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Challenging Alcoholics Anonymous as the model for substance abuse treatment

by AirTalk®

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Members of the Alcoholics Anonymous self-help group take part in a meeting in Moscow, on December 1, 2012. YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images

The 12-step model of alcohol addiction treatment has been the status quo in rehabilitation centers for well over fifty years. Alcoholics Anonymous was formed in the 1930s and by 2000, the 12 steps were the program of choice for 90 percent of American addiction treatment programs.

The success of these rehab programs is now under extra scrutiny since the Affordable Care Act now requires that substance misuse be covered by insurance in the same way as physical illnesses. Several prominent physicians have come out to challenge the dominance of the 12-step model.

A new book, The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry, by former professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School Dr. Lance Dodes is the latest to criticize the AA model.

He argues that some studies find that people mandated into AA programs aren't any more successful, and sometimes do worse, than those who are simply left alone.

Is the abstinence-based AA model the most successful treatment program? Should it be the dominant program for the vast majority of American treatment centers? Does one method of treatment work better than another?


Dr. Lance Dodes, MD, former director of Harvard’s substance abuse treatment unit at McLean Hospital and co-author of the upcoming book, The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind Twelve-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry

Marc Mahoney, director of operations at SOBA Recovery Center in Malibu, a treatment center rooted in the 12-step philosophy. 

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