Ever Google “peer support” groups, rehabs, or other addiction related services and come across the 12 Step programs as their example of support and services, excluding all other programs available?  I have, and I also have contacted the websites with my concerns.

The first website I contacted was the University of Kansas’ Community Tool Box.  In their section titled “Creating and Facilitating Peer Support Groups,” I noticed they mentioned there were over 500,000 support groups yet they only mentioned as a historical anecdote Alcoholics Anonymous.  According to them, AA meetings were a “safe place” for people to discuss their problems.

Furthermore, the page went on to explain the benefits of and how a support group should work.  In brief, members should “share information, keeping one another up to date on news of interest to them,” and support groups are “a safe place for someone who needs to talk about intensely personal issues, experiences, struggles, and thoughts,” and paying for advertising “in the local newspaper, as well as those in publications or newsletters put out by agencies or businesses that reach the same folks you want to.”

Some of the CTB's peer support group criteria.
Some of the CTB’s peer support group criteria.

Unfortunately, Alcoholics Anonymous fails in most everything I just listed: 1.) AA’s traditions limit discussion to AA-only topics, banning “outside issues” and permitting for only AA-conference or AA-group approved literature.  2.) AA has no safety measures, but it does have the unwritten “13th Step,” which is the tradition of old timers making unwanted sexual advancements on newcomers (any advancement, from sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual touching or requests, and even rape).  3.)  AA forbids advertising, instead it has been heavily reliant on rehabs, courts, and the media to promote AA for them.  That’s no big secret if you’ve heard about AA from Russell Brand or Dr. Drew or watched “Flight” or went to rehab or were mandated to AA for a DUI.  (A list of dozens of other movies showcasing AA since at least 1950 can be found here.)

Community Tool Box also stated the importance of “Being a good listener,” by “repeating or rephrasing the speaker’s last phrase to let him know you understood. (‘I can’t believe my mother was so cold about it,’ could be responded with, “So you were really hurt by what your mother did,’ for example.)”  In AA, that’s called “cross-talk” and it is not permitted at meetings.  But Community Tool Box insists Shawna can offer advice to Brian, or Annie can offer advice to Brian, or the group can… Examples that do not occur in AA meetings.  I had to write to this website, ASAP.

I wrote:

In Chapter 21 about Peer Support groups it is stated that AA is a safe place.  I disagree.  AA has no code of conduct or safety rules.  (This can be looked up on Google.)  I write extensively about this lack of safety in AAA, especially for people with past issues of trauma.  In AA, there is “cross-talk,” therefore members cannot ask direct questions to one another.  Also, as your peer support guide states, support means being able to mention other modes of support (in recovery this would include SMART Recover, SOS or WFS, etc.)… In AA one is not allowed to talk of “outside issues,” as in any recovery support group that is not AA.  This is a great disservice to millions.  Also, if you look up the SAMHSA guidelines for support groups in recovery, you’d see that AA breaks one of the main goals of support— in that members are coerced and forced to attend AA meetings upon consequence of losing their job, or going to jail.  I would love to talk to someone about this concern I have about the AA program.

CTB's First Response. Lukewarm reception from me.
CTB’s First Response. Lukewarm reception from me.

They replied:

Thanks for contacting CTB and for expressing your personal concerns about AA.  CTB takes no position about any outside peer support group and does not have a process for engaging in dialog about outside groups.  We offer only guidelines for forming new peer support groups, in order to assist people who may what to consider them when forming new groups.

We hope some of these comments may be helpful to you.  Thank you again for writing to us, and all the best wishes in your work.

Copy of my polite almost scathing initial response.
Copy of my polite almost scathing initial response.

In community,

The Community Tool Box “Ask an Advisor” Team

Actually, CBT, that reply was most unhelpful.  I wrote back acknowledging I appreciated their reply, yet their information made it appear AA provides the same services their definition of peer support groups provide when it does not.  I asked why was AA mentioned specifically if CBT has no position on AA.  I stated “I would like that sentence removed.  I, and many others, have been sexually harassed in AA and AA doesn’t address our concerns.”

Soon after I was given this reply from Christina:  “Thank you for expressing your concern about the content which seemed to endorse AA in Chapter 21 of the Community Tool Box.  Because of your feedback/advocacy, we have gone ahead and removed these references.  We are glad you have food the Community Tool Box resources and hope you find them useful.”  Actually, now I find Chapter 21 of the CTB far more useful thanks to their removal of including Alcoholics Anonymous.

The new and improved introduction has no mention of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The new and improved introduction has no mention of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The response I was waiting for!
The response I was waiting for!

Naturally, I was surprised they actually responded and shocked they took action.  Contacting websites providing misleading information and having favoritism towards Alcoholics Anonymous is one more way we can all be activists every day.  In my next blog, I’ll continue this quest with another website.  If any readers have any suggestions as to organizations or websites I can contact, also let me know.  The more of us who speak up, the more we change the landscape of treating people with substance use problems.