attire “it is a peer support group”

The question this raises is why? Perhaps the cynic might suggest it is to create a position in the recovery field and differentiate themselves from AA.

According to most of the well-known dictionaries one definition of treatment is “medical care given to a patient for an illness or injury.” This definition obviously sits well with those whose position is AA is not treatment. However, the dictionary also defines treatment as “the manner in which someone behaves towards or deals with someone or something.”

Leaving aside the dictionary definitions of “treatment” an examination of who attends AA provides some interesting observations. Prior to discussing these observations I should make the point these observations are based on the following; over the past 33 years I have attended thousands of AA meetings in Australasia, South East Asia the United States. In that time I have met with, listened to and seen tens of thousands of people in the rooms of AA. Many of these people had multiple issues to deal with including depression and other mental illnesses. I am not suggesting these people can receive treatment for these medically diagnosed issues in the rooms of AA. They need and should receive the appropriate specialist assistance which their illness requires. That said there are a significant number of people who attend AA, embark on a journey of recovery and live full and fruitful lives without the need to receive any form of medical/ psychotherapy intervention. This group treated their alcoholism by attending AA.

If this latter group is not treating their alcoholism then what are they doing?

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