Evaluating Alcoholics Anonymous for Its Capacities to Change and to Communicate (Part 2 of a Series)

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May 16, 2013 by Dr. Bob Weathers

Evaluating Alcoholics Anonymous for

Its Capacities to Change and to Communicate

Part 2 of Series on

“Cross-Cultural Integration of Spiritual Resources in Recovery”

Thumb-Nail Review

In Part 1 of this current series (which see) we first established the clear effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) and the 12-Step model in addressing recovery from alcoholism and other addictions.  We next explored A.A.’s cultural embeddedness within a traditionally Christian worldview.  Finally, we identified the problem that arises for a certain, growing population of individuals seeking recovery.  This latter group needs a cross-culturally more sensitive integration of spiritual resources.  Otherwise, they will not (do not) maintain attendance or involvement in A.A.  And worse: they risk staying stuck in addiction, all the way to possible death.  Definitely not OK!

Cultural Authenticity vs. Legitimacy

Even with the above concerns, there appears to be simply too much evidence to suggest that A.A. is anything other than one, thoroughly authentic path to spiritual transformation.  This includes its avowed support for a lifestyle of committed, conscious sobriety (Kelly et al., 2011; Robinson et al., 2011).  Integral theorist Ken Wilber (2005) defined authenticity as that which is capable of leading to deep, structural change.  In this case, that structural change is ushered into the personality, character, and behavior of the recovering alcoholic.  However, as Wilber also made abundantly clear: all that is authentic (capable of inspiring deep-level life transformation) is not necessarily legitimate.  By legitimacy, Wilber meant that quality of communication that translates best and most effectively to any given population or culture.

In this view then, A.A.’s authentic (transformative) prescription for recovery from addiction to alcohol may not, in fact, be legitimate (effectively translating) to certain, specific populations, or cultural groups.  This might well include that population mentioned from the above experience at the Malibu rehab (see previous “Part 1” post).  Individuals within such populations may find theistic, Christian language and cultural assumptions a major stumbling block.  Sadly, they may very well be highly disinclined to pursue or sustain A.A. involvement.  Such involvement could include working with a sponsor on completing 12-Step homework and the changing life practices associated with those key steps (Johnson, 2012).

Experience-Near vs. Experience-Distant Language

For some, as in this author’s experience at the mentioned rehab, this may unfortunately even entail clients’ leaving inpatient treatment before it is nearly completed.  In this cultural mismatch, one form of language and cultural assumptions runs head-on, feeling both alien and alienating, to the cultural worldview of those who might otherwise receive benefit.  What is particularly tragic is that there may in fact be alternate forms of language which are both authentic in their spiritual base, and also legitimate in translating that spiritual base directly into a more experience-near (vs. experience-distant) language for the client in recovery (Rowe & MacIsaac, 2000).  Such alternate languages and perspectives might well be better suited to the culture and worldview of the motivated, if non-Christian, alcoholic sincerely in search of recovery from addictive behaviors.

Next Up:

Translating Recovery Cross-Culturally within Alcoholics Anonymous


Johnson, A. L. (2012). 12-step facilitation of treatment. In Capuzzi, D., & Stauffer, M. (Eds.), Foundations of addictions counseling (2nd ed., pp. 240-259).  Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

Kelly, J. F., Stout, R. L., Magill, M., Tonigan, J. S., & Pagana, M. E. (2011). Spirituality in recovery: A lagged meditational analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous’ principal theoretical mechanism of behavioral change. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 35(3), 454-463.  Retrieved from

Robinson, E. A. R., Krentzman, A. R., Webb, J. R., & Brower, K. J. (2011). Six-month changes in spirituality and religiousness in alcoholics predict drinking outcomes at nine months. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 72(4), 660-668. Retrieved from

Rowe, C. E., & MacIsaac, D. S. (2000). Empathic attunement: The technique of self psychology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

Wilber, K. (2005). A sociable God: Toward a new understanding of religion. Boulder, CO: Shambhala.


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