The Atlantic 04/2015 article summary: The irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

Contral Clinics

The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous: Challenging Traditional Approaches to Addiction Recovery

Introduction: In the article "The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous," published in The Atlantic, author Gabrielle Glaser explores the limitations and controversies surrounding the widely popular Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program. By examining alternative treatment methods and questioning the effectiveness of AA, the article challenges the traditional approach to addiction recovery. This summary aims to capture the key arguments and insights presented in the article while highlighting the emergence of alternative methods such as Contral Clinics.

Background: The Atlantic is an American magazine founded in 1857 and published in the United States, with a circulation of about half a million. It was originally a literary and cultural magazine, but today it is a general magazine of culture, politics and economics, which is known for its high-quality journalism and whose articles are referenced in numerous leading newspapers and magazines around the world. The original article can be read here:

The Dominance of Alcoholics Anonymous 

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has maintained a powerful presence in addiction recovery, boasting millions of members worldwide.

Its success has been attributed to a strong focus on spirituality, complete abstinence from alcohol, and the support of peers. However, Glaser challenges the effectiveness of AA by asserting that its approach is grounded in outdated and unscientific principles, leaving its success rates largely unverified.

Despite its widespread popularity and long-standing dominance, AA's methods lack scientific scrutiny and validation. Glaser questions whether emphasizing spirituality and surrendering to a higher power is essential for Recovery, particularly for individuals who do not resonate with a spiritual framework. Furthermore, AA's requirement for individuals to label themselves as "alcoholics" can be disempowering and may hinder their sense of agency in the recovery process.

While AA has undoubtedly helped numerous individuals in overcoming alcohol addiction, Glaser's perspective calls into question the need for a reevaluation of the program's principles and the exploration of alternative approaches that align with a modern scientific understanding of addiction recovery.

Questioning AA's Effectiveness 

The article presents several studies that challenge AA's success rates and shed light on the difficulties in measuring success within a self-reported program.

One key point of contention is the high relapse rate among AA meeting individuals.

Critics argue that this indicates that the program's abstinence-based approach may not be suitable for everyone. While AA promotes complete abstinence from alcohol, the reality is that many individuals struggle to maintain long-term sobriety, leading some to question the program's efficacy.

Another aspect that draws criticism is AA's requirement for individuals to surrender to a higher power and label themselves "alcoholics." Critics argue that this can be disempowering for some individuals, as it reinforces a sense of powerlessness and perpetuates a self-identity tied solely to addiction. This aspect of AA's philosophy has been seen as exclusionary for those who do not identify with traditional notions of spirituality or who prefer a more secular approach to Recovery.

The challenges of measuring success within AA's self-reported program make it difficult to determine its effectiveness.While many individuals credit AA with helping them achieve sobriety, it is essential to acknowledge that its methods may not work for everyone, and alternative approaches should be considered. 

A smiling man with smart casual clothes floating in a beer pint

The Rise of Alternative Approaches "Contral Clinics" 

Further, the author Gabrielle Glaser delves into the emergence of alternative treatment methods that challenge the dominance of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). One alternative approach highlighted in the article is the Finland-based Contral Clinics, which provides a different perspective on addiction recovery.

Contral Clinics depart from AA's abstinence-based approach by focusing on evidence-based treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medications. Rather than mandating complete abstinence, Contral Clinics aim to reduce or control drinking, recognizing that individuals may have varying goals regarding their relationship with alcohol.

What sets Contral Clinics apart is their emphasis on personalized and flexible treatment plans. Contrary to the traditional one-size-fits-all approach of AA, these clinics consider individual circumstances, preferences, and goals. By tailoring the treatment to each person, Contral Clinics challenge the notion that lifelong abstinence is the only path to Recovery.

The article highlights the value of evidence-based treatments used in Contral Clinics. Medications such as naltrexone and acamprosate are shown to be effective in reducing cravings and preventing relapse. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is another essential component, helping individuals develop coping mechanisms and addressing the underlying causes of addiction.

Contral Clinics offer an alternative community and support system for individuals seeking Recovery outside the traditional AA framework. These clinics recognize that not everyone resonates with AA's spiritual aspects or the label of being an "alcoholic." Contral Clinics foster empowerment and self-determination in the recovery process by providing a non-judgmental and inclusive environment.

Glaser's exploration of alternative approaches in addiction recovery highlights the need for a more comprehensive understanding of the diverse paths to sobriety. Contral Clinics, with their evidence-based treatments, personalized strategies, and departure from the dogma of lifelong abstinence, provide viable alternatives that challenge the dominance of AA and promote individual empowerment in the recovery journey.

The Science Behind Alternative Approaches

The author explores the scientific research that supports alternative approaches to addiction recovery. She highlights the effectiveness of naltrexone and acamprosate in reducing cravings and preventing relapse.

Scientific studies have demonstrated the efficacy of naltrexone and acamprosate in helping individuals with alcohol use disorder.

Naltrexone works by blocking the effects of opioids in the brain, which reduces the rewarding effects of alcohol consumption and decreases cravings. Acamprosate, on the other hand, helps normalize brain activity and reduce withdrawal symptoms, thereby aiding in maintaining abstinence.

The article also emphasizes the importance of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) as a valuable tool in addiction recovery. CBT helps individuals develop coping mechanisms and address the underlying causes of addiction. CBT enables individuals to develop healthier coping strategies and make positive changes in their lives by identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviors.

The scientific evidence supporting these alternative approaches provides a promising avenue for individuals seeking Recovery from alcohol use disorder. Combining medications and therapies like CBT offers a comprehensive, evidence-based practice to address addiction. By targeting both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction, these alternative methods provide individuals with tools and strategies to effectively manage cravings, prevent relapse, and address the root causes of their addiction.

The Role of Peer Support 

Gabrielle Glaser acknowledges the crucial role of peer support in addiction recovery. However, she questions whether peer support must be exclusively tied to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Glaser introduces Mutual Aid Societies (MAS) such as SMART Recovery and LifeRing Secular Recovery as alternative options that provide non-religious approaches to Recovery while emphasizing self-empowerment.

These organizations offer a community for individuals seeking support outside the traditional AA framework. Unlike AA, which centers on surrendering to a higher power and identifying oneself as an "alcoholic," MAS programs focus on personal empowerment and self-directed Recovery. They encourage participants to take charge of their lives and make choices that align with their values and goals.

SMART Recovery, for example, incorporates cognitive-behavioral techniques to help individuals develop coping skills and address underlying causes of addiction. LifeRing Secular Recovery, on the other hand, provides a supportive environment where individuals can share their experiences and receive encouragement without emphasizing spirituality.


Glaser urges readers to critically evaluate the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous and the prevailing dogma surrounding addiction recovery. While acknowledging the positive impact of AA, it highlights the importance of embracing alternative approaches that prioritize scientific evidence, individual choice, and empowerment. Contral Clinics and other evidence-based treatments offer viable options for individuals seeking Recovery, providing personalized and flexible approaches that cater to their needs and goals.

By prioritizing scientific understanding, individual choice, and empowerment, it is possible to create a more comprehensive and effective support system for those struggling with alcohol addiction.

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