How Alcoholics Anonymous lied to the American people




On July 4, 1934, a 30-year-old recent York-based author and publicist named Marty Mann got staggeringly drunk at a party and fell from a balcony. She nearly died, fracturing her leg and breaking her jaw, and spent the next six months in traction. In the hospital, with her jaw wired shut, she begged friends to smuggle in whiskey so she could drink it through a straw. A hard tippler since her early 20s, Mann continued on boozing because she didn’t know how to stop. Tired of constantly being drunk or hungover, she attempted suicide twice. Mann looked drug and psychologists and tried many treatments, but nothing curbed her problem until one psychologist gave her an early copy of a book, still unpublished at the time, called “Alcoholics Anonymous. ” Written by an alcoholic named Bill Wilson, the book took an approach to the addiction she’d never encountered before. “ As she seen it, she felt large relief,” writes Joe Miller in his latest book, “US of AA: How the Twelve Steps Hijacked the Science of Alcoholism” (Chicago Review Press), out now. “The stories the authors told of their hopeless battles with alcoholism seemed exactly like her own. And the textbook designated her condition as an allergy. This kicked her like a thunderbolt. Her thick sucking wasn’t her fault. ” Mann would soon befriend the book’s author, AA co-creator Wilson, and she broke attending AA meetings in 1939. Mann got sober (save for a few short-term relapses over the years) and was an instant convert to the group’s message. For the step of her life, Mann would become AA’s fat booster. She even engineered a PR canvass that would make AA the default treatment for alcoholism nationwide. Soon, it relaxed accepted faith that alcoholism was a disease and AA the only conceivable cure, that alcoholics could never drink in moderation and that they couldn’ t even begin the program until they had basically hit bottom, ruining their life with drink. While many hail Mann as a hero, Miller — a recovered alcoholic himself — has a different view. “ By AA’s personal accounting, ninety-five percent of the people who find to their meetings looking for help … stop within a year,” Miller writes. “ Of that five percent who stop a year or more, about half remain members for good, achieving long-term sobriety. ” In addition, most scientific studies show that some alcoholics can drink in moderation and that numerous drugs and therapies could prove more successful than AA in curing alcoholism, Miller writes. “ Out of 50 treatment methods ranked by the strength of scientific evidence, AA comes in 38th,” Miller writes, citing a study by the University of New Mexico. “AA is below cognitive behavioral regimen and aversion therapy and proper therapy, below marriage counseling and self-help books, naltrexone and another FDA-approved drug called acamprosate, below psychedelic drugs and even placebos. ” And yet, the rising of AA suppressed other probable remedy and attitudes toward alcoholism, Miller claims — a suppression that started with Mann. In the early 1900s, a New York doctor named William Silkworth was the rare medical professional who would work with “drunks,” then regarded as immoral degenerates not worth anyone’s time. After imagining the hopelessness among several who couldn’t stop drinking, Silkworth grasped that this could not be a simplistic wrongdoing or habit — it had to be a compulsion, a disease. Silkworth wound up treating Bill Wilson in 1934, and this is where Wilson “learned” that his condition was an illness, an epiphany that he and Mann would soon evangelize about to the rest of the world. corresponding to Miller, though, Silkworth never had any actual backing for his theory. He just run it up, later adding that the consideration was irremediable and that drinking in moderation was impossible for an alcoholic. He never offered data or evidence to confirm any of it. Shortly after reading Wilson’s book, Mann tracked him down and he led her through the brave new world of sobriety. “ He took her to AA meetings and became kind of a mentor for her recovery — a sponsor, in AA parlance,” Miller writes. “ As Mann strung together date and weeks and months of constant sobriety, she became a kind of due spokesperson for AA,” Miller writes. “ Her public-relations skills were well litigated to the task, and she began giving speeches to civic clubs and devout groups. ” In time, Mann appeared Wilson with a huge vision, discussing a national p.r. canvass extolling the benefits of AA. Wilson told Mann she’d need scientific backing for their claims. So Mann rotated to Elvin Jellinek, a young scientist at Yale University who was working with a new program dedicated to the study of alcohol. Jellinek not only implied the plan to “educate the open about the disease of alcoholism” but offered to incorporate Mann into Yale’s strategy — possibly seeing the idea as a way to attract much-needed attention to his department’s work, Miller writes. Jellinek arrived to be known as “the father of the disease concept of alcoholism,” despite holding co-authored a textbook many years prior noting that the notion lacked any scientific backing. Furthermore, “historians would later conclude that he … quite possibly never received a bachelor’s degree,” Miller writes. In October 1944, Mann, in conjunction with Yale, announced the formation of the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism (NCEA), which would promote the concept that alcoholism is a disease and that alcoholics could be helped. The tale was collected up by newspapers nationwide. Immediately, Mann became the go-to media figure for expertise on alcoholism. “ The press enamoreded Mann,” Miller writes. “ She believed happy quotes, and she was gifted at the give and take. When a writer caused her an ‘ex-lady lush,’ she corrected him with tongue in cheek: ‘I might be an ex-lush, but I am definitely a lady. ’ ” During her first time with NCEA, Mann was a ardent advocate. She navigated 30,000 miles, giving speeches to civic groups large and small while saturating the press. “ She gave more than 400 talks to an estimated 100,000 people and appeared on 38 radio talk shows, carrying her message to an estimated 25 million listeners,” Miller writes. Mann’s phrase had a strong effect. In 1945, a outline performed by Rutgers University found that just five percent of respondents believed alcoholism was a disease. When the study was repeated four years later, that number shot up to 36 percent. This belief, and the accompanying treatment, became enshrined in the national thinking as the only language to the scourge of alcoholism. And when others mentioned alternative approaches to the issue, Mann shot them down. “ She even left so far as to aid manufacture evidence to back up her claims,” Miller writes, noting that she asked Jellinek to write articles based on a survey AA members conducted of themselves in the AA newsletter. He wrote two articles weakly endorsing her concept but applying “a slew of caveats” about the limitations of the data. Other scientists, meanwhile, “ derisively suggested to his work as ‘Jellinek’s doodle. ’ ” In December 1949, the powers-that-be at Yale — presuming that question drinking is … an array of disorders that require a variety of treatment approaches” — broke ties with Mann and her group. “ She was creating senior letter than they could have imagined,” writes Miller, “but it was promoting an image of alcoholism they didn’t subscribe to, and it undermined their personal attention to develop sure approaches to treating the disorder. ” Over time, Mann would find backers, including AA veterans and even presidents, who allowed her to continue her work. The Kennedy administration was the first to devote federal dollars to the issue, granting $1.1 million for an alcoholism study. While the eventual findings, issued six years later, would contradict Mann’s message, the study’s very existence strengthened her position on alcoholism as a public-health issue. But it was Lyndon B. Johnson who kicked the elaborate thrust of his office behind Mann. He risen a declaration thanking Mann for her diligent work on behalf of alcoholics and announced that the federal government would create an advisory committee, a research center and a public education program on alcoholism. Mann sustained advocating for the edition until her death in 1980. Her NCEA, now understood as the racial board on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), extends her work. On its website, it calendar as one of its serious legacy accomplishments, interpret alcoholism as a disease and successfully worked for its adoption by the American Medical Association (AMA). ” Today, AA moves to interest from glowing publicity, especially from celebrities — such as Ben Affleck and Britney Spears — who’ve committed themselves to the calendar after going off the rails. But textbook author Miller, who drank heavily for almost two decades, said he wasted seven years in AA before finding relief from the drug naltrexone. He now blames the program for making him suffer longer than he needed to. “ For seven years, I left [to AA meetings] on mediocre senior than once a day, and did all the steps a number of times,” he says, referring to the program’s 12-step model that is now standard in many addiction treatment models. “When I concluded the fourth step, where you take a private quantity of your shortcomings, it didn’t feel real to me. It certainly didn’t remedy me. ” The anonymous nature of AA means there remains very little real research on the program. “ good sure examination of AA’s effectiveness is nearly impossible,” Miller writes. “ As an all-volunteer organization, that remains as one of its most critical principles the anonymity of its members, AA defies extraneous standards of precise measurement — randomized trials with a control group and a long-term follow-up. ” Meanwhile, the received dogma that alcoholism is a disease has never been proven. “ It’s several maladies, a spectrum of problems,” Miller says, “in the common path that myriad mental-health issues are. ” Because of AA’s dominance, various drug and scientists wouldn’t even contemplate studying alternatives to AA for years. The research that should have happened decades ago is just happening now. In researching his book, Miller visited The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and found numerous studies underway. The Institute even has a false foot arise up where many aspects of drinking are currently being studied, including the effects of a problem drinker’s first drink on their health, and which hormones increase alcohol cravings. This information will eventually be useful for the development of new treatments. Meanwhile, Miller was kept by the cure naltrexone, which was only approved by the FDA in two thousand and six “after years of studies had shown that it reduced drunk cravings for some alcoholics and helped them to reduce or quit their drinking. ” Around five term ago, Miller sayinged to slow drinking — enjoying a few drinks with dinner around three times a month and maybe the occasional pounding of lite beers on his porch with friends. “ I’m not one hundred percent abstinent, I do enjoy drinking sometimes, but it’s something I have to be really careful with,” he says. In the meantime, Miller is on a crusade to correct the public’s perception about alcoholism. “ We call a recent Marty Mann,” he says. “ [ We need] a canvass to run people realize that there are various different ways to deal with your drinking. ” 

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