Leaving AA, staying sober: new perspectives on recovery


Update: May 2020

1. Introduction
2. For the suffering alcoholic and those unhappy in AA
3. What it was like, what happened, what it’s like now
4. The truth about Alcoholics Anonymous
5. God, as we understood Him
6. We agnostics
7. Secular alternatives to AA
8. Does the success of AA obscure other options?
9. AA and transparency
10. A hundred forms of fear: AA and anxiety
11. A vision for you? New perspectives on recovery
12. Disclaimer, references, feedback


Update, May 2020.  As we come towards the end of the UK’s coronavirus “lock down” period I hope you, your family and your friends are all doing OK. Obviously the social distancing measures currently in place have closed off the public speaking engagements I had hoped to take up over the remainder of the year.  Happily, most of the dates are now rescheduled for 2021, including a conference in the USA that I’m very excited about. More details later. Meantime I’m still working on the book version of my PhD. My research explores the same links between evolutionary psychology, religion and culture that I discuss here, and I’m lucky to have secured a contract with a very good academic publisher. I will keep updating the front end of this essay so people know it’s still a live document. Please stay safe. Best wishes, Jon S.


big_book_first_ed 1. Introduction

I stopped attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings in January 2014 after fourteen years of committed fellowship.  This is not something I’d necessarily recommend, but it felt like the right thing for me at the time.

Writing this essay helped focus my thoughts. It may also be helpful to others.  I’ve updated it regularly and included links to the most useful books and YouTube sites discussed below.  Please let me know if any URL links aren’t working.  All the books, videos or organisations cited can be reached via Google, too.

I learned a lot in AA, and would still recommend problem drinkers and alcoholics give the fellowship their very best efforts.  AA’s a great place to get sober.  It combines a useful programme of recovery and a supportive environment where you can connect with a wide range of people in a similar situation.

Mutual support groups help people find recovery, and AA is the biggest and most successful of its type in history.  Continuing to attend meetings also helps people maintain long-term abstinence, and numerous studies support this.

Thousands upon thousands of active participants in AA have enjoyed twenty or thirty plus years of continuous sobriety, and it can be very inspiring to meet such individuals. The positive benefits of AA are also felt by the many family members of recovering alcoholics who no longer have to suffer their destructive and self-centered behaviour.

However it’s also true that, after a period of sobriety in AA, many members drift away from the fellowship.  If you’re not content in AA, and you’re not sure why, this page offers something different to the folklore we all hear in meetings: viable alternatives and an account of some positive post-twelve step experiences.  tcrn710_hiMost readers are from North America, so a special welcome to anyone from the USA and Canada.  I’m British so my spelling and accent reflect that.  Some web links point toward “.co.uk” addresses so please just redirect your browser as necessary.

Please note I’m not suggesting anyone reading this should quit AA.  This essay is based on nothing more than my personal experience.  It’s just my story and the results of some ongoing research.  It is not a “how to” guide for leaving the fellowship, does not constitute medical advice of any kind, and should not be treated as such.  

There’s a more detailed disclaimer at the foot of this web page.  Here you’ll also find an opportunity for feedback.  All comments and critiques are appreciated.  Please email me if you’d like to get in touch: jonsleeper[at]btopenworld[dot]com


2. For the suffering alcoholic and those unhappy in AA

Alcoholics Anonymous has over two million participants globally.  It is a friendly and welcoming organisation with many caring and helpful members.  AA offers companionship, empathy, and a free programme of recovery that is also remarkably effective.

If you think you have a drinking problem and haven’t tried AA yet, stop reading this essay and go to a meeting.   Ongoing regular attendance in mutual support groups helps many alcoholics find recovery.  Plus AA is anonymous and non-professional so won’t affect your medical or health insurance records.

It works.  Check it out for yourself.  Here’s a link to a well informed and well-balanced article describing the fellowship for anyone who is new: Your First AA Meeting

Of course in lots of locations across the USA and around the world AA is also the only active support group for alcoholics seeking help – meaning there’s often no effective choice in that matter.

However, a growing number of options are slowly becoming available.  Some of these are outlined in section seven: “Secular Alternatives to AA”.
AA 1 month sobriety chip

If you’ve been in AA a short while and are not yet confident in sobriety, peer support such as that found in meetings can be a crucial factor in early and ongoing recovery.  In the absence of an alternative, please think twice and use the fellowship to put some serious distance between you and your last drink before even considering any dramatic changes.

AA members with longer periods of abstinence should be mindful that AA’s disease model of alcoholism and its associated dogma of powerlessness can become a catastrophic self-fulfilling prophecy.  Quitting the fellowship is not a decision to be taken lightly.

If you’ve been active in AA for many years you will almost certainly be far more dependent on the meetings and the steps than you can possibly imagine.  Don’t leave before deprogramming.  Remain vigilant and actively “in recovery”.

I quit abruptly, for personal reasons, but most folks I speak to seem to find a “one foot in and one foot out” strategy more appropriate.  On reflection that’s probably also the route I’d suggest,  but for anyone thinking of reducing their involvement in the fellowship I strongly recommend putting alternative support networks in place.

By nature this is always a personal journey.  It’s not easy and takes a fair amount of work.  Tread carefully and remember that AA’s a truly welcoming environment, so former members can always go back if they don’t feel good about life outside the fellowship.  No-one will mind.  The door, as they say, swings both ways.


Here’s a summary of my approach:

a) I researched the cultural history of alcoholism to find out how our fellowship became the dominant self-help organisation in this field, and whether the success of AA now obscures other means of recovery.

b) I reclaimed my original atheistic and naturalistic worldviews.  AA literature heavily and repeatedly emphasises the requirement for recovery “on a spiritual basis” – I was no longer comfortable with that notion.

c) I read up on the subject of evolutionary psychology to learn more about the causes of alcoholism, to explain why so many people in twelve step recovery suffer from ongoing anxiety, and to better understand the power behind AA’s in-group thinking.


Having learned more about alcohol abuse and gained a more realistic understanding of how AA really works, the prospect of quitting seemed much less intimidating.

I’ve tried to hang on to the good stuff (don’t take the first drink one day at a time, be grateful, be helpful, be honest, keep in contact with other abstinent people, integrate recovery activities in your daily routine) and jettisoned the less helpful elements.

A growing number of reliable and well-formulated techniques for ongoing sober living are now available via the internet, and there are lots of useful FaceBook recovery groups.  You’ll find links to some of the best blogs, books and online videos throughout the remainder of this essay.

3. What it was like, what happened, what it’s like now

As a daily drinker who experienced a wretched rock bottom, AA saved my life.  I have probably attended over 1,600 meetings over the years.  Active in service and sponsorship, I held great faith in the fellowship’s core text Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”).

I practised the programme in all my affairs, had a spiritual awakening as a result of working the twelve steps, and helped many others do the same.  After all, that’s the basic idea.  Isn’t it?


Then, another invisible line.  Despite all best efforts, nothing seemed to help.  “It works if you work it” … stopped working.

Eventually it transpired that while the fellowship helps separate many alcoholics from their immediate source of discomfort, its programme of recovery doesn’t always encourage sound long-term mental health.

For some, such as myself, AA simply replaces one form of dependency (alcohol) with another (the meetings, the programme, your higher power).

Truth is my new higher power.  Understanding is my new programme.  I practice it through research and critical thinking.


The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth.

Albert Einstein, The World As I See It

4. The truth about Alcoholics Anonymous

AA’s founders took great pains to emphasise their links to, and endorsements from, the leading addiction treatment professionals of their time.  However, the fellowship’s programme of recovery was not grounded in any formal medical research.

Bill Wilson, the author of AA’s twelve steps, was a dedicated spiritualist who became sober only after a moment of divine inspiration.  His methodology was largely drawn from the tenets of The Oxford Group, the long forgotten evangelical Christian movement where AA formed.


Faith-based revelatory knowledge is, by nature, extremely difficult to update.  As a result the fellowship’s core text remains almost entirely unchanged since first published in 1939.  Arguably, it is now somewhat outdated.

For example, the book’s famous statement “physicians agree there is no such thing as making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic … science may one day accomplish this, but it hasn’t done so yet” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 31) has been obsolete for some time.

The Sinclair Method is an evidence-based and extremely successful means for achieving this once incomprehensible goal.  Of course it’s never mentioned in AA meetings, not least because clients can keep drinking during their treatment.  If you want to know more check out the ground-breaking independent documentary movie One Little Pill, Vimeo, currently available on Vimeo.

SMART Recovery, which uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), invites another interesting comparison.  CBT is built on evidence-based principles revised over time with the benefit of practitioner experience.  What’s more, unlike AA’s twelve step programme, CBT does not ask participants to declare themselves powerless and insane before praying to a higher power.

We’ll come back to these and other alternatives shortly, after more about the importance of spirituality in AA.


5. God, as we understood him

“God is dead” (Nietzsche, 1882)  …  “Nietzsche is dead” (God, 1900)

As the central thesis of AA’s core text is that alcoholics must find a higher power of their own definition (“God, as we understood Him”) without which recovery is impossible, what follows may sound horrendous to any “Big Book” adherent.

Unfortunately your higher power, or indeed any sense of spirituality, is imaginary.  It doesn’t exist.  Neither did mine. Spirituality is a human construct with no basis in reality, the product of our evolution over millennia as social animals.

Darwin_as ape (1871)

Here, in a video that provided a significant turning point in my own twelve step deprogramming, Dr. J. Anderson Thomson (Why We Believe In Gods) uses evolutionary psychology to gently and logically explain away any sense we might conceive of a higher power and all our spiritual impulses.


Interestingly, each of the mechanisms Andy Thomson outlines in this talk can be mapped against our experiences in AA: from an instinctive need for guidance (a higher power, a sponsor) to the persuasive forces of fellowship ritual and in-group mentality (alcoholic self-identification, the stylised language, common meeting formats).  It’s compelling stuff.

So where does this argument leave  “Chapter 4: We Agnostics“, Bill Wilson’s eloquent defence of faith and spirituality in AA’s core text?  However hard you try, you just can’t make it stand up (much like me when I drank).  Ultimately Bill just substitutes one form of denial, or self lie, with another.

It’s the 21st century.  Alcohol use disorders continue to cause massive social problems.  Is this the best we can do?


6. We agnostics

Atheists and anti-theists are in a particularly invidious situation here.  Many simply choose to tolerate the fellowship’s overt religiosity.  Some try to ignore it as best they can, or seek out freethinking AA meetings.

AA Agnostica and AA Beyond Belief are brilliant online resources on this subject, and it’s fantastic to see the recent growth in “non-prayer” meetings across the USA and UK.  I’d encourage any atheist and agnostic alcoholic to make use of this support.

This new outcrop of atheist AA meetings, both face-to-face and online, is a welcome development that will only continue to grow.  If you’re a non-religious person thinking of joining AA I’d strongly recommend getting involved in that aspect of recovery.  You’ll meet some great people and it’s very exciting to be involved in such a rapidly expanding part of the recovery community .

Others make an honest attempt to “fake it ’til you make it” and do their best to get spiritual.  This is earnestly and repeatedly requested in the literature, and even required by some twelve step sponsors.

Still others, however, find such obstacles insurmountable.  The longer I’ve been away from the fellowship, the more people I meet who lost a relative or friend simply because they “couldn’t get the God bit”.

Traditional “spiritual” AA has few real answers to this beyond the slightly insulting notion that these “unfortunates” didn’t try hard enough or weren’t sufficiently motivated.  As the fellowship’s core text argues in “Chapter 5: How it Works” the only reason such people can’t recover is because they are “constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves”.


I’m sure AA co-founder Dr. Bob Smith was a great guy.  He certainly helped thousands of other drunks get sober.  Yet even Bob proffers only condescension with his final words in the “Big Book”:

If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you.

Dr Bob Smith, Alcoholics Anonymous, (4th Ed.), p. 181

It might have been possible for a damp, desperate, soft-edged sceptic like me to suspend their judgement on the subject of a higher power back at the turn of the millennia; but the years since passed have witnessed stratospheric advances in our self-knowledge.


As Alex Rosenberg posits in The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, “science fixes all the facts.”  There’s no room to hide on this topic, and the issue is not going away. If you don’t believe me read Dan BarkerRichard DawkinsDan DennettChristopher Hitchens, A. C. Grayling, Susan Jacoby, or J. Anderson Thomson Jr.  Seriously.

A personal loving higher power, even just a vague sense of spiritual guidance, may once have been a useful tool to help suffering alcoholics find recovery – but it’s also no longer a valid world view. Where might that come from, if AA’s core thesis has become redundant?

7. Secular alternatives to AA

We desperately need accessible, rational, reliable and safe alcoholism and addiction treatment. Methodologies applicable by anyone, not just those willing to believe in a higher power. Fortunately several effective non-faith based alternatives to AA are gradually gaining ground.  They have far fewer face-to-face meetings, but each enjoys a growing online presence.


SMART Recovery offers self help for alcoholism and addiction using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It didn’t exist here in the UK back when I was trying to get sober, but there are now 200 weekly face-to-face meetings in Britain, and virtual groups running 24 hours a day online.


LifeRing Secular Recovery helps participants design their own boutique Personal Recovery Program.  It offers face-to-face meetings in many parts of North America, Europe and the UK – including Greater London. There is also a great deal of online help available. Literature such as the excellent Empowering Your Sober Self, can be also purchased from LifeRing’s website.

LifeRing Martin Nicolaus

In this excellent and informative talk LifeRing co-founder Martin Nicolaus discusses the history of alcohol treatment.  It’s a real eye-opener for anyone who wants to know the truth about how our fellowship defined and shaped the medical response to alcoholism that provided another turning point in my own deprogramming process.

Those who struggle with abstinence may find The Sinclair Method helpful.  Here patients are actually required to keep drinking during a therapeutic process that, over a short time, effectively extinguishes their alcoholic cravings.


One Little Pill is a truly impressive independent documentary on this subject available on Vimeo.  Incredibly The Sinclair Method has been used to treat thousands of alcoholics in Finland since 1994..!  How many alcoholics have died over the past twenty years whose lived might have been saved by this simple treatment?

It’s cheap and extremely efficacious, with a great deal of support from peer reviewed research, and a demonstrable long term success rate as high as 78%.  While participants initially keep drinking during the first phase of treatment, many also find this method an effective route to long term abstinence.

It’s been encouraging to hear from some real Sinclair Method success stories since I first posted this essay.  NickyKatz has created his own blog and is also live tweeting an online drinking diary of his experience (@NickyKatz).  You’ll find lots more useful information at www.the-sinclair-method.com

8. Does the success of AA obscure other options?

AA is certainly helpful during the vulnerable early days or months of sobriety.  However as our “Big Book” reiterates in the strongest possible terms, and as you’ll often hear in meetings, it works most effectively for people who surrender entirely to the programme.  Alcoholics with the so-called “gift of desperation” who have become “teachable” because of their suffering.

In the summer of 2000 I’d have done almost anything to get sober, but according to that logic might other forms of peer support not work equally as well?  Is it possible that the widespread media endorsement and public acceptance of AA has begun to obscure more accessible, up-to-date, evidence-based means of recovery?

12 Step Groups

There are now over 50 AA meetings a week plus dozens of other twelve step fellowships such as Cocaine Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous active in my home city of Brighton.

SMART Recovery, which uses science-based CBT rather than a spiritual programme, has only two weekly gatherings in my town.  (These are great sessions and definitely worth attending if you’re looking for an alternative to AA.)

Sadly, there’s never been any representation for LifeRing or The Sinclair Method.  That’s not because these alternatives don’t work.  It’s simply that no-one knows about them.

This is a real shame, particularly for atheists seeking help. Like many other rationalists I had to hit a real hard rock bottom before I could swallow the spiritual emphasis in AA literature and meetings.

Why was that necessary?  Is the quiet voice of scientific progress being drowned out by the media endorsement and public acceptance of faith based recovery?

Marty MannDon’t believe that line about “attraction rather than promotion” in the fellowship’s traditions.  AA’s founders and early advocates such as public relations guru Marty Mann quickly became adept at using movies and newspapers to spread their message.

The result, either accidentally or on purpose, is AA’s seeming ubiquity across all forms of media in the USA and UK. Since the ground breaking 1945 feature film Lost Weekend, AA has featured in countless movies from Hannah and Her Sisters to Finding Nemo and Wreck-It Ralph.  


AA has also been endorsed in dozens of TV shows, including Dr. Drew, Intervention, Celebrity Rehab, Cagney and Lacey, Hill St Blues, The West WingThe SopranosThe Wire, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, MomEastEnders, EmmerdaleCoronation Street and even BBC Radio 4’s The Archers.


AA doesn’t just dominate the media.  The Sober Truth by Lance Dodes documents the huge vested interests controlling the addiction treatment industry in North America and here in the UK – the overwhelming majority of which is based on twelve step practice.


Dodes’ work is only the latest literature protesting the preponderance of AA and it’s associated fellowships. Some of the best are now almost thirty years old.  Stanton Peele’s prescient classic The Diseasing of America is one example.  The Codependency Conspiracy by Dr. Stan Katz and Aimee Liu is another.


After four decades working in the field of addiction Dr. Peele now runs his own web based recovery program for those seeking alternatives to AA.  Subscribers can access the Life Process Program service directly via interactive education materials and personal coaching.

9. AA and transparency

Here’s a question not yet asked in the critical literature, or even in the fellowship itself.  As the “go-to” source of self help for alcoholics, one that benefits incalculably from uncritical universal media promotion, wouldn’t it be a good idea for AA to provide some information about the viable alternatives?

AA’s General Service Office (GSO) publishes a wide range of official literature for special interest groups such as newcomers, women, young people, old people, gay men and lesbians, Native Americans, African Americans, members of the armed services, non-English speakers, alcoholics formerly or currently in prison … and so on.

AA Pamphlets An authorised “Alternatives to AA” leaflet would sit neatly alongside such works.  Sadly, as anyone who knows AA will tell you, this is never going to happen.

Instead the alternative options are either ignored, dismissed out of hand, or even belittled by AA members.

As is frequently recited in the fellowship’s most well read section of text: “We thought we could find an easier, softer way.  But we could not”.  (Alcoholics Anonymous, “How It Works”, p. 58)

Maybe one day a rainbow of recovery options comprising AA, SMART RecoveryLifeRingThe Sinclair Method and others will be equally available for those seeking wellness.

As the predominant peer support group in the USA and UK, one that enjoys widespread public awareness and benefits from near-unanimous uncritical media endorsement, AA and its members are uniquely positioned to expedite this process.

They could avert incalculable suffering and save many lives by adopting a more honest and open approach toward sharing such information.


AA’s reluctance to change is understandable, but it may also be storing up problems for the fellowship.  Deb Roy’s 2011 TED talk (“Birth of a Word“) and Dan Dennett’s TAM!2014 keynote address (“Can Churches Survive The New Transparency?“) show how conservative faith-based organisations like AA may be forced to evolve in an age of digital information transparency.

10. A hundred forms of fear: AA and anxiety

Fellowship in AA allows many alcoholics to get back on their feet, but the twelve steps can also engender underlying neuroses and manufacture a state of learned helplessness.  For some, this doesn’t necessarily lead to robust long term mental health.

Here’s where the bucket of crabs analogy becomes relevant.  When you’re beach combing and have collected more than a couple of these critters you don’t need a lid on your bucket – because whenever one tries to climb out the others pull it back in.  Is this the role ongoing low level anxiety plays in sustaining twelve step recovery?

Contemporary mental health technology knows better, kinder, tools to encourage well being.  Here’s a question I never heard in fourteen years of fellowship: what is the difference between a thought and a feeling?


Thoughts and feelings are distinct mental processes.  They don’t have to follow on, one from the other.  We’ve known this since the mid-1950s, when pioneering CBT practitioners began to treat self-defeating behaviour by distinguishing between unhelpful thinking and unhealthy emotions.

However that’s not the message of the fellowship and the twelve steps, which were conceived two decades prior to these discoveries.  So while AA’s core text takes great pains to separate an alcoholic’s thoughts from their actions it makes no distinction whatsoever between their thoughts and their feelings. Instead these are entirely interchangeable and synonymous concepts.  Alcoholics are “restless, irritable and discontented” people whose “main problem centers in the mind” because of dishonest, resentful, self-centred, fear-based thinking (Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 32, xxviii, 67).

This is often referred to as “the sober condition” of alcoholism in meetings.  It originates from spiritual “defects of character” and moral “shortcomings” that haunt the sufferer’s world view like the ghost of Jacob Marley.


This is why those in recovery “share” their thoughts and feelings in public at meetings, and in private with their AA sponsors.  Such people are ideally positioned to empathise, because they too are burdened by the same phantoms.

Newcomers are encouraged to immerse themselves in this cycle, sometimes by attending ninety meetings in ninety days.  This fosters an ingrained mental conditioning that becomes difficult to break.  Eventually it seems inconceivable anyone could stay sober without the ongoing support of AA.


11. A vision for you? New perspectives on recovery

So imagine my consternation when, after spending a couple of thousand hours in AA meetings, I learned thoughts are not the same as feelings in my first twenty minutes of CBT. Twenty minutes..! Try it yourself.

Feelings don’t necessarily have to follow thoughts.  You don’t need to share unpleasant feelings, be overwhelmed by them, or worry about drinking because of them.  You don’t even need to feel them, if you don’t want to.

Reading something other than AA’s “Big Book” is a good start, so here are some more up-to-date texts that I found useful:

Visual CBT

– Avy Joseph and Maggie Chapman’s Visual CBT uses simple, easily assimilated line drawings to help readers incorporate and implement healthier thought patterns and behaviours.  It’s an excellent introduction to contemporary evidence-based therapy and a useful update to AA’s old fashioned twelve step “defects of character” model.  If you’re sponsoring someone and really want to help them with “the sober condition” of alcoholism, put away your old fellowship literature for five minutes and read Visual CBT instead.

four books

– Peter W. Soderman’s Powerless No Longer is a superb interpretation of the CBT used in SMART Recovery groups across North America.  Also available as an audiobook.

– Jack Trimpey is arguably one of the more controversial figures in the contemporary recovery movement, but The Small Book (Rational Recovery Systems) is another excellent guide to self empowered recovery. Also available as an audiobook.

– Melanie Solomon’s AA: Not The Only Way presents a useful list of alternatives approaches and is particularly helpful for readers in the USA and Canada

– Marcantonio Spada’s Overcoming Problem Drinking is a useful CBT guide produced by a doctor here in the UK.

The Chimp Paradox / Hardwiring Happiness

– Steve Peters’ The Chimp Paradox is indispensable, the single most important text I read while de-programming from AA.  It explains alcoholic thinking using science rather than supposition, and offers an accessible interpretation of evolutionary psychology that dovetails neatly with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  Also available as an audiobook.

– Rick Hanson’s Hardwiring Happiness is a brilliant follow-up read that explains how and why some of the helpful suggestions heard in AA (such as manufacturing gratitude, meditative quiet time and peer support) actually work, then outlines means of applying them more effectively and efficiently.  Also available as an audiobook.

Dudley Drunken Monkey

– Robert Dudley’s The Drunken Monkey: Why We Drink And Abuse Alcohol presents fascinating contemporary research into the real causes of problem drinking.  This has nothing to do with AA’s notion of “character defects” – it’s a one time evolutionary advantage that is now out of place in the modern social order.


– Australian Academic Misconceptions: Alcoholics Anonymous is a detailed discussion paper prepared by an AA member with over 17 years of recovery offering a fearless, thorough and even-handed critique of our fellowship and its steps.


Thank you for reading this essay.  Please don’t think I’m anti-AA.  I’m not.  I’m pro-choice.   Balance is important here.  It’s often hard to find, probably because we’re all so emotionally invested in the issue of recovery.  It’s precious.  Quite rightly.

There’s more helpful, measured and reliable information for anyone exploring alternatives to twelve step orthodoxy at the blog RecoveringFromRecovery.com and its associated podcast Alcoholism Recovery Radio.   Anyone interested in moving on from, or augmenting, their experience in AA will find these sites helpful.  The proprietor of Recovering From Recovery also runs a thoroughly researched site on The Sinclair Method: The-Sinclair-Method.com.logo.pngRecently I guest-hosted an Atheism Recovery Radio show and interviewed Bob K., author of Key Players in AA History, about his experience as an atheist in recovery.  It was a great conversation and is really worth checking out: http://www.alcoholism-recovery-radio.com/atheism-in-alcoholics-anonymous-with-bob-k/

I found Monica Richardson’s Blog Talk Radio Show “Safe Recovery” to be a useful listen while deprogramming from the twelve steps, particularly the early episodes.    We eventually talked on her show in July 2015.

Monica also made her own award-winning feature-length documentary about sexual predation in AA, The 13th Step, which is now available on demand at Vimeo.com and Amazon.com.  This hard-hitting movie has drawn much-needed attention to a significant problem in the fellowship.The-Guardian-Logo-Font.jpgIn 2015 an interview for a small New Statesman blog ended up being published, with my permission, as a longer piece in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

In 2016 I spoke with the wonderful John S from the AA Beyond Belief podcast for atheists and agnostics in AA, and with Aron Ra for his Ra Men podcast.

I’m a big fan of ex-Scientologist Chris Shelton’s YouTube channel.  We discussed whether or not AA is a cult on his Sensibly Speaking podcast in 2017.  (It’s not, but it has some “culty” members and practices.)


I also contributed to Seth Andrews’ The Thinking Atheist podcast on 12 step recovery programmes in 2017.  I love Seth’s channel and found it really helpful in my journey out of faith in AA.  It’s a long show but Seth tackled the nuanced issues around AA and secular recovery remarkably effectively.

I like to test my ideas in public via Skeptics in the Pub and Humanist Society meetings.  It is a balanced, humorous and informative talk that is always well received.  I’ve done over twenty around the UK in the last couple of years, and hope to visit Bedford, Eastbourne, Sheffield and other Skeptics groups in the coming months.  I’ll post the dates here when they are confirmed.  All are welcome including, of course, current AA members.

Here’s a link to one I gave a year or so ago at Dorset Humanists.

Bnmth 1

“I can thoroughly recommend Jon’s brilliant talk on this subject.”
(David Warden, Chair, Dorset Humanists)
“What a great talk. Informative, humorous and to the point.
One of our best events ever!”
(Adrian Rox, London Atheist Activist Group)
“F*cking excellent.”
(Rob Millar, Maidstone Skeptics in the Pub)

Finally, a word to anyone who’s new or struggling.  If you’re having problems with alcohol, you don’t need to do this alone.  

There’s never been a better time to reach out for help.  

You’ll be very welcome in any AA or SMART Recovery meeting.  They’re extremely friendly places, so give it a go and find out for yourself.

If you’re interested in the growing range of options for people trying to quit or control their drinking, I hope you find some of the suggestions on this site useful.  Remember, there’s no reason why anyone shouldn’t combine various approaches.

If I can get sober, anyone can.  So please give it your best efforts and see what happens.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Stay safe and very best wishes.

Jon S CHI-01-RK0086-08P 12. Disclaimer, references, comments

Please note that, for the avoidance of doubt, I’m not a medical doctor or any kind of therapist.  This website contains general information and personal opinion provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied.  It is not advice, and should not be treated as such.  Do not rely on the information herein as an alternative to advice from a qualified medical practitioner.  If you have specific questions about alcoholism or any related medical matter please consult a professional healthcare provider.  You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.


Dr. Lance Dodes, 2014,  The Sober Truth: Debunking The Bad Science Behind 12 Step Programmes and the Rehab Industry

Dr. Robert Dudley, 2014, The Drunken Monkey: Why We Drink And Abuse Alcohol

Dr. Rick Hanson, 2013, Hardwiring Happiness: The Practical Science of Reshaping Your Brain – And Your Life

Avy Joseph & Maggie Chapman, 2013. Visual CBT: Using Pictures to Help You Apply Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to Change Your Life

Dr. Stan J. Katz & Aimee Liu, 1992. The Codependency Conspiracy: How to Break the Recovery Habit and Take Charge of Your Life

Dr. Stanton Peele, 1989. The Diseasing of America: How We Allowed Recovery Zealots And The Treatment Industry To Convince Us We Are Out Of Control

Prof. Steve Peters, 2012. The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme To Help You Achieve Success, Confidence & Happiness

Prof. Alex Rosenberg, 2012. The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions

Peter W. Soderman, 2013. Powerless No Longer: Reprogramming Your Addictive Behaviour

Melanie Solomon, 2014. AA: Not The Only Way: Your One-Stop Resource Guide to 12-Step Alternatives

Dr. Marcantonio Spada, 2006. Overcoming Problem Drinking: A Self Help Guide Using CBT

Dr. J. Anderson Thomson Jr. and Clare Aukofer, 2011. Why We Believe In God(s)

Jack Trimpey, 1995. The Small Book (Rational Recovery Systems)


Claudia Christian, Adam Schomer, 2014. One Little Pill: The Treatment for Alcoholism They Don’t Want You to Know About (Vimeo)

Prof. Daniel Dennett, 2014. Can Churches Survive the New Transparency? (The Amazing Meeting)

Dr. Robert Dudley, 2014, The Drunken Monkey: Why We Drink And Abuse Alcohol

Martin Nicolaus, 2010. A Medical Model of Addiction (Psychiatric Grand Rounds, Eric Martin Institution, Victoria, British Columbia)

Monica Richardson, 2016, The 13th Step (Vimeo)

Dr. J. Anderson Thomson Jr., 2009. Why We Believe in Gods (American Atheist Convention)



Alcoholism Recovery Radio

Australian Academic Misconceptions: Alcoholics Anonymous

AAAgnostica.org: For AA Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers Worldwide

AA Beyond Belief: A Space for Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers in AA

Monica Richardson’s Blog Talk Radio: Safe Recovery

SMART Recovery (UK)

SMART Recovery (USA)