AA struggles to stay relevant as secular programs gain momentum

AA in Decline

By Eliza Radeka
Originally published on December 21, 2017 in the Boulder Weekly

On Wednesday nights, the basement of Boulder’s Pine Street Church fills to capacity for the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) open meeting. Facilitators lead the group in an opening prayer or statement, before members go up one by one to the podium, usually introducing themselves with the phrase, “I’m an alcoholic,” before sharing their thoughts and experiences with the crowd — the largest AA group in Colorado.

Denver LifeRing meetings, which serve as an alternative to AA, are much smaller. Around 10 people sit in a circle on the second floor of St. Barnabas Church as meeting coordinator Kathleen Gargan reads the opening statement. The discussion that follows flows freely between members, who don’t pause to introduce themselves. In this circle they are well acquainted with one another. There are no prayers, no mention of God.

Historically, AA’s success has been unmatched by other sobriety programs. But more recently, while AA attendance has seen an overall decline, newer programs like LifeRing are attracting increasing numbers in Colorado and throughout the country. Also on the rise — in what has been called a “public health crisis” — is alcohol consumption.

The percentage of people who drink at all surged during the 1990s. But since the start of the new millennium, high-risk and problem drinking have spiked as well, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

The study classified high-risk drinking as four or more drinks a day for women and five or more drinks a day for men, on a weekly basis. While drinking in general increased 11 percent, this type of high-risk drinking rose by 29.9 percent between 2002 and 2013.

Problem drinking — consuming alcohol to the extent that it causes periodic and serious problems in one’s life, or the inability to stop drinking — also rose substantially, by nearly 50 percent.

Despite the high number of new drinkers — the study classifies one in eight adults as an alcoholic — AA continues to lose members while secular programs are starting to grow.

Gargan has been sober since 1991 and went to AA meetings for 25 years before switching to LifeRing. Gargan, who identifies as an atheist, eventually grew tired of the religious content she heard at AA meetings.

“[AA] really helped me stay sober and I made a lot of really good friends, but it was never very well suited to my worldview,” she says.

Since its creation in 1939, AA’s traditional 12 steps have always mentioned God or a higher power. Take step three, for example: “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” These steps have not been revised since, despite culture’s changing relationship with religion over the years. During the past decade, the number of people who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists has dropped by 8 percent, according to a report from the Pew Research Center. The number of adults who describe themselves as being “religiously affiliated” has shrunk by 6 percent.

In an effort to avoid alienating non-religious members and to keep up with the changing religious climate, some AA meetings have replaced all mentions of God with the term “higher power.” But some members, like LifeRing attendee Tom Gerald, couldn’t quite shake the program’s deeply rooted religious undertones.

“Although I appreciate the fact that AA was there, and it really did save my ass, I never bought the higher power thing, and after about 12 years it became a real problem so I sort of drifted away,” he says. “After a bad experience where I was challenged as being a speaker at a meeting I decided I didn’t need any more of this and I just quit.”

Leaving AA seems to be a growing trend. While membership peaked in 2001 with 2.2 million members worldwide, 2016 numbers show a 6 percent drop in global attendance and a 10 percent drop in attendance in Canada and the U.S.

Membership at secular programs like LifeRing, on the other hand, is growing. Since 2012, the number of worldwide LifeRing meetings has increased by 300 percent. Gargan has been with LifeRing since 2003 and, anecdotally, has seen attendance increase steadily at her weekly meetings.

SMART Recovery is another successful treatment program that takes a secular approach to drug and alcohol addiction. Paul Horvath joined a Denver group after being imprisoned for 16 years following a crack cocaine addiction.

“NA [Narcotics Anonymous] and AA didn’t work for me because I don’t feel like we’re powerless over our addictions,” he says. “Spirituality and religion is all fine and good for a lot of people in a lot of ways but it really has nothing to do with whether you stick a crack pipe in your mouth or suck a drink down your throat.”

Religion aside, Horvath appreciates the way programs like SMART Recovery and LifeRing encourage crosstalk. Unlike AA meetings, where one person speaks at a time and everyone must wait their turn, SMART Recovery meetings take on a round-table format.

“That’s what makes the group as lively and dynamic and powerful as it is,” Horvath says. “You can have a back-and-forth discussion among a group of individuals as opposed to one person talking and everyone else hanging their head down low.”

Whether due to its secularity or unique meeting format, SMART Recovery has grown rapidly since its inception in 1994. The number of worldwide meetings has increased from 42 to 2,500, 1,000 of which are held in the U.S. From 2014 to the first two months of 2016, SMART Recovery launched 900 new meetings. Other secular programs available in Colorado include Women for Sobriety, Moderation Management, Secular Organizations for Sobriety and more.

While the success of recovery options like these is undeniable, many AA members see no problem with their program’s inclusion of a higher power. In fact, one member at the Pine Street Church group in Boulder, who wishes to remain anonymous, interprets the existence of a higher power as a secular notion.

“People just kind of find their own path with it and their own relationship with it. I’ve spoken to a few atheists that find the higher power to be kind of the internal truth, the authenticity itself,” he says. “So they’re still able to maintain the secular self in the room.”

Secular or not, the emergence of additional recovery groups marks a shift in a realm that has been historically dominated by AA. And these options are increasingly important considering Colorado’s drinking reputation. According to a 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado and other mountain-region states have the highest rates of alcohol-related deaths in the country. Pitkin and Summit counties lead the nation in overall drinking, with approximately 78 percent of drinking-age adults having at least one drink per month.

Whether it’s AA, LifeRing or SMART Recovery, those dealing with addiction have more options than ever before when it comes to recovery with meetings all over Boulder County and most parts of Colorado.


Editor’s Note

Without question, a multiplicity of options for dealing with addiction is a good thing. Oddly enough, every human being is different – looks different, sounds different, thinks different. And that is equally true of alcoholics and addicts. And thus the need for a respect for, and a celebration of, the many paths of recovery. To some extent every single recovery is unique and a personal accomplishment.

Multi-laneBut let’s also acknowledge that a secular multi-lane freeway to sobriety is also becoming a part of Alcoholics Anonymous. Sure, AA’s origins are deeply religious. God is mentioned in one way or another 281 times in the first 164 pages of the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous. And “God” or “Him” or “Power” is in six of the 12 Steps.

And that religiosity ain’t over yet. Many groups in “traditional” AA are religious today, with a majority of meetings in North America ending with the Lord’s Prayer.

Nevertheless…

There is a rapidly growing secular movement within Alcoholics Anonymous. The growth of groups and meetings for agnostics and atheists is a tide that will inevitably have a far-reaching impact on AA as a whole.

Here is a description of that growth from A History of Agnostics in AA:

Deirdre S (manager of the agnosticAANYC website) reports that when she came into the rooms of AA in 1997, there were 26 agnostic-type meetings nation-wide. “As of September 23, 2001 there were 36 meetings nationally. In 2003 there were 38 meetings, in 2004, there were 57, in 2009 there were 71, in 2012 there were 99 meetings.”

When Deirdre spoke at the 2014 conference in Santa Monica that number had grown to 181 agnostic AA meetings worldwide.

In the next year growth spiked to 288 meetings.

And when she spoke at the 2016 conference in Austin the number of “agnostic type” meetings, according to the agnosticAANYC website, had reached 320 meetings worldwide. As she correctly noted: “That number of meetings and people have real weight in AA. As we have seen by the gatherings at our conventions in Santa Monica and here today, those 320 meetings represent thousands of people and decades of sobriety. This is a material force that must be dealt with by AA.” (A History of Special Interest Groups in AA)

The last number she provided was for November 11, 2016 and that was 320 secular meetings worldwide.

The last time I checked, there were 384 secular meetings worldwide, according to the folks who manage the Secular AA website. That’s an increase due in small part to combining all of the lists but it is mostly the result of meetings that have been launched since the Austin convention.

The above is from a book published in April, 2017. Today, exactly one year later, we are now at 437 meetings.

But it’s not just the meetings. Secular local AA roundups / conferences are also being held. Two conferences have been held in Arizona and two in Washington State. A Secular Ontario AA Roundup (SOAAR) was held in Toronto in 2017 with another planned for Hamilton in 2019.

And International Conventions / Conferences are being held! The first one – 300 people – was in Santa Monica, California in 2014. The second – 400 people – was held in Austin, Texas in 2016. And a third ICSAA (International Conference for Secular AA) is scheduled for this August (2018) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Meanwhile AA itself is becoming more accepting of we agnostics and atheists in AA. In October 2016 the Grapevine devoted its monthly issue to atheist and agnostic members of AA. Moreover, this year an entire book of articles and stories by atheists and agnostics will be published by the AA Grapevine! And the Grapevine’s senior editor of that book, Jon Witherspoon, will be attending our Conference in Toronto.

At the same time, AA itself appears to be moving towards greater acceptance of agnostic and atheist members, groups and meetings. In 2016 AA World Service threatened to disconnect with the Toronto Area Intergroup unless it changed its position and relisted the atheist and agnostic groups it had booted out in 2011. And later this month (April 22 to 28), the General Service Conference will vote on whether or not to republish the British pamphlet “The ‘God’ Word” and whether or not it will develop and publish its own pamphlet by and for we agnostics and atheists in AA.

And so secular programs are indeed gaining momentum.

But this is true not only within the recovery world in general but also as part and parcel of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.


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AA struggles to stay relevant as secular programs gain momentum — 26 Comments

  1. AA is a classic case study in “if the only tool you have is a hammer then every problem becomes a nail.” The problem isn’t that AA “doesn’t accept” atheists. Though the “We Agnostics” chapter is comically inaccurate, condescending and archaic, there are obviously many atheists and agnostics who have found recovery through AA and always have. The problem is that “the message”, “the program”, “the steps” and all the other components of AA have become so rigidly calcified (ostensibly because it infallibly “works if you work it”) that no other alternative methods are ever discussed or considered. The alcoholic is ALWAYS expected to eventually “humble” him or herself to the process of AA, not to disagree or even question in any way. To do so is inevitably seen as “ego”, “toxicity” or just being “not ready”. AA’s problem isn’t the “religiosity”, it’s that it’s ultimately only about itself and its own propagation.

  2. AA has a tradition of having no opinion on outside issues less problems of money property or prestige devert us from our primary purpose. The silence is being interpreted by many as we have AA failing because they are not defending their program. AA is alive and well, and for the naysayers give your head a shake, and go your own way. Leave AA alone as we are doing quite well without your squabbling.

    • You yourself and persons and groups like you do not get to ride rough-shod over nor dictate to members who do not share your interest and belief in a god. Your comment demonstrates the total lack of nor interest in the experiences and hopes of agnostic and atheist members of AA.

      How bloody dare you and your religious extremist
      cohorts attempt to speak as THE authority on who is and who is not a devoted member of our beloved organization. Your ignorance and fear/hate of those who walk their own paths to strong and lasting sobriety is truly breathtaking.

      Attitudes like yours tell the newcomers that AA is primarily a religion. You are lying when you say that. You have absolutely no right to force your own beliefs to others.

      I have seen the damage that you and your cohorts do and a sincerely damn you for it.

      Jack.

    • Do you tell every person who disagrees with you to “go your own way”, Thomas? Cause that ain’t AA. It certainly isn’t the Alcoholics Anonymous that we “respect so deeply”, as Ernie Kurtz put it.

  3. Yes there is this secular – God debate but the elephant in the room is “addicts” to other substances. There is no longer AA focus on common problem alcohol. Have heard many drunk-a-logs but never heard a “user log”. They do not share about their addiction so prefer “book meetings” Years ago most groups had open and closed meetings. Now around here less than 18% are open. AA is becoming less effective helping alcoholics.

    • I don’t think so Bill.

      Nothing in life is guaranteed.

      As long as AA continues to be sectarian (in word and deed) in today’s secular society the attraction for newcomers is lost the minute most of them walk through the doors.

      Our fellowship needs to change with the times or it can not and will not survive!

      Mike B.
      Oliver, BC.

      • As long as AA members of all stripes carry the message of how they got sober AA will be relevant.

        We are not here to increase the membership of AA, we are here to carry the message of recovery to the next person who shows up wanting sobriety.

      • Daniel:

        Thanks for your comments.

        I try at all times to carry only my message of recovery. It is all I have to share.

        In my first 20 years of sobriety I was trying to fake the god stuff hoping that somehow I would find some serenity; but I just couldn’t make it.

        There was absolutely no “to my own self be true”. I suppose there was fear of rejection and leaving myself open to getting drunk again. In hindsight it never occurred to me there was any other way but the dogma I heard at AA meetings and read in AA literature.

        It wasn’t until my 20th year of sobriety (2000) that I heard of secular AA through AA Agnostica and Beyond Belief. It changed my life and my outlook on recovery.

        We have no secular AA groups/meetings in my district but there are a number of us who are now willing to openly share the secular AA message; recovery without god! So the newcomers and even the traditionalist get the whole story that there are many paths to recovery from alcoholism and any other addiction.

        My final point is that unless the whole story is told the traditional dogma will prevail and when that happens AA fails to be relevant in the new millennia. Like the dinosaurs, if AA is unable to adapt with the changing environment we all will become extinct.

        Mike B.
        Oliver, BC.

    • Daniel, right you are, we don’t really care about increasing our membership, but if the general population has increased by about 8 percent since the early 90s, alcoholism has increased by a one or two percentage points, and AA membership has decreased by about 10%, – I’m trying to add that up: We have reason to believe that a half million would have needed our help. If we have really helped all those who came looking for help, so presumably those new people stayed, and increased our membership, a million would have had to have left in order to make room for the half million new members we ought to have helped, IF we were keeping up with the need in the face of falling membership. I don’t think it adds up that way, so the only other thing I can think of is that we aren’t really helping anywhere near the number of people that need it. Yes, we don’t care about increasing our membership. It just so happens that those we help *would* increase our numbers, IF we did help that many. Our shrinking number is simply an indicator that we aren’t really that effective receiving people anymore. People are leaving, and not that many new people are coming in. So that’s either because we have gotten too far away from God, or because we have gotten too far behind the times….

      • You have it right there life-j…as usual. We are not meeting the needs of the people who come to us. Bill W. spoke of this when I was hardly out of diapers. The overt religiosity, the unscientific treatment modality, the fetishism of the Big Book, the ignoring of modern therapies and learning about addiction combined with a less than welcoming attitude of what some think of as “tough love” is not what anybody needs and I do not think it ever was. Who needs to be beaten into sobriety and does that even work? Out literature speaks continuously to widening the gate and embracing all who suffer. I regularly meet people who tell me there are too many people in AA and those who are aren’t zealous enough. It ain’t working.

  4. Thanks Roger for posting this Boulder, CO study on secular alternatives from AA, but I especially appreciate your review of recent advancements in the acceptance of secular AA groups and members within AA.

  5. What always interests me about these articles is that AA doesn’t care about numbers and never has. I am glad for the alternatives to AA, but AA always said it was for a small percentage of people. In its literature you can find just who it is AA has been there for a very long time.

    It isn’t for the many who age out of drinking. It isn’t for the guy who can have a drink a month. Those aren’t even problem drinkers by the same standards people measure them against. Meetings come and go and I feel pretty certain you can still find meetings in Boulder, CO.

    • AA seemed very much to care about numbers when they were rising. The Foreword to the Second Edition is pretty enthusiastic about a “wholesale miracle” and the like regarding AA’s expansion and growth. There is a lot of gushing about numbers in the conference-approved literature.

      AA SHOULD be concerned about numbers. We want to help as many as possible, no?

  6. Why don’t agnostics and atheist just go to all these other secular groups? Seems like you just have an agenda to destroy traditional AA?

    • Why should we? Tradition 3.

      AA is important to me. As an alcoholic, atheist I want to be able to reach out to all still suffering alcoholics from within AA. Responsibility statement.

    • John, thanks for joining us with this most interesting question.

      What makes AA an attractive place to go is first and foremost that it is big and it is available everywhere, and in some big cities, almost anytime. I once got up after a bedtime argument in a Las Vegas hotel, and went to a 2 AM meeting, where it appeared most attendees were just going about their regular diurnal routine.

      By contrast, the nearest non-AA meeting to me where I now live is about 150 miles away.

      AA in other words, is practically the only game in town. AA has worked really hard to become the only game in town, though not in any way in hostile opposition to the other programs. That AA has gained a near monopoly on recovery gives AA a tremendous responsibility: Many alcoholic lives are in the hands of AA, and it is not handling it very well – in many of our opinions anyway. In the opinion of hardcore AA traditionalists, it is handling it just fine, thank you. If AA hadn’t worked so hard at being the only game in town it would have been much easier for it to say “just go somewhere else if you don’t like our program”.

      At the same time, there are good things about AA that attract us. For starters of course the availability: I am more inclined to go to an AA meeting I don’t really like that much, than go to a LifeRing meeting 2 or 3 hours away.

      But also the fact that in AA we have sort of implicitly taken an oath to help the next suffering alcoholic in a way that I don’t think any other program has. There is a love and care there, that you don’t find anywhere else, at least not to the same degree. Of course I am aware that people in the other programs care too, but not “religiously”, if I may use that colloquial term.

      Now, AA is where all the newcomers go, because there is nowhere else to go for all practical purposes, and that same AA is the place they leave and go back out drinking again. And so it seems to me that the place to fight the good fight to help the next suffering alcoholic IS AA, whether to help people find alternatives, or, preferably to me, anyway, to help reform AA so that all who come there can eventually genuinely feel welcome there.

      So in conclusion: reforming and destroying is two very different things. Those who primarily are in AA to help the next suffering alcoholic, will see it as necessary reformation. Those who are primarily in AA to “establish their relationship with god” as it says on page 29 of the BB may of course see our efforts as destruction. While this is unfortunate I think we need to keep at it for the sake of all those who at this point are not getting the help they need. It is, obviously not only a matter of the god stuff. I would not be surprised if a much greater number find the god talk irrelevant and/or annoying, but there are, after all only about 20% in the US who identify themselves as nonbelievers, while we in AA are NOT helping about 90% of those who come for help, so there is more stuff wrong with AA than all the god talk. All stuff that needs to be addressed, and hopefully, when it comes to it, AA will prefer to get reformed rather than get destroyed, but that remains to be seen.

      At any rate, if we don’t do something, it will undoubtedly fade away by itself, no need to destroy it.

  7. Quote: “Leaving AA seems to be a growing trend. While membership peaked in 2001 with 2.2 million members worldwide, 2016 numbers show a 6 percent drop in global attendance and a 10 percent drop in attendance in Canada and the U.S.”

    I would really love to know where people get these numbers, since nobody takes attendance at AA meetings. We keep seeing this sort of statement, but never with any reference or substantiation.

    Not that I disbelieve the general trend – I’m one of the “leavers” myself – but the numbers are probably WAGs.

  8. I liked the article, BUT when non-alcoholics write about problem drinking, they often muddy the waters with information like “Pitkin and Summit counties lead the nation in overall drinking, with approximately 78 percent of drinking-age adults having at least one drink per month.” That may stir up the Temperance folks, but is irrelevant to a discussion of alcoholism and its treatment options.

    The statement “While membership peaked in 2001 with 2.2 million members worldwide” is simply wrong. AA’s own numbers show the peak in 1992, and at a higher number.

    1992 2,489,541 (members) 89,215 (groups)

    AA’s problems are further compounded by the reality that those who ARE members seem to be coming less often.
    Attendance at meetings is dropping. Sitting in church basements is my grandfather’s Oldsmobile.

  9. I think the title “AA struggles to stay relevant as secular programs gain momentum” is misleading. AA isn’t struggling. That would imply that AA is doing something besides looking out the window and watching the modern world pass it by. In Big Book terms, AA “is like a boy whistling in the dark to keep up his spirits. He fools himself.”

    Traditional AA continues to pray its Lord’s Prayer, and to respond to all suggestions to change with “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I think 2020 will see membership dip below 2 million, and plummet a good deal more in the decade that follows. In spite of a 30% spike in population, there are about 400,000 FEWER members now than there were 25 years ago.

    One wonders what it takes to constitute “broke?”

    At some point along the way, AA will become open to change, about ten years after it’s too late. And that’s a shame.

    • Terrific comment Bob, you’re right on target.

      It truly is sad that AA continues to watch as medicine, science and modern life pass it by. AA saved my ass many years ago but I had to withdraw as I could no longer buy into the nonsense of permanent disease and suffering, and the sometimes forced belief in a “higher” power.

      It is, in my view, not at all surprising that secular membership is growing; I grew out of sometimes charming fairy-tales over 60 years ago.

    • Thank-you very much Ed. I’m well into the link you provided and looking forward to the rest of it. Again my (and my friends) most sincere thanks.

      Jack.

    • One thing I find interesting in this study is table 2 that although the sample of 208 is rather on the small side to be relied on, there are 22.7 % agnostic/unsure + atheists.

      That is more than the national average of around 15%, and it’s after those who absolutely can’t stand the god stuff have left. Those are presumably a fairly large number, which leads me to speculate that the percentage of non-believers among alcoholics is considerably higher than in the population at large, who knows, maybe a third, or higher?

      Which, theoretically, would suggest that of the 60,000 AA groups 20,000 ought to be secular. Looks like we have room to grow….

      • Just a couple of things with the math and stats here. I’m not sure where the 60,000 AA groups comes from. Perhaps it’s a rounded (down) value for AA’s published 61,250 United States (non-correctional facility) groups as of January 1, 2017?

        As of 1/1/2017, AA estimates it has (had) 67,750 groups in the United States and Canada, plus 50,555 groups outside the US and Canada.

        That’s a worldwide total of 118,305 groups. AA also estimates 2,103,184 worldwide members. Apparently, when AA estimates, it does so in single digits, perhaps suggesting a precision that really isn’t all that precise.

        I likewise am lost as to how you claim that one-third (33.3%) of 60,000 groups, i.e., 20,000 groups, “ought to be secular.”

        If I take the above-linked study’s Table 2 values on its page 38, I’m pretty sure I see where you got your 22.7% sum, the composition of which I find helpful to know: 18.4% Agnostic/Unsure plus 4.3% Atheist.

        (I tend to agree with what I infer from your words: I don’t know if a sample of 208 members is representative of a reported population of 2.1 million.)

        If I round up 22.7% to 23% and multiply the latter times your 60,000, I get 13,800 groups for a “suggest(ed)” “ought to be secular” estimate, not 20,000 groups. In the interest of fairness, accuracy and comprehensiveness, 23% of 118,305 total worldwide AA groups “suggests”, mathematically, that 27,210 groups “ought to be secular”.

        Apparently, it was 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who first said, “There are lies, damn(ed) lies, and statistics.” It looks like that’s what’s going on here. How else to explain that as of March 15, 2018, 43 years after the first secular meeting in 1975, there are only 351 secular groups whose meetings are listed on the seemingly unnecessary separate secularaa.org website? Those 351 secular groups comprise 0.3% of the 118,305 AA groups worldwide. These 351 secular groups, in 274 unique geographic locations worldwide, hold 436 weekly meetings.

        Subjective speculation and not-at-all objective certainties aside, no one knows what is behind GSO’s reported year-over-year increase of about 341,000 members from 2,149,000 (rounded) members in 1991 to the anomalous and oft-referenced 1992 peak of 2,490,000. Curiously, if not inexplicably, the number of groups DECREASED 7,300 from 96,500 in 1991 to 89,200 in 1992. Three years later, in 1995, GSO’s reported membership had dropped like a rock, by 763,000, nearly 31%, to 1,726,000. In that same three-year stretch, the number of AA groups likewise fell, though not near as dramatically, by about 2,800, i.e., only about 3%, to 86,400.

        In 1996, membership rebounded nearly 14%, by 234,000 members to 1,960,000. The number of groups similarly increased by 12%, or 10,600 groups, to 97,000.

        Membership reached and passed 2 million again in 2000. The number of groups grew to 100,800, passing 100,000 for the first time.

        Folks are quick to make a big deal out of: (1) 1992’s “peak” 2.49 million members, AND, (2) that the most recent GSO-published estimate (1/1/2017) was “only” 2.1 million. What no one ever says nor tries to explain or reconcile, is that while membership dropped by almost 15% in the quarter-century since 1992, the number of groups INCREASED nearly 33% to its all-time high of 118,305. There has been a goofy anomaly or two along the way (it is GSO after all), but it’s been an easily observable, and uniformly ignored, upward trend.

        That increase might be simply explained by lots of long “un-registered” (with GSO) groups finally getting around to letting GSO know they exist. Maybe. GSO doesn’t say and no one else can say either. Theories and opinions may abound, but I’m reminded of that AA-ism about opinions. Mathematically, the average members-per-group has declined, but that’s just an average. I really, really doubt it’s the uniform experience of all 118,305 groups. At face value, it seems like AA is growing in its presence if not its population. It ain’t the only game in town no more. As the posted Boulder article makes clear, the numerous targeted, non-supernatural and finite-goal alternatives for drinking cessation are growing. They’re likely attracting those afflicted to varying degrees and intensity with the DSM-5’s alcohol use disorder (AUD). “Alcoholism” is archaic and nebulous. It’s also a counterproductive self-identification that I don’t know how to reconcile with cognitive behavioral therapy’s (CBT’s) tenets and teaching.

        In closing here, I’ve paid close attention to aasecular.org’s meetings list. Nearly one year ago, in May 2017, there were 321 groups in 249 geographic locations and 396 weekly meetings. Repeating my mid-March 2018 figures from above, there are now 351 groups in 274 locations and 436 weekly meetings.

        So, in ten months, that’s 30 more groups, 25 more locations and 40 more meetings. IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE that that’s 40 NET(!) new meetings. In the ten months, there were 61 new meetings and 21 that closed, some doing both within the ten months. Metaphorically, that’s three steps forward and one step back. Still, it’s forward progress, however modest.

        Lastly, a reality check. In 1975, AA had 26,456 groups worldwide. In 42 years, it’s added 91,489 new groups. In that same time period (plus a year and change), 351 (net) new secular groups were added.