Would AA Be More Effective If It Wasn’t Anonymous?

Give a voice to the voiceless!


Yesterday Russell Brand went on the debut of Oprah’s new show, “Oprah Prime,” to talk addiction. Like many celebrities, he spoke about sobriety without mentioning AA. There is a reason stars do that. The 11th of the 12 traditions that Alcoholics Anonymous is based on states: “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.”

The recent death of revered actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has many people talking about addiction and recovery.

Brand told Winfrey that Hoffman’s death “doesn’t make any sense unless you accept that addiction is an illness.” I agree with him on that and thought that by now the general public had accepted addiction as a disease. But, after Hoffman overdosed, there was a surprising amount of Internet rants about how stupid and selfish addicts are. Tons of posts sneered and accused addicts of claiming addiction is a disease as a lazy excuse.


If it were not an illness, then why would any insurance company cover treatment? If it were just some lazy, sloppy, disgusting irresponsibility on the part of the addict, there’s no way that rehab and therapy treatment would be paid for by most medical plans.

One big problem is the double-edged sobriety sword of anonymity. Tradition 11 came about because AA began in the 1930s when abuse of a substance carried with it a stigma of shame. Back then there was also a stigma surrounding being gay, but as times changed, so did people. Homosexuality was talked about, is talked about, and anybody with half a brain can see that somebody’s sexual preference has nothing to do with their value as a person. But as the years have gone by, AA literature has not changed with the times.

There is a strong reason for that. AA as a whole believes in the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Those not in AA, or any of the spin-off 12-step recovery groups, have extremely strong opinions based on conjecture. Wouldn’t it be better if the public learned, as addicts learn in recovery, that addicts don’t need to carry shame? Addiction is an illness and illnesses need to be treated. It’s odd how easily people choose to ignore all of the scientific studies on addiction and the brain.


When someone has a relapse with cancer, I don’t know of anybody who would shame them for that. People don’t call them stupid. What if that person didn’t change any of their eating, drinking or smoking habits? People don’t seem to worry about that or take that into consideration when a loved one has to go back on chemo. Yet, one of the main symptoms of addiction is relapse, and just like the cancer patient who didn’t change their habits, if an alcoholic or addict doesn’t change, they will most likely become sick again — spiritually, mentally and physically. The relapsed addict is often met with disdain.

If I thought it would work I’d write back to venomous posters who said addicts are disgusting and claimed, “Hoffman did it to himself.” But people who feel they are right despite the facts tend to think: when I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.

What would the harm be if the literature caught up with the times and let go of the importance of anonymity? Wouldn’t it help people to know why the 12 steps have the largest success rate of any other treatment for addiction? Making everything out in the open would make treatment less of a mystery. So why is there so much resistance to changing tradition 11?

The thinking behind it is that if a person publicly talks about 12-step recovery and then loses their sobriety publicly, it will make people turn against AA. It will make addicts/alcoholics reluctant to get sober. They’ll say, “Look what happened to Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was in AA. See? It doesn’t work.” They also fear that it will discourage people from attending meetings if they feel they have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

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Those are valid and valuable reasons, but I’m not sure which is more important: teaching people about AA and letting them know how to find help or protectively hiding it so as not to risk judgment of the program.

I don’t have the answer. Do you?

Give a voice to the voiceless!


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