Is it possible to stay sober without AA or a support group?

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To find find an answer to this heavily debated subject, let us first investigate the success rate of staying sober with and without the support of the more traditional 12 step fellowships.

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My name is Mitch and I’m an Alcoholic.
The road to recovery is never easy, and it would be naive and ignorant to say that one method is guaranteed a better result over another. However we can look for patterns to determine whether or not the odds are being stacked too heavily against an individual if they were to choose to take a certain path, be it AA, Detox/Rehabilitation or ‘Flying Solo’.

Now as we know, there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ cure for an Alcoholic or Addict, and the effort involved is so great that one could easily understand why people find giving in to a higher power is essential to staying sober.
So please don’t interpret this article as a message against The Big Book, treatment programs or the 12 Steps. Each has their merit and proven track record in aiding Alcoholics in their recovery.

Let’s take a look at the numbers when it comes to staying sober with AA. The following was taken from and shows some interesting findings.

Although AA has been criticized by some sources for having a low success rate, the rate isn’t 5 percent like it’s estimated by some to be. Dr. Drew Pinsky figured the success rate is slightly higher, between 8 percent and 12 percent. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) states about 10 percent of individuals who join a 12-Step program recover. However, The New York Times suggests Alcoholics Anonymous has a much higher success rating of approximately 75 percent. Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book touts about a 50-percent success rate, stating that another 25 percent who relapse come back and only 25 percent don’t remain sober. The organization suggests these individuals don’t use AA effectively.

These stats don’t exactly paint a picture of what the success rate is for members of AA.

Why these figures are all so vastly different is a mystery, perhaps it is because Alcoholism, like many other disorders, is shrouded in secrecy. Not unlike a Drug addict, or Sex addict keeping their habitual ways hidden from those around them. Or someone suffering from complications with their mental health not even being aware that there is anything wrong in the first place. The numbers related to successfully staying sober could easily be distorted due to the fact that not everyone who relapses is open about it, and some are ashamed to discuss the topic even when recovered.

AA success statistics are often hard to gauge because of different variables, but statistics released in 2007 by AA reported on the success of AA members and the length of sobriety.
31 percent of members were sober for less than a year’s time
24 percent were sober for between one and five years
12 percent were sober for between five and 10 years
33 percent were sober for 10 or more years
These statistics do not show a failure rate, but they indicate how AA members do succeed in long-term sobriety. The average sobriety time of members that were surveyed was eight years.

The findings mentioned above are a little more optimistic, and point towards a reasonable likelihood of staying sober for more than 10 years through support groups such as AA. 

Now let’s talk about staying sober without AA

There is obviously no conclusive or even subjective findings on the success rate of staying sober without AA, how could there be if we don’t have a grasp on the chances of steering clear of the beer WITH the assistance of alcoholics anonymous?

So it really boils down to a personal circumstance, and the method you wish to employ. I personally have stayed clear of drugs and alcohol successfully, without being in any sort of treatment program. I went to three AA meetings before making the decision to stop attending. 

It wasn’t that I took issue with the 12 steps or the higher power spiel, it was simply a matter of being the youngest in the room. I was 30 years old and every other AA member there was 50 or older, and their stories went back as far as 30 years. How could I relate? I felt like an outsider, and while the group was welcoming and friendly, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was not in the same boat as them. And I don’t mean that I was not in desperate need of change, I just couldn’t draw from their experience.

I put my body through a very intense detox, so by the time I had logged my first three meetings, my system was completely cleared out and I was starting to feel fantastic. Going from feeling like I was on death’s door to being able to run 5km every evening was the true turning point for me. That was when I knew I was in this for good, sober for life and would make sure I did everything in my power to help others achieve the same outcome.

The power of suggestion really is powerful. If I convince myself that leaving AA is going to make my life unravel, it probably will. If I convince myself that I am capable of being a sober, well-adjusted adult on my own, making my own decisions without delegating every step I take to a sponsor or Higher Power, then I can probably learn to spread my wings and fly out of the nest that is Alcoholics Anonymous.

Tracy Chabala –

Quitting drinking was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, and I will always remember what those first few weeks were like. It still astounds me to this day that I actually managed to climb out of the hole I was in. And I am thankful for every day I have on this planet as a clean and sober person, no longer a slave to addiction, but instead an advocate for sobriety and self-improvement

If I had listened to that negative voice in the back of my mind, I never would have made it through the first month. I kept telling myself ‘You got this man’ and constantly reminded myself that it wasn’t going to be a lifetime of saying no to drinking, it was just a matter of saying no to that first drink because without it there is no second, or third and so on.

The opinions expressed in this article are my own, they in no way, shape, or form are intended as a guide on how to stay sober. I am happy to pass on my findings and my own experiences but encourage you to use whatever method you find the most compatible.


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