How often this program succeeds has seen some debate. Alcoholics Anonymous has stated many times that anyone who follows the 12 steps will succeed. They state that failure is almost always the result of a member skipping steps or simply not taking all the steps seriously.
However, other independent organizations have claimed this is far from the truth. Some have even gone so far as to suggest the program has a 90 to 95% failure rate.
These inconsistencies really come from the fact that different organizations define success differently. If a man attends AA and quits drinking, but relapses a year later, is that a success for the program or a failure? What about five years? Ten years? Can success only truly be counted if the person never drinks again?
When it comes to addiction, measuring success can be messy. Several organizations believe true success only exists if the addict never drinks again. If this is true, then how are we to measure the effectiveness of any addiction program? That criteria would mean the only way we know a program is a success is if we evaluate a person’s life after they die.
If we discount that requirement as too harsh, then what criteria should be used? For many proponents of the 12 step program, success is measured by pretty much any length of time that the addict has managed to stay sober. That – they believe – is proof enough that the program can successfully get addicts to walk away from their addiction.
While these programs do focus heavily on keeping alcoholics clean, proponents feel it is unfair to consider the program a failure if someone has a regression. As a matter of fact, many experts believe that failure is part of the path to success. Most addicts do fall back to the addiction multiple times before finally walking away from the addiction forever. Since Alcoholics Anonymous uses mentors to help alcoholics stay dry, they feel that the 95% failure rate is an unfair assessment.
No matter how you define success, one fact is inarguable: There are many recovering alcoholics that attribute their success to Alcoholics Anonymous. The reasons for this are as debated as the success rate of the program. Many believe it depends entirely on the sponsor. If the sponsor is a good sponsor, success is more likely.
AA, on the other hand, discounts that entirely. They claim that the program itself – if taken seriously and followed to completion – is a guarantee for success.
The truth is, it’s probably a mix of both. A great sponsor will dramatically increase your chance of success, but probably because that sponsor takes the program very seriously… and that devotion is passed along to the person they are sponsoring.
So, at the end of the day, we’re left with the same question: Is the AA 12 step program successful? Statistically, it’s not a question that can be conclusively answered, but perhaps that’s a good thing, because it forces us to recognize that the best way to find the answer is simply to speak to someone that has found sobriety. Odds are, that person will be able to answer the question far better than any statistic.